Things That Make Baseball “Purists” Squirm: Volume IV

Johnny Damon was considered a traitor by the Red Sox Nation, but not by Big Papi. (RockN/Flickr)

“You see, back in my day players would get fined if they were caught talking to members of another team.  That’s real baseball!”  The mighty F-word, the word that has taken the history of the game we love, and shredded it like Enron papers.  The word that has taken the fabric of our national pastime, and sewn a quilt for the opposing second baseman out of it.

Fraternization.

It is not at all uncommon for players on opposing teams seen mingling together on the field duringbatting practice nowadays. Or perhaps meeting up with former teammates, now foes, for a post game dinner at a local hot spot.  Or as seen recently with the explosion of Twitter, players joking amongst themselves about anything and everything via social media.

To most fans this isn’t really an issue at all. Players move about from team to team, establishing a network of acquaintances throughout the league. It’s only natural they would want to keep in touch with those they’ve bonded with in the past right?  Well to some that simply is unacceptable.

Recently I heard brief portion of Marty Lurie’s weekend baseball show on KNBR. I usually don’t care for Marty, or anything on the Giants-centric KNBR, but he managed to catch my attention for a moment as he went on a sleepy tirade on the perils of fraternization.  I know from listening to him on the A’s pregame shows for a number of years that Marty Lurie is an old school baseball man through and through, so this did not surprise me. Marty is exactly the kind of person I envisioned when I began this series.

I do understand why some people see interaction between opposing players as harmful to the game, theoretically it would hinder the competitive edge players have because they would be reluctant to play hard agains their buddies.  Purists harken back to a time when players truly had distaste for their rivals, you would never see Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams having a drink at the bar after a game at Fenway.  You would never see Bobby Thomson and Duke Snider meeting for coffee in NYC before the 1951 “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” game just to catch up.

The reality of the situation is that we don’t live in that world anymore, and Major League Baseball is not the same league it was back then.  With the advent of free agency in the 1970’s, player movement began to increase exponentially.  It was only natural that guys would begin to intermingle with former teammates they would see on occasion throughout the season.  At this point, rivalries thought to be full of emotion and bitterness between two teams really is left to the fans.  All across the world of sports examples are seen of players out partying after crushing losses to bitter rivals.  Just ask Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots.

Baseball is now more of a business than anything, and everyone involved in MLB knows that now.  With the extraordinary contracts being handed out, all players understand that the business side of the sport has taken over, thus it is very seldom players stay with one team during their entire careers.  Old school baseball people need to realize that fact, and come to terms with the notion that if they were presented with the type of money today’s players command, they’d follow the green as well.  And they’ll all be partying together after cashing their checks.

NostraDavis Reveals the 2012 MLB Season

Can the Atlanta Braves overcome their 2011 collapse? (IllegalShift/Flickr)

I have a long standing history of making wild predictions about sporting events, every now and then I’m right, but as with just about everyone, I’m usually dead wrong.  That is unless you are part of the Las Vegas mob who controls all of sports in the United States.  I love to fill out NCAA Tournament Brackets (Men and Women), not because I follow either sport, just because of the off chance I might nail that bracket and be able to brag to everyone that I had it right (I predicted the Carmelo Anthony Syracuse run to the title).  I will lay down a prediction on just about anything you put in front of me, it’s a miracle I haven’t developed a gambling addiction.  But without a doubt my favorite prediction time of the year is just before the greatest grind of a regular season is about to begin, Major League Baseball.

How anyone on earth can possibly predict how 4,860 games will ultimately play out is nothing short of insanity.  That’s just the way I like it.  And no doubt about it, I’m every bit as insane as the next buffoon proclaiming his knowledge of the future.  So enough of the ramblings, here we go, I’ll break it down division by division, then I’ll go so far as to predict the crapshoot that is the MLB Playoffs.  Take notes people.

AL East

Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Orioles

It appears to me that the Yankees have insured themselves in the pitching department enough that they should be able to take this division.  Their lineup is getting a little long in the tooth no doubt, but it is more than experienced enough to succeed still in a pennant race.  I expect the Rays to give them a run for their money, but will have to settle for a Wild Card berth.  The Toronto Blue Jays may be an emerging powerhouse, the Red Sox are a trainwreck, and the Orioles are the Orioles.

AL Central

Tigers, Twins, Royals, Indians, White Sox

Quite possibly the safest prediction in the world in 2012.  The Tigers are doing their best impersonation of the AL East spending, and it should work at least this year.  The Twins are much better than their record last year indicated, the Royals will be very good very soon but will deal with some growing pains, the Indians and White Sox are in rebuilding mode and will be the Tigers’ whipping boys.

AL West

Rangers, Angels, Athletics, Mariners

This is probably the toughest call to make.  I still felt though even with the addition of Albert Pujols, the Angels lineup is seriously lacking.  The Rangers should make up for the loss of everyone’s favorite Straight Edge jerk (sorry, it’s personal) CJ Wilson with the addition of Yu Darvish and the presumed progression of Derek Holland.  They still have the most feared lineup in baseball if you ask me, and that will be enough to take the crown for the 3rd straight year.  The Athletics are in a state of purgatory, but the talent exchange that took place this offseason should keep them just about where they were last year, ahead of the hapless Mariners.

NL East

Braves, Phillies, Nationals, Marlins, Mets

The Braves choked away the wild card lead last year to the eventual World Series Champion Cardinals, but they were and are a much better team than that.  They were a sexy playoff pick last year, and this year they’ll meet that potential.  Chipper Jones’ swan song season will give him one last shot at a second ring.  The Phillies already had offensive inconsistency with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the lineup, both are major question marks for the 2012 season, they’ll probably ride their pitching to a Wild Card.  The Nationals are up and coming and should be a .500 team and perhaps a 2nd Wild Card sleeper, the Marlins gave $100 Million to Jose Reyes and will quickly regret it, the Mets are the Mets.

NL Central

Reds, Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, Astros

This may be the weakest division winner of the 6.  I don’t see anyone in this division getting more than 91 wins this year, but that should be more than enough to take the crown.  The Reds may have gotten a blessing in disguise with the Ryan Madson injury, just check his career numbers at Great American “Small” Park, Mat Latos should be decent enough but he’ll miss the spacious Petco Park.  Joey Votto and Jay Bruce will carry this team to victory.  .  The rest of the division is going to be filled with rampant mediocrity and utter ineptitude (Houston Astros).

NL West

Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres, Rockies, Dodgers

The Diamondbacks have quietly put together something of a powerhouse team down in the desert.  The additions of Trevor Cahill, Jason Kubel, and a full season from Paul Goldschmidt will keep the Snakes at the top of the mountain.  I expect the Giants offensive struggles to continue in 2012 with lateral acquisitions in Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan, they’ll be in it, but they’ll fall short.  The Padres are much like the Kansas City Royals in that they’ll experience some growing pains in 2012, but the core of young talent is there so they’ll win some games.  The Rockies are wildly inconsistent and not even the modern day Satchel Paige in the person of 49 year old Jamie Moyer can rescue them.  The Dodgers will not contend until Frank McCourt is out of the way.

AL Wild Card

Rays and Blue Jays

NL Wild Card

Phillies and Nationals

Ultimately I see the emergence of a new power duo in Toronto in Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie, and the Blue Jays sneaking their way into the World Series to take on the Braves in a 1992 World Series rematch.  Let’s give Chipper the Elway treatment and have him win it all before he walks away from the game and awaits his shrine in Cooperstown.  Braves, 2012 World Series Champions.  

 

Follow me on Twitter and see me analyze the season as it plays out @SeanD25.

Things That Makes Baseball “Purists” Squirm: Volume III

Armando Galarraga's not perfect perfect game is the most recent glaring example of baseball's human element (JohnLeGear/Flickr)

Ah yes, the human element, the phenomenon that brought us such memorable moments as: Don Denkinger’s safe call on Jorge Orta’s dribbler in the 1985 World Series, Derek Jeter’s Jeffrey Maier aided home run in the 1996 ALCS, Matt Holliday’s game winning tag from 3rd on a sacrifice fly in the 1 game playoff against the Padres in 2007, and in 2010 Jim Joyce’s blown call that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game.  Most long time baseball fans can conjure up images in their heads of these events when brought up, no doubt they are all classics.

So when Bud Selig brought the first shreds of an instant replay program into Major League Baseball, allowing reviews of home run calls, many griped that this would interfere with the human element (aka umpire blown calls) that makes the game what it is.  I say they are exactly right, and that is exactly what is necessary.

I simply do not understand how people would defend the notion of blown calls being a part of the game.  I don’t mean to attack the umpires, a vast majority of the time they get the calls absolutely perfect, making split second decisions without the benefit of super slow motion high def instant replays.  But at the same time, they can, and have missed calls that have made the difference in the outcome of an inning, who wins a game, or perhaps a World Series.  To me, that on its own flies in the face of baseball purity.  Teams should not have to worry about losing games because of umpire inconsistency, they should have to worry about losing games because they get outplayed.

What MLB needs to figure out is how they can minimize this uncontrollable factor from affecting the game, without making the games longer than they already are.  I think the model that the NFL has instituted works pretty well.  It’s certainly not a perfect system, but it allows teams a chance to protest a call it thinks is wrong with the actual possibility of the call being overturned.  Some how baseball needs to design a system that follows the NFL model.

First and foremost, the challenging of balls and strikes cannot be part of this system.  I would limit the challenges to safe or out calls, and to plays where a player either catches or traps a fly ball.  I would give each manager 1 challenge per game, and if they challenge a play that turns out to have been ruled correctly, they would be penalized for it.  There must be a risk involved in the system, so managers cannot recklessly use their challenges.  What exactly that penalty would be, is another question.  Losing an out while at bat?  Having a batter start with 2 strikes?  That’s the biggest hurdle to instituting a system like this.  On the other hand, like in the NFL, if you challenge a play and the call is overturned, you are awarded a 2nd challenge.  I feel like this would be fair, an fairness is something that is sometimes lacking in baseball today.

This fabled human element has stamped its place in the lore of Major League Baseball, forever altering the course of careers (Armando Galarraga), series (Jeffrey Maier), and World Series (Don Denkinger).  The only element of humanity that should ever affect the outcome of a game is the ability of the players to rise to the occasion, to come through in the clutch, to make an impact on the field.  Bud, at least do this if you aren’t going to resolve the Athletics situation.  Not that I’m bitter, but seriously, try and make yourself a little bit more useful.

How to Not Snooze and Lose (In Fantasy Baseball)

David Wright looks to rebound from a disappointing 2011, making him a potential draft steal. (mrzeising/ Flickr)

Who am I to tell anyone what to do when draft time comes around? I’m a guy who has played fantasy baseball for 10 years now, won my share of championships, and I fancy myself a damn good fantasy baller. That’s who.

For years I’ve casually perused various lists of who the so-called experts think will make the difference between fantasy failure and glory. Now that I have my own little forum to get my voice heard, I figured I would take a shot at putting together my own list.

This list was compiled as something of a sleeper list. These are players who will not be targeted by most people in their drafts, but I feel like can make a real difference in the success of any team.

I’ve found 10 players who I think can be steals in many drafts, some may be fighting the injury bug already, but still can have an impact in 2012.

1. 3B David Wright (NYM): Right off the bat (pun intended) you might be thinking to yourself, “How is this guy putting David Wright on a sleeper list?” Well, if you consider for a moment that this time last year David Wright was being taken in round 2 in a lot of drafts (guilty as charged) and ended up having an injury riddled, rather unproductive season. So far this spring he has been M.I.A. with a rib cage issue, which today was revealed to be a muscle tear. But trust me on this one, this can only hurt his draft stock, which makes him a prime target to snatch way later than he should be. If this isn’t a major issue as Wright proclaims, a more hitter friendly than before Citi Field could put him in line for a major rebound season.

2. SP Adam Wainwright (STL): If you look at the 2009 Cy Young Award voting, Adam Wainwright really should have won, or at least could have. If 1st place votes meant a little more, he would have won, he had 12 to Tim Lincecum’s 11. Fast forward to Spring Training 2011, Adam feels a little twinge in his elbow and just like that, sayonara 2011, hello Tommy John Surgery. Pitchers have a history of oftentimes returning from surgery with a stronger arm, higher velocity, better than ever. So Wainwright is a strong candidate to do exactly that. He’s already made a couple Grapefruit League appearances and is on track to pick up in 2012 where he left off in 2010.

3. SP Matt Moore (TB): He blew away the Texas Rangers in the ALDS last season, that was his coming out party. Moore has been the subject of much hype this offseason after his performance in the latter part of 2011, and I expect him to deliver. After a little thought, I realized putting Moore on a list like this might be kind of like putting Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III on a similar list for fantasy football, but I’m including him anyway.

4. 1b Eric Hosmer (KC): Called up to KC mid season and put up a very respectable .293/.334/.465 line in 128 games. Fantasy wise, the important numbers are the HRs and RBI, he had 19 HR and 78 RBI, which projected out to a full season of games would put him at 24 HR and 99 RBI. I personally think the sky is the limit for this young slugger, somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 HR and 100 RBI is easily attainable, and an uptick in OPS is likely based on minor league on base numbers, the discipline will return once he adjusts fully to the bigs.

5. 3B Brett Lawrie (TOR): The Canadian 3B burst onto the scene in Toronto last year after coming over in the Shaun Marcum deal with Milwaukee. He instantly became a fantasy darling late in 2011 by posting a sexy .953 OPS in 43 games. The sample size isn’t huge, but the potential at a sometimes unpredictable position will be appealing. Those who miss out on the big guns at the hot corner may be pleasantly surprised with Brett Lawrie.

6. SP Johan Santana (NYM): Coming off a shoulder surgery that cost Santana the entire 2011 campaign, the lefty looks to prove that the hefty contract he received from the Mets after being traded from the Twins wasn’t a mistake. He looks to be throwing with ease and without hesitation so far this spring. The last few years have made everyone forget just how dominant he was with Minnesota. I don’t for one second expect him to return to that level, but a rebound campaign with 15 wins and an ERA in the low 3.00’s is entirely possible, and could probably be grabbed in the second half of most drafts.

7. UTIL Jesus Montero (SEA): The uber prospect that the New York Yankees seemed unwilling to part with was parted with. He teased us with his power potential briefly in the Bronx last year, launching 4 HR in just his first 19 games in the show. His power potential in 2012 may be dampened a bit by moving onto Seattle, but the possibility of him gaining C eligibility is huge at a position so thin offensively.

8. 2B Jason Kipnis (CLE): Seven HR in his first 19 games is leaving many with visions of Chase Utley. There’s no telling whether he can reach that level of stardom, but he does play in a fairly hitter friendly ballpark at Progressive (I still call it Jacobs) Field. Either way, playing a position like his that often lacks the kind of power he can bring makes him a very intriguing pick. Savvy players will be sure to scoop this guy up.

9. 2B Jemile Weeks (OAK): Jemile is essentially the polar opposite of what Jason Kipnis can bring to the table. Every successful fantasy team needs some of those guys who plan to run wild on the base paths. He can be one of them. I think an AVG in the .280-.300 range and 80 runs to go along with 30 steals is a completely reasonable expectation for Weeks in his sophomore campaign. Again, this comes at a tough position to get production out of.

10. OF Yoenis Cespedes (OAK): The great mystery that is Yoenis Cespedes. The A’s shocked the baseball world by inking the man known as “The Cuban Willie Mays”, but I hope we don’t get caught up in the moniker and put too much pressure on the guy. He does have the precious 5 tool ability, so the potential physically to be a monster in the bigs is there. It’ll take some major adjustment time for him, in all aspects of his new life. I think a decent average in the .260-.280 range and I predict a 20/20 season for HR and SB. Perhaps a low risk/high reward late round flyer type of choice.

Honorable Mentions: SP Brandon Beachy (ATL), SP Daniel Bard (BOS), 2B Dustin Ackley (SEA), OF Yonder Alonso (SD), SS Zack Cozart (CIN)

Good luck to everyone in 2012, and as always have fun!

 

Follow me on Twitter @SeanD25

Things That Make Baseball “Purists” Squirm: Volume II

Without the DH, this is a horrifying image we would see all too often. (Eric Kilby/Flickr)

To many fans of National League teams, the mere mention of the Designated Hitter will elicit responses of “I hate the DH” or “That’s not REAL baseball” or perhaps my personal favorite “That’s why I only follow the NL.”  Not exactly sure what kind of baseball fan intentionally neglects half of the Major Leagues, but that’s another story for another time.  Nevertheless, the DH is one of the most contentious and hotly debated aspects of the game, and it is not going away any time soon.

SI’s Tom Verducci reported from an unnamed baseball official last week that the NL would adopt the DH within the next 10 years.  The article notes that this development could come as a by product of a much bigger shift in the game, geographical realignment.  The idea being, the identity of the AL and NL would be nonexistent, therefore a uniform set of rules would be put into place.  I don’t mind the idea of adding the DH to the NL, but I despise the idea of geographical realignment.

This report though got me thinking about all the discussions I have had with many of the baseball fans I know.  Being in the San Francisco Bay Area, most of those fans are Giants fans who are exactly the kind of people who would say the responses I noted earlier.

So where do I stand on this issue?  I am 100% pro DH.  Why? Well I’m glad you asked, let me enlighten you.

The most common response I get from people whenever the DH comes up is that the pitcher is on the field, therefore he should bat.  I understand that in theory this makes him accountable for perhaps brushing a guy back for crowding the plate, since the pitcher himself would have to step in there shortly after.  I don’t think the game has much of an issue with players being able to police themselves, besides if a batter has a real problem with what the pitcher is doing, the mound is only 60 feet 6 inches away if you know what I mean.

I personally don’t understand why people so desperately want to see a guy who more than likely has a career average in the .100’s and hasn’t hit regularly since high school or college step into the box.  Yes, the pitcher’s spot in the order forces the manager to shuffle his position players around to prevent that automatic out, I picture NL fans applauding and high -fiving each other every time the manager goes to the home plate umpire to make a double switch.  Verducci himself raves about Game 6 of the 2011 World Series because Ron Washington used 9 guys in the number 9 spot in the order.  I’m pretty sure it was the Rangers being a strike away from winning it all, twice, and David Freese’s heroics that made that game a classic, but maybe I’m the crazy one.

For every bit of lineup shuffling that DH haters cite as their reasons for their hatred, I cite the bullpen shuffling that is necessary for facing a full lineup of hitters.  When a team is facing the Boston Red Sox, I am willing to bet that the opposing manager is just as concerned about how he is going to navigate through that lineup with David Ortiz settled in the middle, than that same manager would be about the pitcher’s spot during an inter league series in an NL park.  Just because the chess match is in a different aspect of the game, doesn’t make it any less strategic.

The fact that the DH keeps some of the greatest hitters active a little longer is a nice bonus.  Guys like Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, Frank Thomas, Hideki Matsui, and David Ortiz are able to prolong their careers when perhaps their bodies won’t allow them to endure the grind of playing in the field everyday.  I can’t imagine what the league would be like if suddenly so many players had to retire 5 years premature because they can’t field their positions like they used to.  It’s rare that a player can keep up defensively into his late 30’s or even his 40’s, because, you know, not everyone has Barry Bonds’ “ability.”

Things That Make Baseball “Purists” Squirm: Volume I

Evan Longoria's dramatic walk off home run in 2011 would not have happened in 2012. (Big League Stew/Flickr)

When I wrote that last piece essentially proclaiming MLB Commissioner Bud Selig the antichrist of baseball, it sort of took on a life of its own. Originally I had intended to write about the announced expansion of the MLB playoffs to 10 teams (kind of), but it evolved into a massive brow beating of Bud Selig as a result of the increasingly dire stadium situation for the Oakland Athletics. So, I figured it would be worthwhile to follow up on that original thought, and explore some other potential seismic shifts in MLB in a new series entitled Things That Make Baseball “Purists” Squirm.

I could feel Bob Costas’s teeth grinding when it was announced last week that MLB would be expanding its playoffs to 10 teams. I tend to think this stretches the definition of what the playoffs are, since this new format creates a 1 game playoff between the top 2 wild card teams in each league, with the winner moving on to face the top seeded team (no matter what division they play in, unlike the prior seeding rules).

This “round” of the playoffs reduces a marathon-esque 162 game season to a single game, where weird fluky things can happen and a clearly better team can have their championship dreams dashed in a couple hours.

Some might say that has been the case every time there happens to be a tie at the end of the regular season. Most definitely not. In the case of a 1 game tiebreaker, it is happening because a pennant race simply couldn’t be decided in 162 games. Some of the game’s classic moments have taken place during 1 game tiebreakers (Bucky F@#$%&# Dent, Matt Holliday, etc…).  Every pitch is filled with tension, the games are simply great baseball theater. What this new format has done is force that theater to take place twice every season. Ultimately I believe this will diminish the drama of the event when a tiebreaker takes place.

Ideally, I would have the 2 wild card teams square off in a 3 game series, that way some of the true flukiness that is destined to take place can be eliminated. The idea that a team can in essence erase a deficit of 2, 3, 4, or however many games by simply beating the team they’ve been chasing once, is going to cheapen the pennant races. I get the idea that it will keep that many more teams in the race for a playoff spot, and MLB assumes that will equal higher attendance in those cities, and therefore more revenue. Honestly I don’t have a problem with the concept as a whole, the execution is simply short sighted. They could hold the 3 game series in the wild card leader’s home ballpark, if the wild card runner up wants to eliminate the leader, they’ll have to beat them in their house. I think that would be a fair compromise, MLB would get its theoretical revenue increase, and the wild card winner won’t have their playoff hopes dashed because of one off day.

On the next edition of TTMBPS, we delve into perhaps the most contentious debate in baseball, the designated hitter. NL fans and Bob Costas are sure to get all riled up about this one.

Bud Selig: The Most Productive Useless Commissioner Ever

(IllegalShift/Flickr)

Originally I had intended to write this piece as a statement on how MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has failed miserably in his handling of the situation that plagues the Oakland Athletics organization.  I was going to make demands that the A’s be released from the purgatory that has turned one of the most successful and historic franchises in baseball into an extremely thin shell of its former self.  Then the New York Daily News’ Bill Madden reported that it was likely the A’s were going to ultimately be denied permission to move to San Jose, upholding the territorial rights of the San Francisco Giants (which were given to them by the Haas family when they owned the A’s).

This is the kind of news, no matter how unconfirmed or untrue it may turn out to be, I was absolutely dreading.  Throughout this entire ordeal I have maintained that I was willing to exchange the hour long drive to the O.co Coliseum for perhaps a two hour long drive to the mythical Cisco Field in San Jose.  Anything was better than the A’s packing up and leaving the state.

I am at a point now where I am trying my best to keep off the ledge, to convince myself that my entire baseball life is not about to be pulled out from under me.  Joe Stiglich of the Bay Area News Group did his best to talk me down, he spoke with A’s owner Lew Wolff who told him “I spoke to Bud today on another matter, he didn’t bring it up.”

Something about this just doesn’t feel right.  In the 3 years since this committee has been formed to decide the future of this organization, nothing but hurdles have been thrown down in front of them.  If this holds true, perhaps the last hope to keep the A’s within driving distance is the Coliseum City plan which would build a new facility at the current site, or perhaps far-fetched as it may be, a move down I-80 to Sacramento into an expanded Raley Field (which has been built to allow for such expansion, just in case).

With an orange and black cloud hovering over the Oakland Athletics, I feel that ultimately the blame has to fall on the shoulders of Commissioner Bud Selig himself.  Since taking over the Office of Commissioner in 1992 he has made massive changes to the structure of the league.  The introduction of the wild card and the 3 round playoff format, interleague play, the steroid testing program, the World Baseball Classic, revenue sharing, and just a few days ago the addition of 2 more playoff teams and a 1 game wild card playoff are just a few of his notable accomplishments during his tenure (Wikipedia.com).  But allowing one franchise to essentially be held hostage by another, to be driven into the ground, is unfathomable.

I know full well that I am not one bit impartial on this issue.  To anyone who read my introduction this week, you know how much this team means to me.  In a baseball sense, losing the A’s would literally be like someone tearing my heart out and shipping it off to San Antonio/Portland/Las Vegas.  But I recall seeing the looks on the faces of the Montreal Expos fans watching their team for the last time.  There may not have been many of them, but they were devastated.  I couldn’t imagine something like that happening to me, but alas here we are.

I will not for one second try to convince people that Bud Selig has not had a positive impact on many aspects of the game.  But in this case he is a complete and utter failure.  If he allows the Giants to bully the A’s around like this, his authority is a sham, his credibility is null, and his presence will be useless.  Much to the detriment of A’s fans, baseball fans, and the game itself.

The Valuable Albatross?

The New Face of the Franchise (Flickr/shgmom56)

As CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman first reported yesterday the St. Louis Cardinals have signed C Yadier Molina to a 5 year contract extension with a mutual option for a 6th year. The value of this contract is the most notable aspect of the deal, it’s base value is $75 Million with an additional $15 Million for the option year.

The numbers themselves are not exactly striking, but the player who is receiving them is. I don’t want to disparage Yadier Molina in any way, he has won 2 World Series titles with the Cards, has made the All Star team each of the last 3 seasons, and was a Gold Glove winner each of the last 4 years, but is he really worth $15 Million a season? Even in a market where more and more teams are throwing money around, doing their best to emulate the ways of the Yankees and Red Sox, this seems like it could be an albatross waiting to happen.

Let’s first look at the raw data, courtesy of the phenomenal websites Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com. Molina has a career OPS of only .707, the average OPS for catchers since 2004 when he debuted is .714. So by that standard, Molina is slightly below league average. Over that time though he has a cumulative WAR of 19.0, which is 6th best among catchers. So there must be some value in other aspects of his game.

This brings me to my theory as to why the Cardinals were willing to pony up such a massive contract for a catcher who by offensive standards is average at best. Being a 4-time defending Gold Glove winner, Molina is widely regarded as one of the, if not the premier defensive catcher in the Major Leagues. But I believe his true value lies in the comfort level the pitchers for the Cardinals have with him, his leadership in the clubhouse, and his contributions to the city of St. Louis.

A very similar case occurred between the New York Yankees and Derek Jeter during the 2010/2011 offseason. An aging Jeter, who was very much beginning to look like a SS in his mid-30’s was making demands rumored to be in the $150 Million range at one point. Ultimately Jeter signed for the price the Yankees had initially offered, 3 years and $45 Million. While this was a huge concession by Jeter, it demonstrated that his value was much higher in the eyes of the Yankees than it would’ve been to any other team.

Had Jeter hit the open market I would speculate he would’ve been able to get perhaps a 2 year contract with a total value around $15-20 Million. The primary motive for a team to sign Jeter would have been for his name value and the marketing opportunities that would’ve accompanied his arrival in a new city, not so much what he could’ve contributed on the field.

So did we just see the Cardinals anoint Yadier Molina as their franchise’s Derek Jeter? Well, in a sense that is exactly what they did. The value of Yadier Molina to the Cardinals is higher than it would be anywhere else, just as the Yankees placed a higher value on Derek Jeter. Perhaps they wouldn’t have done a contract like this if Albert Pujols had stuck around. But maybe those millions of dollars were burning a hole in Bill DeWitt’s pocket after winning the 2011 World Series and Yadier Molina was simply in the right place at the right time. I can’t possibly imagine Molina will ever live up to those dollars, but with 2 rings already, he has enough good will in the Gateway City to avoid the dreaded albatross label.

My Name is Sean, and I Have An Obsession.

No it’s not like the people you see on TLC who can’t stop brushing their teeth, or collecting Cabbage Patch Kids, or anything that compels me to appear on a fascinating cable TV show. But I do have an obsession… baseball. It’s something I grew an affinity for at a very early age, and unlike the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it never wore off. In fact, it has only intensified as the years (or seasons perhaps) have passed.

My first memory of baseball, albeit a vague one, is from 1989, the last time the Oakland Athletics won the World Series (As I’m constantly reminded by suddenly boastful San Francisco Giants fans). I started kindergarten about a month or so before the Battle of the Bay began when the A’s and the Giants met for the first time ever in the Fall Classic. Understandably so, everyone was rather excited about it here in the Bay Area. What was fascinating to me at the time was the fact that everyone was choosing sides, suddenly neighbors were adversaries, colleagues were opponents, everyone had a horse in the race. Of course at the time I didn’t necessarily have a complex understanding of the fan dynamic surrounding me, but I was put in a situation where I too had to take a side.

My father grew up in the greater Los Angeles area and moved up to northern California in the 1970’s, he was an imported Dodgers fan. So naturally he wasn’t about to move to the Bay Area and start rooting for the mortal enemy of the team he grew up with. Thus my fandom of the A’s was born, years before I was.

Back to my kindergarten class, again the memory is vague, but I recall my teacher asking the class who they were rooting for. It seemed like every kid in the class raised their hand when asked if they wanted the Giants to win. When the A’s were mentioned with the same question? Just me. Or at least that was how it felt. All my best friends were Giants fans, I was the weirdo who liked that other team in the East Bay. That team who had won 3 straight World Series titles 15 years prior, that team who was the defending American League Champions, that team who should have been the defending World Series Champions if it hadn’t been for Kirk @#$%&%# Gibson and Orel Hershiser. That didn’t matter though, the Giants were more popular, and I was the baseball outcast, who would ultimately have the last laugh.

As years went by and I grew up, my understanding of the game grew with me. After the years of the Bash Brothers faded into the past, Rickey Henderson was off on his journey throughout Major League Baseball, all those players I had emulated while playing baseball with my Dad had moved onto greener pastures (or at least other pastures), I feel that my true appreciation for the game took hold. The A’s were flat out miserable during the 90’s, in ways that make the current situation in Oakland seem optimistic in many ways. Mike Oquist, Dave Telgheder, Brent Gates, Eric Fox, Steve Ontiveros, and lest we forget Ariel Prieto were some of the many “marquis” names to don the white cleats during those lean years. But I still loved them. I witnessed some putrid games during that time, but I came back for more. I sat in amazement as the monstrosity that came to be known as Mount Davis was erected. Not the kind of amazement that you might experience on your first visit to Disneyland, but the kind of amazement where you’re thinking “I can’t believe they’re doing this.”

In the early 2000’s the A’s finally experienced a renaissance with the emergence of Billy Beane’s supposed genius and the Moneyball methodology. I was proud that I had stuck through the miserable 90’s to see them bounce back. But it brought me to the 3rd stage of my baseball life, true understanding.

I had begun to dabble in fantasy baseball, which at the time had been primarily done using old fashioned methods of (gasp) writing numbers down and keeping track of stats yourself. I recall a rotisserie league draft my Dad participated in which took something like 8 or 9 hours to complete, I had no interest in that kind of thing just yet, but I still for some reason recall one of the players excitedly proclaiming his pick to be “BOBBY BONILLAAAAAA!!!” The things that stick in your memory block are certainly curious sometimes. Anyway, with the development of the internet and the migration of fantasy sports into the digital age I decided to give that a try. It was at that point that I began to understand not only who the good players, the bad players, and the elite players were, but why they were. The stats are the lifeblood of the game of baseball. Without an understanding of what those numbers really mean, I think it’s impossible to have anything beyond a casual interest in the game. Sabermetrics changed everything, for me, for Billy Beane, and for all the baseball nerds out there.

I want to make something perfectly clear though, as I begin to develop this blog I want people to know that while I do appreciate the value of statistical analysis, I think there are some things that simply cannot be evaluated, or predicted by the numbers. I have always felt that sometimes you just have to sit and watch a guy play, and if you know what you’re seeing, you can determine if they are the real deal. So I will most definitely refer to the box scores and the many resources available online for research, but I will definitely not be using those numbers as a crutch. If I slip into any of that kind of nonsense, I can only hope that someone will call me out on it.

So what is this blog all about anyway? It’s about what ever happens in the world of baseball. For people like me, this is the holiday season. For me this year, Christmas Day is March 28th when my Athletics battle the Seattle Mariners from Tokyo. I say this knowing full well that they will more than likely draw Felix Hernandez in game 1, which usually equals a shutout, but that’s okay, because baseball will be back.

It’s not a news blog, I assume pretty much anything I write about will be known to the masses already through the seemingly infinite news sources surrounding the game. But I will give my honest opinions about what I see happening and what I think may happen next all around the baseball world. I can certainly not proclaim to be the Nostradamus of MLB blogging. I placed a $20 bet on the A’s winning the 2011 World Series, envisioning a run to the promise land much the same way the Giants won the 2010 title (worst day of my life), we all saw how that turned out. But I will certainly not be shy about taking a stab at predicting the future and if by some chance I nail it, I’ll have evidence that I called it.

I will also look to build a podcast that may serve as a companion to the blog, a blogcast if you will. I have a background in radio broadcasting at Sonoma State University and would very much like to meld that background with my new venture of blogging.

I suppose that will about do it for this little (more like long winded) introduction. Now everyone has an idea where I’m coming from. I may skew in the direction of the A’s from time to time as the season dictates, but make no mistake, anything and everything is fair game in this blog.

Now you all know the nature of this obsession, but rather than cure it, I hope you all will embrace it with me. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I guess my blog is a leap year baby. Look forward to celebrating its first birthday on February 29, 2016!

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