Friday, December 29, 2006

Nope, Not Him

Nose...itching...someone must be thinking about me...

Shortly after issuing a blistering rant about how certain Cowboys need to shut up and just play football, cornerback Terence Newman announced that he was not in fact talking about Terrell Owens (or so Owens says), the Cowboy doing A)the most talking and B)the least football. One can only presume that Newman was issuing a warning to:

A)Babe Laufenberg
B)Backup fullback Lousaka Polite
C)Ed "Too Tall" Jones, who hasn't recorded a single sack this season
D)Drew Bledsoe, whose clipboard-holding skillz are distinctly non-l33t
E)Left Tackle Sigmud Dortmunder, the Cowboy's 3rd round pick in 2056 out of Northwest Helsinki State

Clearly, none of those guys is helping the Cowboys win right now, and Newman is to be commended for taking the tough stand of calling out those who aren't pulling their weight. And no. Siggy, not having been conceived yet does not let you off the hook.

Handy-Dandy Free Agent Signing Guide - Part 8

Who: Barry Zito
What Team: San Francisco
How Much: $126M
How Long: 7 years
What It Means: That the Giants have decided to build around pitching once Barry Bonds finally retires, gets arrested, becomes a full-time DH, or mutates into The Toxic Avenger.
Will They Regret It: Right around the fourth year or so, at which point he'll finally be old enough to be a real Brian Sabean Giant and then all will be forgiven anyway. The legend of Barry Zito is well known: he never gets hurt, he wins, and he's got a killer curveball. ALso, he's kind of a flake, but in a good-natured, won't-cause-your-clubhouse-to-implode-but-may-slip-hash-brownies-into-the-post-game-spread sort of way. That's the legend. The numbers actually support that, though with a few troubling signs. Yes, he's incredibly durable and chows down innings like Popeye on a spinach farm, but his strikeout rate (and, if memory serves, his velocity) have gone down for the last three years, and that's not an indicator of long-term success. A sneaky-big part of Zito's value is tied up in the memory of what he was in 2002 or so, and he's not that pitcher any more. He's certainly not going to be that pitcher in 2013, either, though a metamorphosis into Jeff Suppan is not entirely out of the question. Playing in another pitcher's park will help, but the Giants' outfield defense is far worse than the A's, and that's going to show up in Zito's ERA and extra base hit numbers.
Ultimately, the Giants overpaid to get the best guy left out there. They needed to replace Jason Schmidt, but seven years is far too many years to give any pitcher, even one as durable as Zito. Ultimately, it looks like Sabean is banking on Zito to be the rock that the Giants' young stud pitchers - Lincecum, Lowry, and Cain - anchor on to until they're ready to be aces, at which point what he's saving on them will roughly balance out what he's overpaying on Zito. Plus, having Zito locked up gives them a recognizeable name on the roster once Barry finally completes his transformation into the Abomination, and thus lets the marketing department breathe a little easier. For now, at least. But whoever follows Sabean - and if he's there for the entire length of this contract, I'll be very surprised - is going to be stuck with the really unpleasant end of this deal.

Who: Jeff Suppan
What Team: Milwaukee
How Much: $42M
How Long: 4 years
What It Means: Somewhere, a Jeffrey Hammonds baseball card just spontaneously combusted.
Will They Regret It: Not in a "my God, what have we done?" sort of way. More in an "enh, you know, I'll bet that really attractive blonde in my 11th grade algebra class would have gone out with me if I'd just asked at the time" kind of way, a vague disquiet that maybe, just maybe, they could have done better. The pluses to getting Suppan are that he eats innings like they're covered in rich, creamy marzipan, and that adding him weakens the Cardinals, whose rotation now apparently consists of Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Braden Looper, the ghost of Hoss Radburn, and one of the dudes with no feet whom I've teed off against in Wii Baseball. Suppan isn't exactly a bad signing, and in this market this isn't exacly a huge contract, and four years isn't entirely out of the realm of common sense, but...this is one of those things that just has too many "ifs" attached to it. Ultimately, the move to Miller Park and the switch to the Brewers' defense (even sans Carlos Lee) from the Cardinals' gang of vacuum cleaners with gloves is going to hurt Suppan's numbers, and the Brewers. It's not a bad signing. It's just not a good one.

Who: Shea Hillenbrand
What Team: Los Angeles Angels of District Court
How Much: $6.5M
How Long: 1 year, with a vesting option for 2008
What It Means: Arte Moreno and Bill Stoneman have at least heard of this guy.
Will They Regret It: No, but they should. Hillenbrand, in addition to having the sort of personality that goes over in clubhouses like an autographed Terrell Owens jersey at Pat's Steaks, simply isn't that good. He puts up enough counting numbers to seem vaguely valuable, but he can't field, he wouldn't take a walk if it came with a free lap dance and prime rib buffet, and his power, relative to what you should be able to get at first base, is distinctly undersized. He's the classic "opportunity cost" ballplayer, in that his defenders will focus on what he did (hit 18 homers, batted around .290, drove in 80 runs, got dirt on his uniform) and not on what that spot in the lineup could/shoud have provided instead. Any time you get a 1B who hits for high-ish average but no power, the Mark Grace comparisons get exhumed, but he's really Richie Hebner without the walks. And that's not a good thing.
The ship is sinking, Shea. Good thing you've got a life raft made of money.

Who: Jason Marquis
What Team: Chicago Major
How Much: $21M
How Long: 3 years
What It Means: The best way to weaken an opponent is to steal his best players. Unfortunately, the Cubs stole Marquis instead.
Will They Regret It: They say that the only stat that matters is wins (conveniently ignoring the fact that the rules for assigning the magic "W" are about as screwy as the relationships on Grey's Anatomy). If that's the case, the Cubs faithful will take comfort in Marquis 12-15 wins each year, and will conveniently ignore the fact that it took five-plus runs to bail him out in most of those situations. Marquis isn't quite up to Bo Belinsky standards of chowderheadedness, but he's up there, and his win totals are largely a product of throwing in front of some legendary offensive production. Now, that may hold up in Chicago with a lineup of Lee, Ramirez, and Soriano, but Marquis has precious little room to slip in order to stay at least vaguely effective, and he's at the age where slippage is going to happen.
He's going to be bad, folks. Maybe not immediately, but soon, and for the rest of his deal - and that deal is so big that they're going to keep running him out there every fifth day no matter what. Those bats had better get cranking, because Marquis is going to need the help - and so are the Cubs.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been, Floyd Landis?

The government has won the right to use the names of the 96 major league baseball players who tested positive for steroids in 2003. Given the level of discretion that has surrounded the case so far - best described as "middle school slumber party" - I expect that roughly 95 of those are going to be leaked to the media any minute now, because, let's face it, that's what happens with these things. One can only hope that the folks entrusted with this information behave as honorably as Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams have done, but then again, if they had in the past, none of us would know who Fainaru-Wada and Williams are.

What this does, of course, is let the government crank up its single-minded assault on Barry Bonds, a pursuit that has yielded absolutely nothing except massive expenditures and the jailing of everyone but Bonds. Seriously, they could nail Al Capone on tax evasion, and he murdered people, not pitches. What does it say that this mess has dragged on for so long, to so little result, and to the detriment of absolutely everyone.

The government suffers because they, frankly, look like idiots for failing to pin down one of the most visible people on the planet. Baseball suffers because every time it looks like the conversation has shifted to something else, the steroids issue does its best Terminator impression and lurches out of the grave. (Memo to the scandalized media - Shawne Merriman is that way. So's Bill Romanowski. And Julius Peppers. And Todd Sauerbrun. And, oh, never mind.) The fight on steroids suffers, because the players aren't going to want to agree to any more "confidential" testing when it gets yanked out in the open like this. And the fans suffer, because the fun of the hot stove season, not to mention the pleasure of being a fan, gets submarined once again.

So who wins? Nobody, as far as I can tell. Not "truth" - all of this stuff is old news. Not justice - you can't tell me there aren't bigger problems that should be getting the tax dollars that this mess is soaking up. Maybe some grandstanding public officials, but that's about it.

Will Carroll over at Baseball Prospectus hints that at least a few of the names on the list are going to be recognizeable ones. We will then be subjected to endless hand-wringing on ESPN, in the print media, and on talk radio, all to no good end. I can see precious little good coming out of this, and a great deal that's bad.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

11+0 = 11

The knives are out in Dallas. After yesterday's thumping at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles, the usual suspect (Terrell Owens) and an unusual one (Terry Glenn) are doing some dynamite fishing, lobbing grenades over their shoulders in hopes of blowing the Big Tuna out of the water.

Owens griped about not getting the ball enough early (his two catches were in the first half), not being thrown the ball late, being thrown the ball late at the wrong time, and presumably having tiny square pieces of bread in the dressing room that the cold cuts in the pre-game spread won't fit on properly. Glenn, for his part, made a nonsensical ramble about how nobody on the offense is satisfied with the offense, even though they're the entire offense. To wit:

"I'm not alone. The whole offense is frustrated. They are looking around saying, 'Why can't we do anything when we have all these weapons?' "
Presumably, if the whole offense is frustrated because they're not being used, then Parcells needs to end his habit of playing "keep away" with the pigskin during Cowboys offensive possession, or something to that effect.

Owens didn't help his case by dropping another ball, something he's become notorious for this season. That, not Parcells or anything else, is what is finally hammering nails into Owens' career. All of the attitude and media hoo-haw and everything else could be tolerated as long as Owens performed on the field. Even the scraps with the coach, be it Reid or Pacells or the ghost of Pop Warner, could be tolerated because, hey, it's not the coach out there going deep for six, and if the guy's producing, what's the hassle?

Only he's not, and that lets the worm turn. Strike one was admitting he didn't try hard on every play, a cardinal sin to a fan base that wants to believe in the pure and unsullied work ethic of the guys wearing their team's uniforms. To fail is vaguely acceptable, to not try is heresy. And when that lack of effort is coupled with lack of results - with two-catch days and drops and tantrums and obsessive spotlight-seeking, well, that's when they start warming up the bus to throw you under. Sean Salisbury fired the first salvo last night, calling Owens "just another guy" and "not a superstar". There's going to be more where that came from, and when ESPN, the publicity machine that dumped buckets of kerosene onto every Owens-related fire it could find (How many times did we see those situps in his driveway?) is getting dismissive of him, it's clear that the Terrell Owens show has jumped the shark.

The Ghost of Football Future is waiting for Owens back at his place. It's going to show him a glimpse of a time when there are a lot fewer job offers, dollars, and media attention available. It's going to show him Dennis Rodman, and Mike Tyson, and John Rocker. Somehow, though, I don't think it's going to make a difference.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Watch Your Back, Tom"

It was interesting to watch Mark May politely put a shiv into the kidney of N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler tonight on ESPN. Apparently Fowler had gone ballistic earlier in the year when May had made comments about then-coach Chuck 'The Chest" Amato's job security or lack thereof. Apparently Fowler had gone so far as to call May to yell at him and to reassure him that Chuck was his guy, he wasn't going anywhere, blah blah blah.


You could see May positively vibrating when his co-host tossed him a hanging curveball of a question about coaching changes, one that he could knock out of the park and into Fowler's metaphorical lap. To his credit, the former Hog did not actually get up on his desk and dance while shouting "Neener neener neener, Lee Fowler is a weiner", but you could tell - he really wanted to. Instead, he settled for warning new N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien to watch his back, and, between the lines, warning Fowler to watch his ass. One suspects that Mr. May didn't take kindly to being embarassed in front of his bosses earlier this year, and now that he's been vindicated, he's going to be on Fowler's case like David Morse's cop character on Dr. Gregory House.

Let's face it, nobody's ever accused Lee Fowler of excess grace or intellect - the ham-fisted handling of the men's basketball coaching search springs to mind - but actively antagonizing a component of the media that's got a huge national audience and a solid reputation? Not smart, Lee. Not smart at all.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Handy-Dandy Free Agent Signing Guide - Part 7 - One Year Specials

Who: Marcus Giles
What Team: San Diego
How Much: $3.75M
How Long: 1 year, with a team option for 2008
What It Means: Kevin Towers is one hell of a poker player
Will They Regret It: Most likely not, and this is my front-runner for "steal of the off-season". Giles is 28, just moving into his prime, and it wasn't so long ago that the asking price for him was steeper than the business end of a ski jump. Everyone figured that he was the back end of the Padres' maneuverings when they dealt away the only real second baseman on their roster (Josh Barfield, for those of you playing at home), but to get him this cheaply, on this short of a deal, and without surrendering anything should be enough to send Pads fans into low earth orbit. Last year was Giles' worst with the bat, but he's a decent bet to rebound, particularly if he can avoid getting run over by anyone larger than Eddie Gaedel this year. The Padres have solved their second base problem cheaply and effectively, and holding the option for 2008 just makes the deal that much sweeter.

Who: Ryan Klesko
What Team: San Francisco
How Much: $1.75M
How Long: 1 year
What It Means: One, there are no hitters left out there. Two, they're dancing in the streets in San Diego
Will They Regret It: Only if he plays. Klesko used to be the rarest of all ballplayer types: the burly slugger who could steal bases. One got the feeling he got most of those SBs because those poor, helpless middle infielders bailed off the bag when they saw 220 pounds of snorting Klesko galloping up the basepaths, but that's neither here nor there. His speed went years ago, his power followed when his shoulder turned into linguine, and if you put him anywhere but 1B, prepare to watch him lurch around like he should be doing "Puttin' On the Ritz" with Dr. Frederick Frankenstein. Bruce Bochy says that RoboKlesko will be putting in time in the outfield, but God help the Giants if that's the case. The only redeeming value of this deal is that it's short; even the Giants' system should be able to come up with somebody who can outhit the 2007 edition of Klesko.

Who: Eric Gagne
What Team: Texas
How Much: $6M
How Long: 1 year
What It Means: $6M is now the going rate for a roll of the dice.
Will They Regret It: Slightly, unless they win the World Series this year. We've hit the "one year to prove myself" section of the free agent season, also known as the Nomar Garciaparra Career Memorial, which means that Gagne will spend the season auditioning for next year's big long-term deal. If he craps out, Texas is out a fair bit of money; if he's lights out, he's gone at the end of the year, and if he's mediocre, then he's not worth the $6M. In other words, it's a little much for a flyer on a guy who's an awful long way removed from his last extended action, and about whom the dreaded post-steroids parenthetical ("he looks much smaller" - the artful implication being, of course, that Gagne was doing Better Living Through Chemistry when he was blowing people away, but has since restricted himself to poutine and viande fume) has been repeatedly uttered. The potential for this to blow up in Texas' face is very real, though at least Akinori Otsuka is apparently sticking around to provide a deeper bullpen and some insurance.

Who: Rod Barajas
What Team: Philadelphia
How Much: $2.5M
How Long: 1 year
What It Means: Barajas will be hearing the name "Jody Reed" a lot.
Will They Regret It: Possibly - there's still time for Barajas to back out of this one the way he backed out of his deal with Toronto. The irony, of course, is that he's ending up with fewer years, less money, and no guarantee of starting over Carlos Ruiz. If he plays, he'll provide Lieberthalian production for less money, and throw out more baserunners. Ideally, he's there to ease the transition for Ruiz, the man who is theoretically the Catcher of the Future. On the bright side, it means that Pat Gillick didn't drink Chris Coste's Kool-Aid - the man's a great story, but he's mighty old for a rookie and not someone you want to count on or invest in to do a lot of your catching.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Answer is "Bye-Bye"

So Allen Iverson has finally gotten the long-rumored ride out of town that has been bruited about since the Polk administration. For Philly fans (those who are left, this deep into Billy King's reign), it's a moment of profound ambivalence. All other considerations aside, Iverson played Philly, throwing his body out there with reckless abandon, fighting through injuries, and never giving up on the hardwood. Undersized and fearless, he routinely went where his theoretically bigger and stronger teammates wouldn't, driving the lane with the sort of daemonic fervor that is the real hallmark of Philadelphia fandom. On the other hand, he never quite seemed to understand that the off-the-court stuff mattered, too. He may not have needed practice, but his teammates certainly did, and one suspects his attitude toward drill might not have helped the Kyle Korvers of the world improve. He never met a shot he wouldn't take, froze out other teammates who might have taken some of the burden from his shoulders, and generally had a relationship with the Sixers that had a definite Taylor/Burton quality to it.

And now he's gone. Despite everything, I'll miss seeing him as a Sixer. Whatever Iverson's other sins might have been, he never stinted on effort and was always fascinating to watch.
The deal might have "had" to be made - clearly, staying together for the sake of the kids wasn't working, not with kids like Dalembert and Iguodala - and the marriage was over. But he was one of the all-time Sixer greats, and he specialized in routinely doing the impossible through energy, will, and effort as much as through transcendent talent.

King, for his part, got a surprisingly good haul for having his hands tied - a decent point guard in Andre Miller, two draft picks in what everyone is at pains to call "the deepest draft in years", and a stiff with an expiring contract. Karmically, this begins to balance the horror that was the Bobby Abreu deal, particularly if King can parlay his 3 first round picks into 1 Greg Oden.

But that's for June. Right now, Iverson is with a new team in a new city, one that could certainly use his talents. He's got a running mate who won't be shoved aside a la Hughes or Stackhouse or any of the others the Answer has marginalized. And the Sixers are going to be absolutely dire, now and for the forseeable future, but that beats the hell out of scrapping in perpetuity for the 8th seed and the right to be swatted at random by the one Eastern Conference team with a pulse.

So Allen, thanks for the memories.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Do You Think...

...Terrell Owens would have spit on D'Angelo Hall if Tony Romo hadn't been getting all the press over the last couple of weeks?

...two weeks from now, anyone is going to know who Tank Johnson is? Such is the magic of the NFL's super psychic teflon.

...that every day, the unflattering portrait of Isaiah Thomas painted in Armen Keteyian's Money Players looks a little more accurate?

...that Gil Meche wakes up every morning giggling, and wearing pajamas made out of money?

...that the Flyers and Sixers would simultaneously be the worst teams in their respective leagues? It's like 1983 in Bizarro World.

...there are too damn many bowl games, but try cancelling the one your alma mater is in and see where that gets you.

...there are too many 6-6 teams playing bowl games, which is to say, there's at least one?

...Carmelo Anthony is going to pay someone to throw the sucker punch for him next time?

...Nate Robinson's near-psychotic justification of his role in precipitating the on-court brawl with the Nuggets - essentially "they had their starters in and we were trying to come back", which strikes me as good a reason as any to, you know, leave your starters in - caused his agent to have an on-the-spot anyeurism? Compare it to Carmelo's SAT vocab word-irrific statement.

...that the Knicks have gotten their mandatory "shocking upset with half the team suspended" out of the way, and will now go back to stinking?

...the Nuggets' owner is seriously thinking about suing David Stern right about now for all the revenue he's going to lose with Carmelo out of the lineup?

...that nothing really emphasizes the value of a bowl game like the coaches who jump ship before them? "This is what we worked for all season, men, the culmination of - hang on, is that a dump truck full of money backing up? Never mind."'s just not going to be the same holiday season without the Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl?

...the football players at schools like Rice, Rutgers, and Middle Tennessee care that sportswriters are making fun of them for attending schools like, say, Rice, Rutgers, and Middle Tennessee? They're still playing. The sportswriters, well, aren't.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Boston Signs Greatest Pitcher In History of Mankind

Well, maybe not, but judging from the hype you'd think that was the case.

Did anyone besides Steve Phillips think this deal was not going to happen? Yes, Scott Boras has done a couple of high-profile walkouts (see Drew, J.D. and Varitek, Jason), but both of those situations cost the player involved significant money on the front end that, even with bloated Boras deals on the back end, they'll never make up. And if the player isn't making money, neither is Boras. So, with that in mind, here's a quick look at the winners and losers:

  • Scott Boras - The whole "he won't sign" shtick was a transparent media ploy, designed to keep his client's name (and his) on ESPN every fifteen seconds. But he got the deal done, he got his commission, he got his publicity, and he got his guy $2M more than the Sox were supposed to be willing to pay - which can't hurt when he's trolling for clients for next year's free agent class.
  • Theo Epstein - He got the best pitcher on the market this year, and it's not like he's spending his own money. Even better, he left the Yankees visibly picking up table scraps (see: Igawa, Kei - $26M posting fee).
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka - He leaves Seibu, the Kansas City Royals of Japanese baseball, and comes to a serious World Series contender. He's in line to make roughly a gazillion dollars in marketing. And he's got a contract with perks the likes of which Kevin Brown never dreamed. It's good to be the king.
  • Terry Francona - A starting pitcher? Who's durable? And not in his late 30s or early 40s? Hopefully he'll know what to do with it.

  • WEEI - Because odds are, the Red Sox are going to provide Matsuzaka with a translator who doesn't own an AM radio, and where's the fun of ripping a guy for not being Jim freakin' Lonborg every time out if he doesn't hear you and react?
  • All of the media hounds in the Boston dugout - Because there are going to be roughly four hundred thousand Japanese reporters there, and none of them are going to care about Manny being Manny, Curt Schilling's video game company, the tattered remains of the Idiots, or anything except Matsuzaka.
  • Barry Zito - Because of the Matsuzaka chase, his free agency got back-burnered. He'll still get his money, but he's clearly not his agent's top priority this winter, and that may end up driving down the (still sure to be insane) price.
  • Tampa Bay Devil Rays - Having made an exceedingly canny signing of a Japanese player (3B Akinori Iwamura) and stockpiled an astounding excess of outfield talent in order to be in a position to trade for starting pitching, they'd be inclined to think that the gap between them and respectability was closing. And for a brief, brief moment, it was. Unless they can pull off the vaguely rumored Baldelli-for-Hamels/Myers trade, all of their young positional talent won't be enough to get them anywhere.

Memo to Pat Gillick

When starting pitching is the most desirable commodity on the market, AND you have a surplus, AND you have gaping holes on your roster at 3B, C, and the outfield, does it make sense to try to trade that surplus for a relief pitcher? From Pittsburgh? Good grief.

Though at least Gillick didn't trade him for the nearly non-tendered Kevin Mench. Yet.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mountain Momma Gonna Play Foobaw

So WVU's Rich Rodriguez became the latest Big East coach to stiff-arm a high-profile job offer in order to stay at a Big East school. Cynics will say that he used Alabama's slobberingly desperate interest to jack a raise out of his employer and alma mater, which is true - though he ended up with far less than he would have made at 'Bama. They may also point out that staying in the Big East is going to ensure an easier path to a BCS bid most years, which is possibly true, though for all the thud and blunder expended on behalf of SEC football this year, all of their highly ranked teams looked pretty durn beatable at one time or another. None of that matters.

What seems to be going on is that despite the best efforts of the rest of the BCS to denigrate, pillage, and otherwise ruin the self-esteem of the Big East, it's turning into a place where long-term football success is built. One of the ways in which the big conferences have always protected themselves from the quote-unquote little guy - in basketball as well as in football - has been to cherrypick the best talent before it can establish itself on that level. Someone's having success at Xavier? Here come the job offers from Virginia and Wake Forest and Ohio State.

This does two things - it brings talent to the big schools, and it keeps the smaller, less well known ones from building continuity. Continuity under a successful system turns into tradition, and all of a sudden a plucky underdog turns into a quote-unquote power, and a down-on-its-luck conference turns into a player. It went on at Gonzaga just a touch too long before someone swooped in and grabbed the coach, and now the Zags are a genuine power. It's happening all over the MVC, and for all the yammering from the talking heads, that looks like it's going to stick as well.

And so help me, the groundwork is being laid for it to be done with Big East football. Rodriguez has chosen to stick around and build. So has Greg Schiano at Rutgers. Bobby Petrino at Louisville looks like less of a sure bet to last long-term, but at this point the L's got its own momentum, as the Schnellenberger legacy lives on.

Howard Schnellenberger, right? You remember him? Once upon a time, he took this little, tiny private school with lousy football facilities that nobody took seriously and turned it into a national power. I think it was called Miami.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Handy-Dandy Free Agent Signing Guide - Part 6 - Oh Barry Be Not On the Lone Prairie Edition

Who: Andy Pettite
What Team: Mordor
How Much: $16M
How Long: 1 year
What It Means: He's been paying very close attention to Roger Clemens
Will They Regret It: Stop me if you've heard this one before, but considering what the rest of the market is doing (Gil Meche! I repeat, Gil freakin' Meche!), if he stays healthy and the Grimsley file doesn't suddenly turn into sworn testimory, then everyone will be fine with this deal. The Yankees actually have some real live pitching prospects for a change, and this buys them a little more seasoning time before at least one member of the geriatric brigade breaks down. Expect to see a repeat next off-season, and a mad scramble for any kind of pitching in Houston, which is now left with an increasingly thin rotation.

Who: Octavio Dotel
What Team: Kansas City
How Much: $5M
How Long: 1 year
What It Means: Dayton Moore has taken a look at his farm system.
Will They Regret It: If they try to make him a closer, they will. Otherwise, if Dotel is all the way back from his injury woes (and does anyone else ever use the words "injury woes"?) then he's capable of being a lights-out setup man. The price is a bit high, but you can blame the Orioles for that. Everyone gets what they want here - KC gets an actual pitcher for the pen, and Dotel gets one year to prove himself before going for the big bucks again.

Who: Barry Bonds
What Team: San Francisco
How Much: $16M
How Long: 1 year
What It Means: They're staying together for the sake of the kids, all 45K or so per home game.
Will They Regret It: No. For one thing, Bonds sells tickets. For another, he still beats the living hell out of the ball - last year's line was .270/.454/.545. For a third, his defense and durability issues aren't quite as bad as advertised. He's not a Gold Glover any more, but he's only slightly below average, and for a .545 slugging percentage, you can put up with that. Oh, and he played in 130 games last year, only 13 fewer than iron man Albert Pujols. So expect a season of controversy, punctuated by a lot of very long home runs, and the most awkward award presentation ceremony short of Pete Rozelle handing over the Super Bowl hardware to Al Davis.

Who: Vincente Padilla
What Team: Texas
How Much: $33.75 M
How Long: 3 years
What It Means: If you find a pitcher crazy enough to want to stay in Texas, hang on to him.
Will They Regret It: Considering the current market, probably not. The contract is the right length, and Padilla's game (fastball, fastball, fastball, fastball, and then maybe a fastball) isn't the sort to be affected by the park he's in. Or, to put it another way, when someone connects with a Padilla heater, it's so far gone it doesn't matter what stadium they're playing in. So all things considered it's a decent value for a decent talent. If that club option for the fourth year gets picked up, however, that means either the earth has flipped on its axis or something had gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Next Nobel Prize Winner, Fiddling-With-Speaker-Wires Division... the gentleman from Duke (?!? I know...) whose clearly superior and "mad" "leet" "skills" in the technological department "pown" "zors" your ass, as The Kids These Days say (or so I'm told). From Awful Announcing:

A student has figured out a way to mute Dickie V (and
any ESPN talking head for that matter) by the push of a button.

Look on his works, ye mighty, and despair, or whatever. This, dear readers, is exactly what the discovery of fire was like.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Handy-Dandy Free Agent Signing Guide - Part 5

Who: Gil Meche
What Team: Kansas City
How Much: $55M
How Long: 5 years
What It Means: Words fail me. This is Gil Meche we're talking about, people! Gil freakin' Meche!
Will They Regret It: In the sense that a guy in the electric chair gets wistful about lethal injection. Kansas City wants a veteran anchor to eat innings while the kids grow up? Fine, get a guy who's not a product of the Seattle rotation chop shop for rotator cuffs, and for the love of God, don't pay him $2.5M a year MORE than Adam Eaton, and in the name of all that is sweet and merciful on this Earth, don't go five years for a pitcher whose joints sound like a pile of cicadas on Spanish Fly.
Now, this being Kansas City, they would have just spent the money on something else stupid - see Stairs, Matt - if they hadn't blown it on Meche, but even so, this one is mind-boggling. If you're going to waste money in order to convince the paying fans that you're actually doing something, at least get a name they'll recognize. $55M? 5 years? For the pitching equivalent of a remanufactured toner cartridge? The only benefit I can see to this is that tying up so much money in one guy keeps the Royals from signing a fistful of consonant-laden "affordable" veterans to block their various position prospects.
But to quote The Brain, "The pain from this one is definitely going to linger."

Who: Ted Lilly
What Team: Chicago (NL)
How Much: $40M
How Long: 4 years
What It Means: The Cubs finally recognize that someone has to pitch this year.
Will They Regret It: Not as long as they can mentally compare it to the Gil Meche contract.
This gives them a reasonably solid, reasonably durable innings eater to slot into the rotation behind Zambrano for the next couple of years. Four years seems a bit much, particularly after Adam Eaton got three, but again, it beats the Gil Meche deal.

Who: Jason Schmidt
What Team: Los Angeles, nee Brooklyn
How Much: $47M
How Long: 3 years
What It Means: There's nothing better than helping yourself and hamstringing a rival at the same time.
Will They Regret It: Not unless Schmidt breaks down completely, and all things considered, I'll take the odds on 3 years of Schmidt over 4 of Lilly, 5 of Gil Meche, or pretty much any other pitcher out there on the market. Before this offseason's cash orgy, I would have said the dollars are a bit high, but Frank McCourt has obviously found some cash under the seat cushions, and why not spend it on quality? Here, at least, signing an old guy isn't going to block a prospect.

Who: Luis Gonzalez
What Team: Los Angeles-Brooklyn
How Much: $7M
How Long: 1 year
What It Means: Ned Colletti has in fact killed Brian Sabean and eaten his brain
Will They Regret It: Yes, when the Diamondbacks win the division going away. Gonzalez may not be entirely done, but he's no longer sashimi, either, and it would be a good idea to keep the fork to stick in him ready. The Giants and Dodgers seem to be in a race to see who can get older, faster, with the difference being that the Dodgers have plenty of good, young, major-league-ready, cheap talent available that deals like this are blocking. They're either going to lose a farm system full of guys like Kemp or have them rot in AAA while paying through the nose for endless stopgaps living on the scraps of past production.
And while I'm at it, it's nice to see that Mike Lieberthal found a home with LA, but isn't your second catcher supposed to be a durable catch-and-throw guy, not an aging semi-slugger with bad knees and no luck controlling the running game?

Who: Mike Piazza
What Team: Oakland/Fremont
How Much: $8.5M
How Long: 1 year
What It Means: Billy Beane is being hoist on his own petard
Will They Regret It: No, in large part due to the duration of the contract. Piazza isn't blocking anyone, he can still hit a bit, and having your emergency catcher bundled up as your DH saves some roster shenanigans down the line. On the other hand, the dollars are a direct result of the play Beane got for the flier he took on Frank Thomas last year. He may have been exploiting a market inefficiency last year, but that market got efficient in a hurry. No more $500K Hall of Famers for you, Mr. GM - you've had your fill already.

Phillies Pull Off Deal

The Phillies have made another trade with the White Sox, obtaining starting pitcher Freddie Garcia in exchange for disappointing starter prospect Gavin Floyd and lefty prospect Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez was, of course, part of last year's swap with the White Sox and was widely regarded as the best part of the deal.

What this means is that the Phillies now have a starting rotation of:

Brett Myers
John Lieber
Cole Hamels
Adam Eaton
Freddie Garcia
Jamie Moyer

Which, in case you were counting, makes six. Look for Leiber, the last free-agent holdover from the Ed Wade days on the pitching staff, to be gone shortly in a trade. The rumor mill says he's going to Milwaukee for Kevin Mench, who would bring the freakishly large head that the Phillies have been missing since Dave Hollins retired, but not much else. Right now. Pat Gillick seems intent on aggressively downgrading the outfield as quickly as possible - if Mench comes on board, look for Pat Burrell to get sent somewhere for a sack of magic beans shortly thereafter.

As for Garcia, he should get the normal AL-to-NL bump for a starter, but moving from the Cell to Citizen's Bank Park won't help, and his 17-9 record last year was more a result of a good offense bailing him out than anything else. Expect something closer to 14-13 in 2007, particularly if Gillick keeps on exiling any outfielders who can actually hit.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Handy-Dandy Free Agent Signing Guide - Part 4

Who: Greg Maddux
What Team: San Diego
How Much: $16/20M
How Long: 2 years
What It Means: Maddux's first few starts as a Dodger made an impression.
Will They Regret It: Not particularly. While he's been pretty ordinary the last few years, Mad Dog has also been durable and consistent. He had two runs of brilliance last year, one right after coming over to L.A., but mostly he's an innings-eater now. That being said, a reliable innings-eater in Petco is not a bad thing, particularly if he can impart some of that old-timey pitcher wisdom to Chris Young, Jake Peavy and the like. Then again, that part didn't work out so well in Chicago, did it?

Who: J.D. Drew
What Team: Boston
How Much: $70M
How Long: 5 years
What It Means: The Red Sox have gazed too long into the Bronx, and the Bronx has gazed back into them. Spend not with the Yankees, lest ye become the Yankees yourselves.
Will They Regret It: Well, it's certainly going to keep the chowderheads on WEEI busy for a while. All (humorless, injury-prone, passionless, Boras-ized) baggage aside, he's a pretty good player, and a lineup that goes Ortiz-Ramirez-Drew (or some variation thereof) is going to put a lot of runs on the board. On the other hand, you don't want to bet the farm on an injury-prone guy who's getting older, his past battles with Curt Schilling should make for an interesting clubhouse, and the guy is going to be a lightning rod for criticism from Dennis on the Cape and his ilk. I would rate it even money that Drew is traded away before he starts year 4 of that contract in an Abreu-like salary dump.

(Side note - yes, Drew is in fact that much better than Trot Nixon. Nixon got away with a lot of less-than-optimal play on the basepaths and in right field because he's a "gamer", his injury history makes Drew's look like a Zelazny novel next to a Robert Jordan, and he's just not that good. Yeah, he's cheaper than Drew, but sometimes, you get what you pay for.)

Who: Tom Glavine
What Team: New York Mets
How Much: $10.5M
How Long: 1 year
What It Means: The Mets think they can win it all next year. That, and they think Pelfrey, Humber, and company need one more year of seasoning.
Will They Regret It: Not likely. If Glavine holds up - and at his age, you always need a caveat - he'll provide the foundation for an otherwise shaky Mets rotation. And with that offense, you don't need stellar pitching, just enough to keep them in the game until Wright, Delgado and company come up again.

Who: Jose Guillen
What Team: Seattle
How Much: $5.5
How Long: 1 year + mutual option
What It Means: We've just IDed this year's Carl Everett.
Will They Regret It: In this market, $5.5M is a relatively cheap flier to take on a guy who demonstrated decent power in a ballpark that's actually harsher on hitters than Safeco. If Guillen bounces back, he's got some sock and a gun for an arm. If he doesn't, well, compared to the anchors attached to Beltre, Sexson, Washburn et alia, his contract is an appetizer.

Who: Dave Roberts
What Team: San Francisco
How Much: $18M
How Long: 3 years
What It Means: Brian Sabean is roughly 64% smarter than Ned Colletti when it comes to speedy, punchless center fielders
Will They Regret It: Not so long as the Giants can look south and see the Matthews and Pierre contracts, they won't. Roberts is a decent player, but he's a small part of the Giants' overall problem - their inability to put anyone on the field who isn't old enough to have slow-danced to "Careless Whisper" while still in high school, is. Roberts himself is a nice enough player, a flycatcher who can hit a little and steals intelligently, but he's not a difference-maker, and if his wheels come off, they'll come off in a hurry. The same can be said, incidentally, for all of the other elderly gents whom the Giants have signed.

Who: Danys Baez
What Team: Baltimore
How Much: $19M
How Long: 3 years
What It Means: Ed Wade lives (roughly two hours down I-95 from where he used to)
Will They Regret It: The odds are, when you give a reliever a three year deal, you're going to get one year of lights-out brilliance, one year of mediocrity, and one year of Jose Mesa. The question is, which one do you get first? If you draw the Joe Table card right off the bat, odds are the reliever in question won't last long enough to give you the good stuff. Kudos to the Orioles for recognizing that their bullpen needed a serious upgrade - particularly with the progress their starters were making under Rockin' Leo - but shelling out three year deals to proven mediocrities isn't the way to do it. If they're lucky, all of these guys will get their thunderbolt years at once and the pen will improve dramatically. But looking for sustained excellence out of Baez, a good-but-not-by-any-means-great pitcher who's going to want the closer job, loudly, is not the sort of bet I'd care to make.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Cheesing the System

By profession, I am a game designer. A significant portion of a game designer's job involves coming up with systems, and then figuring out how exactly people are going to exploit, get around, or simply abuse them to get ahead. And people do cheese the system to get ahead, even when there's nothing at stake except bragging rights. That's why there are so many companies making anti-cheating software out there for multiplayer games. It's because there are that many people cheating. Doubt me? Hang around video game forums for a while. You'll see impressive evidence.

Now, let us consider the BCS. By announcing the basis of its magic formula, the BCS has saved the coaches involved the potentially difficult task of reverse engineering the system. That means the system, and all of the flaws, loopholes, exploits, and potential cheats are exposed, and this time, it's not a question of who PWNZ0R3D whom. There are umpty-million dollars at stake here, far more incentive to hose the system than the chance to jump three spots on a ranked leaderboard on XBox Live.

I'm not saying that anyone deliberately jerked with the system in order for Florida to make its Crash Bandicoot-sized jump in the BCS standings this week. But if you put the system out there, smart people will figure out how to exploit it, how to adjust their votes up and down to get the results they want for their schools and their conferences, and the system is worthless.

I'm just saying.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Umm, Exactly

From this week's Sporting News, courtesy of that overprotective lion of the major conferences, Mike DeCourcy:

"Don't read too much into Butler's record - mid-majors are losing as much as they're winning."

Well, yes. Losing as much as they're winning. Which is to say, winning as much as they're losing, which is a heck of a lot better than they're supposed to be doing, if the BCS conferences are really as superior as their supporters say they are. If you're going to take the position that mid-major schools aren't that good, then the BCS conferences should be beating the holy hell out of them, not breaking even.

Get used to it, fellas. The mid-majors are IN UR HOUSE, TAKING UR NCAA BIDZ, and will be for the forseeable future.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Handy-Dandy Free Agent Signing Guide - Part 3

Who: Adam Eaton
What Team: Philadelphia
How Much: $24.5M
How Long: 3 years
What It Means: The market is officially All Out of pitching.
Will They Regret It: Probably, in large part because everything the Phillies do seems to turn out regrettable. Once upon a time, Eaton was a hotshot Phillies pitching prospect who got traded away for Andy Ashby (who himself had once been a hotshot Phillies pitching prospect), but that was a long time and several odd injuries ago. The optimist says that Eaton's still got great stuff and, thanks to injuries, doesn't have a lot of mileage on his arm. The pessimist notes that he's never been able to harness that stuff for a full season, and that injuries find Eaton like hair care products found Flock of Seagulls. Hopefully Eaton will be able to refrain from stabbing himself in the stomach this time around, but even if he does, the past injury history is too troubling to ignore.

But will they stand out in Los Angeles?

: Randy Wolf
What Team: Los Angeles (the real one)
How Much: $8/17M
How Long: 1 year + option
What It Means: According to the official Tommy John Surgery Recovery Timetable, Wolf should be back to his normal self next season. Unfortunately, his normal self hasn't been that great for a while.
Will They Regret It: Dodger Stadium is a fairly forgiving place for a pitcher whose stuff might get killed in a smaller park, and while Wolf's numbers last year were fairly awful, he's a lefty working his way back from TJ. The real culprits here are the Phillies' last couple of managers, who rode Wolf far too hard when he was about the only decent thing in their rotation, and beat the hell out of what might have been a good-to-great career. Something tells me this one will work out all right for the Dodgers, in large part because the length of the deal is mercifully brief. Expect Wolf to put up decent numbers as a #3 or #4 guy, and to cash in on his next deal.

Who: Woody Williams
What Team: Houston
How Much: $12.5M
How Long: 2 years
What It Means: Tim Purpura really likes old pitchers, and doesn't think the two he's got will b be coming back.
Will They Regret It: Probably, but not for the right reasons. The odds on Clemens and Pettite coming back are slim at this point, and Woody falls naturally, through no fault of his own, into the "Roger's replacement" slot. This means, of course, he's going to be blamed for the shortfall between his production and Clemens', which is much like someone blaming Glen Burtnick for ruining Styx. The real problems in Houston have to deal with the absolute offensive sinkholes they run out there every day at multiple positions, and their inability to get a prospect on the field and playing regularly before he's eligible for Social Security.

Who: Adam Kennedy
What Team: St. Louis
How Much: $10M
How Long: 3 years
What It Means: Someone's figured out that scrappy doesn't turn two on a regular enough basis.
Will They Regret It: No. Kennedy comes home to shore up the Cards' middle infield, put Aaron Miles on the bench where he belongs, and provide decent production and defense. The price is reasonable, the contract length isn't onerous, and the other options are distinctly unappealing.

Who: Royce Clayton
What Team: Toronto
How Much: $1.5M
How Long: 1 year
What It Means: Stock up on canned goods and shotguns
Will They Regret It: Long ago, the phrase "I don't need to worry, I've got Royce Clayton" became a running gag in my fantasy baseball league. I can understand the logic of wanting a one-year placeholder while J.P. Ricciardi tries to figure out what the hell to do with his middle infield, but this is a placeholder in precisely the same sense that one of John Norman's Gor novels is a serious examination of gender roles.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

AC See Ya

Just to go over this weekend's mishaps:

  • Georgia Tech, already guaranteed a shot in the conference title game, #16 Georgia Tech laid an egg against a sleepwalking Georgia team and lost.
  • Boston College, needing a win to keep their ACC championship game hopes alive, took on a reeling Miami team with a lame-duck coach, and lost. Miami, however, is now going to a bowl, because Virginia wasn't able to assert its own claim to mediocrity.
  • Maryland, needing a win to control its destiny, laid a turtle egg at Wake Forest, a team with the modus operandi of "if we just let the rest of the conference play their game, we're bound to end up 10-2". Sadly, they were right.
  • Florida State, once the titan of the conference, took the weekend off and let Florida off the hook, Houndini-like, once again.
  • #24 Clemson couldn't seal the deal against classically underachieving South Carolina, and lost.
  • N.C. State lost to C-USA mid-lister East Carolina.
  • And in the best game of the day, 3-9 UNC was taken to the wire by winless Duke.
All in all, it was as pathetic a Golden Corral buffet of college football as you are ever likely to see. That being said, I'm quite certain that whoever staggers out of the ACC championship game is going to get a sudden, nandro-like boost in the coach's polls, based primarily on the fact that Boise State gets a better chance of crashing the BCS party if they're ranked ahead of a BCS conference champion.

Not to put it too bluntly, but putting the rules of the game out in the open invites gaming the system. And with this much money on the line - and with rules that are this easily exploitable - the system will be gamed. In my chosen profession, we call these "exploits". In the BCS, it's business as usual.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Handy-Dandy Free Agent Signing Guide - Part 2

Who: Carlos Lee
What Team: Houston
How Much: $100M
How Long: 6 years
What It Means: Pat Gillick finally came to his senses, and Houston isn't waiting around for His Majesty Prince Roger to decide on their off-season plans.
Will They Regret It: In a couple of years. Lance Berkman's already pretty much a first baseman, and if Carlos keeps on chowing down like he reportedly has been, he's going to make Ryan Howard look like Slim Goodbody before too long and need to be a first sacker as well. It's nice that Houston was able to move forward this season instead of waiting on the annual will he/won't he with Clemens, but one gets the sense that no matter how frenied the rumors were, they were really bidding against themselves here. No way were the Phillies going to unload an immobile $15M/year slugging left fielder with 2 years left on his deal to pick up an immobile, $16M/year slugging left fielder for the next six.

Who: Juan Pierre
What Team: Dodgers
How Much: $45M
How Long: 5 years
What It Means: Ned Colletti studied Brian Sabean's kung fu very closely.
Will They Regret It: Only if they pay attention. Look, I like Juan Pierre. I think he's exciting to watch, I find his work ethic and dedication inspiring, and I appreciate the fact that he clearly enjoys playing baseball. That being said, he makes Johnny Damon look like Shotgun Shuba in the outfield, his caught-stealing rate is abysmal, and he doesn't get on base much. What I'm seeing is Brian Sabean 2, as Colletti builds a team by locking older veterans into long-term deals around a superstar or two, and hoping enough young pitching comes along to rescue them. If I'm another GM right now, I'm looking at a Dodger farm system chart and salivating, because with veterans getting locked in on the big club, some of those kids can be had, and most likely had cheap.

Who: Gary Matthews Jr.
What Team: Angels
How Much: $55M
How Long: 5 years
What It Means: Chone Figgins is on his way out of town, and if you squint hard enough Sarge Jr. looks a little like Soriano.
Will They Regret It: Only if he plays like Gary Matthews Jr., as opposed to the unearthly creature who dwelt in Arlington last year. Highlight reel plays are all well and good, but Sargelet flamed out of a lot of systems before finding himself in Texas' launching pad last year. He's not going to put up those numbers again, and he's one of those guys that the announcers on Baseball Tonight call young simply because they haven't been paying attention. This one's going to be an albatross in two years, three at the most.

Who: Jeff Francis
What Team: Rockies
How Much: $13.25M
How Long: 4 years, with option
What It Means: No way in hell will another free-agent pitcher ever come to Colorado, regardless of school systems, humidors, or hookers.
Will They Regret It: There's always the chance that Francis will flame out a la Armando Reynoso, or any other in the litany of pitchers who enjoyed brief flashes of Rocky Mountain adequacy before imploding, but as far as things go, this is a safe bet. The Rockies have to develop their own pitchers, and showing Francis the money (or at least some of it) is a step in the right direction. On his part, he seems a decent bet for continued success, and his willingness to stick around instead of bolting for Shea at the soonest contractual opportunity means that he's someone the team can try to build around, on the field as well as in the community.

Miami 17, Boston College 14

And this is why we end up playing bowl games in Boise every year.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Be thankful you didn't watch this game all the way through

When I was a lad, I believe it was Bill Lyon who'd do the inevitable Thanksgiving "notes" column in the Philadelphia Inquirer as to what there was in sports to be thankful for. On one hand, it always struck me as silly, seeing as there was so much going on in the real world, so much suffering and injustice, that being truly thankful for Mike Quick's ability to keep both feet in bounds while reaching for an overthrown pass seemed a bit twee. On the other hand was the recognition that it's worth taking joy in what you do have, and one of the things that was available to me was a sports section full of supert writing, from Lyon to Jayson Stark to Al Morganti to Peter Pascarelli to, well, a whole lot of good writers. From them, I learned (osmotically) what it was like to write about sports as opposed to writing about being a sportswriter, and to do so with context, humor, and grace. So, without further ado, here's Sportsthodoxy's list of things in sports to be thankful for:

  • Peter Gammons' recovery. Mensch, Richard Thompson fan, superb reporter - the season was diminshed by his absence during it.
  • The increased mainstream visibility of good, smart web-based writers and analysts like Will Carroll and Jay Jaffe, who bring the good stuff from the analytic community to folks without the "of course I'm right" attitude that sometimes afflicts their peers
  • The resurgence of the Tigers. The Olde English "D" is the classiest logo in sports, and watching a team rise on the backs of fireballing kids is just too damn cool.
  • Drew Brees and Phillip Rivers both succeeding. It's that there wasn't a villain in that piece.
  • George Mason. I mean, seriously, does it get any better than watching the ACC apologists get stuffed on crow tartare when a team from the Colonial shakes its booty into the Final Four?
  • The fact that a year has gone by since Theo Epstein appeared in public in a gorilla suit.
  • A Stanley Cup in Carolina, and all the diehard Whalers fans who got to celebrate it.
  • Curtis Sumpter coming back.
  • Boston College winning yet another bowl game, even if it was on the smurf turf. Seriously, that combination of turf and uniforms made the game look like a Jefferson Airplane video.
  • The kids in Florida just playing baseball, and playing it well.
  • The fact that there's another scrappy middle infielder with a funky name who can take some of David Eckstein's press coverage. Uggla! We ride!
  • Ryan Howard. Boom. Gone. And like Thome, he's just big.
  • Dave D'Alessandro's writing on basketball. Even with that haircut.
  • Joe Posnanski writing on just about anything.
  • The play that Mark, Citizen Z and I saw B.J. Upton make in the hole with the bases loaded, the night of July 3.
  • And most of all, that life is such that we can afford to care about sports.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And remember, there are worse things than having to watch the Lions every year.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

News Flash!

Terrell Owens didn't send Donovan McNabb a card after D-McN blew out his knee!

Then again, neither did I. I mean, come on, people, is there really that little sports news that someone has to dig up this nonsense and attempt to manufacture controversy with it?

On the other hand, I was in Philadelphia on Sunday when McNabb's knee went sproing (pumping gas at the Hess station on South Broad Street, on my way to the airport after dropping off the notorious Citizen Z at 30th Street Station post-Philcon) and so help me, I'd never actually heard the entire city go silent in unison before.

Mind you, this weekend I expect something a little louder. Like, say, booing.

Handy-Dandy Free Agent Signing Guide - Part I

Who: Moises Alou
What Team: Mets
How Much: $8.5M
How Long: 1 year
What It Means: Nobody else in the NL is any damn good, and we're going for it next year.
Will They Regret It: If they trade Lastings Milledge and Alou's legs go again. Either that, or if he demonstrates his hand-strengthening technique to the wrong teammate.

Who: Nomar Garciaparra
What Team: Dodgers
How Much: $18.5M
How Long: 2 years
What It Means: That Ned Coletti thinks that 87 wins will take the NL West. That, and he can't be trusted in a candy store.
Will They Regret It: Yes, as soon as Nomar suffers one of his patented bizarre injuries in early May. He's not going to get healthier as he gets older, and his production honestly wasn't that great even when he wasn't playing Tin Woodsman.

Who: Mike Stanton
What Team: Reds
How Much: 2 years
How Long: $5M with a $2.5M 2009 vesting option for games played
What It Means: Wayne Krivsky recognizes that his bullpen was a problem, and is making like the last 20 minutes of an A-Team episode trying to fix it.
Will They Regret It: Possibly. There are many worse pitchers in the Reds' bullpen, and Stanton has that air of being at least eternally mediocre. Asking him to close or pull down high-leverage innings, however, will turn this into a disaster. Besides, we all know he's only in Cincy until Joe Torre decides he wants him back.

Who: Alex Gonzalez
What Team: Reds
How Much: $14M
How Long: 3 years
What It Means: I really want Wayne Krivsky in my fantasy league
Will They Regret It: Every time he picks up a bat and doesn't homer, which should be something on the order of 550 times next year. Gonzalez is a plus-fielding shortstop on a team with a fly ball staff and an outfield full of golems, playing in a bandbox. The phrase "band-aid on a sucking chest wound" may apply.

Who: Alfonso Soriano
What Team: Cubs
How Much: $136M
How Long: 8 years
What It Means: Jim Hendry doesn't expect to have his job much longer
Will They Regret It: Soon, and for the rest of the contract's life. Look, Soriano is a very good hitter and a very good athlete. He's also older than people think, hack-tastic, a minus fielder, and signed through his age 39 or so season. Speed and power age well, but 8 years is a lot of aging, and by the time the midpoint of that contract is reached, the Cubs will be willing to do an Abreu just to get rid of the contract. Mind you, the point clearly seems to be for Jim Hendry to put together the Hall of Doom in order to win now, so that he might trail clouds of glory when the Cubs/TribCo's new owners blow him out the door in the near future. He'll be remembered as the architect of the team that had Soriano/Lee/Ramirez beating the heck out of people in 2007, not the one who crippled the cubs in 2010 and beyond.
Oh, and the Cubs still need pitching. Last I heard, that cost money.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Soriano Signing in Translation

As viewed by the traditionalist community:
Great signing! Best position player on the market! The Cubs are gonna have a Murderer's Row with him, Lee, and Ramirez! Yeah, it was expensive, but who cares? You gotta pay for quality!

As viewed by the stathead community:
Aiieee! 8 years at that money? Four years in he'll be an albatross! Six years in he'll be a disaster! And you're paying for a career year, anyway!

As viewed by Jim Hendry, General Manager of the Cubs:
I don't expect to have this job for more than three more years, tops. After that, Soriano is someone else's problem. In the meantime, damn, am I going to look good.

Any questions?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Correction - This is Worse

Andre Waters, the hard-hitting icon of many a young Eagles fan back in the day, is dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

R.I.P., Mr. Waters, and here's hoping they have slow possession receivers coming across the middle in Heaven.

Which is Worse - You Decide!

On Sunday, the Eagles neatly gift-wrapped a game and handed it to the Tennessee Titans, losing Donovan McNabb for the season and possibly half of the next one in the process.

On Friday, it was reported that the Phillies had signed Wes Helms to be their starting third baseman for the forseeable future, adding to the long line of mediocrity that can best be described as the Heirs of Rick Schu.

Which is a worse omen for the sports fans of Philly? You decide!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Enough Already

Would someone please explain to Bob Knight the meaning of the word "restraint"? This is not about old school versus new school. This is not about a witch hunt, or about "soft modern player", or about anything other than Bob Knight, his ego, and the line in the sand that he constantly feels compelled to step across.

Yes, the little chuck on the chin he gave one of his players the other night was no big deal. He said so, the player said so, the players' parents said so, and for all I know the three-headed, bug-eyed denizens of Proxima Centauri IV said so. That's not the point, nor has it been, not for a long while.

Coach Knight has done many admirable things in his career. He's also done some mind-bogglingly stupid ones, and included in that number is the constant inability to remember that he is not God, the university president, or the commandante of a small, basketball-playing banana republic. He is the basketball coach. No matter how many games he wins, someone else makes the rules.

When Knight finally got his keister booted from Indiana, it was entirely his own fault. He had been informed of the "Zero Tolerance" policy was under, and let's face it, the words "zero tolerance" do not include a lot of wiggle room for interpretation. They certainly did not include "zero tolerance except if you think it's a good idea", "zero tolerance except if you choke a kid who's too familiar with you," or "zero tolerance unless you win a few more games". The only way to read that sequence of events is that Knight took the disciplinary policy as a challenge, not as an order from his boss, and proceeded to challenge it.

He lost that challenge. He got fired. But he learned nothing, because he landed on his feet and went right back to what he was doing. He got away with it before, and he's getting away with it now.

Look, it doesn't matter if this was a harmless love tap or not. Bob Knight laying hands on a player under any circumstances is like Bill Clinton walking into a women's dressing room. People will talk. Old incidents will be brought up. And another log will be put onto a bonfire of evidence, regardless of the merits of that particular incident. One of these days, there will be a spark.

If he's a smart man, and all the evidence says he is, Knight knows this. He knows that constantly bringing this pressure on himself, his players, and his employer isn't beneficial to anyone. He knows that sooner or later, it's all going to be too much for someone, be it a player, an administrator, a parent, or God forbid, a prosecutor. Yet he continues to do it, daring the world to say anything about it.

It wouldn't have been that hard not to plonk the kid on the chin. Really, it wouldn't. But then again, in this one aspect of his behavior, Bob Knight is not smart. He's Bob Knight.

Hi, My Name's Derek...Thus the Big "D" On My Chest

We thank the good folks at Joe Sports Fan for the following weather report...

Hi, my name is Derek Hansfield. I'm a 22 year old biology major at Duke University. I rounded out junior year last May with a 3.8 cumulative GPA, and plan on heading to med school after I wrap up my senior year next Spring. However, this past August, I received my biggest accolade to date.

Leader of the Cameron Crazies.

...which looks to be, per South Park, a very localized cloud of smug settling over the general vicinity of 9th Street in Durham, Enn Cee. Mom Hansfield must be beaming from ear to ear at the thought of her $51,000 p.a. encouraging such behavior as this:

I'm the "D". That's right...the alpha. I'm the foundation, the soul, and inspiration for my fellow brothers and sisters. I bleed blue, and was accurately rewarded....A panel of 8 seniors from last year's Cameron Crazies crew voted me in. It paid huge dividens [sic - this is what 51 large gets you?]...It's not easy finding something to rhyme with Hansbrough, but we do because we're crazy. Cameron Crazy.

Well, there's that. From the looks of things, it appears that all that Dutch Boy Semi-Gloss went right to his head, and not in a good way. Do you even know what that much paint does to you, Mr. Pre-Med? Haven't these damn kids today seen Goldfinger?

I've got 121 appearances on TV in my career. Last year's Crazies' leader graduated with 325 TV unofficial appearances, so I've got some work to do. I say "unofficial" because Coach K doesn't want us to keep track of individual achievements. He told us, and we listen to Coach K.

Parched, are we? Must be the paint asphyxiating your skin...

And seriously, this is exactly the sort of thing that they invented 12-step programs for. I mean, when you're this deep into the Kubler-Ross denial stage:

This year, we're not allowed to stand on the court, which is crap. I worked hard for 3 years, just to get the chance to touch Dick Vitale whenever I want... [Emphasis added. Actually, more like "emphasis implied," because you just know he means every single word of this.]

...there's only one way it's going to end: a sack, a nondescript motel room off I-40, and an extensive deprogramming session. Alternately, someone could step up and tranq him.

Monday, November 13, 2006

$51M Doesn't Buy What It Used To

According to published reports, the Red Sox have shelled out $51M for the right to sit down with Scott Boras and ask politely how many of their children he wants for his client, the artist soon to be known as D-Mat. (Might I suggest he go for something a bit more pragmatic, say, Laundro-Mat, Foto-Mat, or, if this mysterious gyroball somehow fails to zip in the foetid air of Fenway, Door-Mat)

That's right, the money just earns them the right to talk turkey for 30 days. That being said, this still makes sense if you squint hard enough. For one thing, there aren't many good pitchers out there to be had, and Theo Epstein seems disinclined to raid the farm system to trade for any. So if you're going to pay, why not pay for the guy who's younger than Schmidt or Zito? For another, this potentially takes a bite out of the Seattle-New York axis of ownership of the Japanese market, spreading the love and the cash. And number three, the Yankees don't get him, which can't be a bad thing.

Mind you, if you really want to go into conspiracy-land, try this: The Red Sox win the posting process, a glorified eBay auction that has to drive agents nuts. They then sit on the rights and let them revert back to Seibu without paying a nickel. This allows uber-agent (or maybe unter-agent) Scott Boras to file a lawsuit, claiming the posting process is illegal, immoral, fattening, and restrictive of his client's right to make a gazillion dollars. In exchange, he cuts them a break on another client or two. Like, say, the guy they're supposedly offering $44M to.

Immoral? Unlikely? Flat-out odd? Well, yes, but evilly fun to speculate about.

On the Opt Seat

When they look back on the Hot Stove season of 2006-2007, GMs of the far-flung future will no doubt point to this year as being the one that taught them that you don't give players the option to opt out of their multi-year contracts. Thanks to the out clause granted Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs have had to sink an awful lot of their financial flexibility into a player they should have had tightly locked up. One wonders when the Tribune Co. is going to exact personnel cuts on the Cubs as a result, no doubt forcing Ramirez to cover not only third base, but also the northwest suburbs and possibly the mystery dining column as well.

Then there's every Phillie fan's favorite, J.D. Drew, whose surprise decision to bolt L.A. for greener pastures seems to have sandbagged the Dodger organization. While Drew seems to be drawing a surprising amount of ire from the theoretically laid-back Angelenos for his act of financial perfidy, the real issue is that he leaves the Dodgers with roughly a half-season's worth of production that needs to be replaced out in center field, and his protestations that he was staying meant that the Dodgers' offseason planning is now about as useful as a map to Lemuria. One assumes that a scout-approved substitute will be cobbled together, Frankenstein-like, from various bits of Ethier and Kemp, among others, but there are no sure things there. In the meantime, though, one can only suspect that Ned Coletti isn't entirely upset to see another relic of the DePodesta era walk off into the sunset, trailing both performance metrics and embarassing questions.

End result: I don't think we'll be seeing too many more opt-out clauses.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Weekend Roundup

  • Sheffield to Detroit - in exchange for three young arms and a two-year extension tacked on to Sheff's contract. I do realize that at one point, the Tigers needed to overpay in order to attract talent (see: Rodriguez, Ivan; Ordonez, Magglio) and impressive facial hair (see: Jones, Todd), but one would hope those days are now done. My prediction - one year of great production, one year wrecked by injuries, and one year spent sulking about a new contract.
  • Panic in Piscataway - Congratulations, Rutgers on a thrilling, hard-fought win. Memo to Louisville - it's OK for the jokers at ESPN to take Rutgers lightly because they're, well, Rutgers. You? Not so much. And after this weekend, the spin machine explaining how Rutgers simply cannot be any good because they happen to be Rutgers will be in full effect. I mean, for one thing, they have funny helmets.
  • Incidentally, Wojo... - Why do you have your archetypal fan of the Big East - a conference whose geographic base covers New England (UConn), upstate NY (Syracuse), New Jersey (Rutgers), and Pennsylvania (Pitt) sound like a caller on Steve Spurrier's radio show?
  • Freebird - J.D. Drew has opted out of his unwieldy deal with the Dodgers to test the free agent market. Call me crazy, but an injury-prone, aging OF who's not terribly popular hitting the FA market the same year as Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee (not to mention Jose Guillen, for the bargain-hunter out there) is probably not going to come out of this in a financially advantageous position. Phillies fans may be amused to note that Drew did this after making shiny fluffy noises all summer and fall about how much he loved L.A., and how he didn't intend to do anywhere. Ned Coletti, Paul DePodestia is IN UR HOUSE HAX0RING UR CENTER FIELDER.
  • All Your BCS Are Belong To Us - So Cal, Texas, and Auburn go down in collective flames. Florida barely escapes a mediocre South Carolina team. Texas (without its quarterback) loses to a team that Louisville (without its quarterback) clobbered. Cal goes down to a mediocre Arizona team. Auburn never answers the bell against a down-year Georgia. And yet, they'll all be ranked higher than Rutgers come Monday.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

BCS to English Translation

Remember, kids, when a highly ranked school from a power conference struggles against someone they ought to wax by 35+, it's called "proof that they can overcome adversity".

When a highly school from one of the non-power conferences leads by less than 20 at halftime against someone overmatched, it's called "proof that they're overrated."

When highly ranked schools from power conferences score a gajillion points off one another's defenses, it's "exciting football".

When highly ranked schools from one of the non-power conferences do it, it's called "proof that their defenses aren't good enough."

When highly ranked schools from one of the power conferences pay $600K for the privilege of throttling Buffalo, Temple, and the rest of the soft underbelly of the MAC, it's "smart scheduling".

When highly ranked schools from one of the non-power conferences do it, it's "they didn't play anyone."

The short version is, of course, that it's all about money - getting it, keeping it, and not letting the other guy get their share of it. The 5 other BCS conferences would have dumped the Big East in a heartbeat after the mass defection to the ACC if they thought they could have gotten away with it - and if they weren't afraid that they might be dumped next. Such foresight is prescient on the part of the ACC, a majority of whose schools seem to have acquired 7 win seasons by playing Duke and UNC multiple times. But even if a conference without "tradition" - and let's face it, most of that "tradition" is two decades old, at best (yes, I'm talking to you, Miami and Florida and Oregon and...) - is reluctantly allowed in the BCS, the other boys don't want new iconic programs to spring up, to compete for merchandising dollars and players and coaching talent and fat conference television contracts. So the talking heads yammer on about how they're "not convinced" that a Big East or a non-BCS school could ever be that good, while sidestepping the fact that the "name" schools have no interest in ever letting that proof happen. 3-for-1 scheduling commitments are more than enough proof of that.

I have no doubt that, ultimately, Louisville is going to get screwed in the BCS standings, in large part because a large part of the BCS is determined by human voters. For all the complaining about how the evil computer spits out weird rankings, it's still a case of GIGO, and the garbage comes as much from the human-generated poll results as anywhere else. All of this leaves mushmouthed Lee Corso, looking eerily like Mel Brooks during a script session for Robin Hood: Men in Tights, to proclaim that the real good teams come from the real good conferences because they're full of real good teams.

Or something like that.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Skills Required: Attention to Detail, Excellent Communication, Ability to Dodge Blunt Objects Hurled by an Irate Curt Schilling... is teaming up with (yeah, we know this reads like a press release, just bear with us here) to find a bunch of eager go-getters to fill various positions in major league ballparks all over this great land of ours. To pick a team at random (say, the Red Sox), is looking for web content reporters (Shaughnessy, you enormous toolbox, you're on notice!), stats stringers, and something called a "Pitch f/x operator," which consists of...well, we'll just let speak for us:

Pitch f/x tracks every pitched baseball, calculating its trajectory and break, for television broadcast, Internet and stadium video production.

Ah, it's a version of the completely unconvincing strike-zone grid thingy that the weasels at FOX use to clutter up a perfectly good afternoon of Saturday baseball with. Apparently now thinks that your average baseball fan needs a herd of grandmaster Electronic Battleship players to tell him or her where Francisco Liriano put that pitch at.

, I mean, high and outside...

Makes one almost nostalgic for the glory days of QuesTec, don't it? Well, at least seems to be looking to use this completely in-house at the parks. I mean, consider who you, aspiring Pitch f/x operator, would be reporting to if FOX actually did get a hold of this.

Hi, kids, it's Scooter here, and I'm going to need you to come in on Sunday...great.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gary, Meet Jake

Back in the day, the Phillies employed an eminently forgettable outfielder by the unforgettable name of Sixto Lezcano. He could field pretty well, had a little pop, and was occasionally a pretty decent hitter, but the really interesting thing about him was his nickname - "Jake". "Jake", of course, is a baseball term meaning "to not try your hardest", and Sixto somehow acquired a rep of, well, jaking it every so often. He always played hard when I was watching, but I wasn't exactly a discriminating view in those days, and the nickname stuck with me as the enduring memory of this guy down the years.

Which brings us, inevitably, to Gary Sheffield. Rewind to last spring training, and you'd be treated to the sight of Sheffield trying, clumsily, to pressure Yankees GM Brian Cashman into picking up his $13M option for the 2007 (Sheffield's, not Cashman's, just in case you were wondering) through tactics that could only really be interpreted as threats. Now, one mostly-injured season later, Sheffield smells the free agent dough and is upset that the Yankees did pick up his option - exactly the thing he was adamant about back in March.

The shift in logic, if not entirely admirable, is simple. With his option picked up, Sheffield has no control over where he plays next year. Wherever the Yankees decide to trade him is where he'll have to play. Even worse, if he stays in New York he's caught up in the Matsui/Abreu/Giambi/everybody and their brother logjam for playing time, exactly what an aging slugger who needs to make numbers to guarantee the next payday doesn't want to see. So the reaction is simple - threaten to be a "problem" for whatever team he's traded to, hope to poison the well, and force the Yankees to release him so he can pick his final destination.

This is not new behavior for Mr. Sheffield. He's made threats about how unpleasant he'll be before, and publicly admitted to jaking it in order to get out of Milwaukee, the city where he started his career. He's not the only player who might have done it - Randy Johnson's mysterious swoon just before he was traded from Seattle to Houston, and magical recovery afterwards certainly raised a few eyebrows among cynics - but he may be the only one to have boasted of having deliberately played poorly.

In an odd way, I almost find that attitude more of a crime against baseball (whatever that means) than steroid use. Yes, the needle brigade is gunning for unfair advantage, but that advantage is at least partially directed towards the winning of ballgames. Nobody takes steroids to lose; they take them to perform better, hopefully racking up better stats and winning more on their way to better job security and a bigger payday.

Sheffield, on the other hand, has tried to lose, or at least not tried to win, and he's threatening to demolish whatever team he ends up with. As a fan, which sort of player would you rather be stuck with - a cheater, or someone trying to sandbag your team? Neither option is appealing, but there's something less nakedly venal about the guy who's trying to win over the guy who's trying to be so bad as to force a trade.

Then again, Sheffield is another one of those "accidental" steroid users, so the question is moot. But what is curious is why the whole situation is being treated with a chuckle by the press, a case of Gary being Gary without any of the attendant hysteria that came of Manny Ramirez' situation this past year. It's unpleasant to watch, and part of me hopes that the Yankees let Sheffield rot on the bench for his $13M, keeping him someplace he can't do any damage. You can't blame a man for wanting to make as much money as he can, and for wanting the widest control over his choice of workplace as possible. That being said, there is a subtle contract between players and audience, one in which the audience agrees to support outrageous salaries in exchange for the players giving effort and making the attempt to win. Everything else in sports fandom is secondary to that arrangement - our love (and money) for your effort (and skill). Sheffield's maneuver calls that compact into question, which, long-term, isn't good for Mr. Sheffield or anyone else. If fans can't trust that the players are trying, they'll cease to be fans, and nobody's going to get paid - least of all $13M in an option year.
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