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.

Oops.

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."

...it'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:

WINNERS
  • 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.

LOSERS
  • 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...

...is 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.
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