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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Mike on Saturday, February 07, 2004

Mad Dog Maddux

Let's talk Greg Maddux. This guy is still unsigned with less than a week remaining until pitchers and catchers report. It's not like he is without accomplishment, Maddux has won four Cy Young awards and is only 11 wins shy of his 300th victory. He hasn't won less than 15 games in any season since 1987, which was only his second season in the majors as well as his last losing season. His performance over the last decade and a half has put him in a class reached by very few of his contemporaries. Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez are probably the only other active pitchers who can claim to be in the same class as Greg Maddux...so why is he still unsigned?

It takes a combination of issues to make a future Hall of Famer a less than desirable commodity. Here's why:

1. High salary demands. Greg Maddux is represented by Scott Boras, an agent notorious for bleeding every last cent out of teams. He likely has made Maddux's contract demands well above present market value. Free-agency is a buyer's market right now and Maddux is unlikely to get the multi-year contract in the $14-16 million range he seems to feel he deserves. I don't think many teams are willing to pay that type of money for an aging veteran who has started to get the injury bug in recent years. He hasn't been missing starts but he's been accumulating a number of minor injuries that could start to affect him at any time. This type of money would be more understandable if Maddux were still a true ace but he hasn't been that version of himself since the 2001 season.

2. Declining "stuff." Likely an effect of getting old, Maddux's actual pitches have been getting worse over the last few years. He used to be known for the pinpoint control he had, which is still present for the most part, but people seem to forget he had amazing movement on his pitches. That movement just isn't there anymore.

3. Declining statistics. Maddux has a few disturbing trends in his statistics over the last few years. Take a look, these aren't healthy numbers:

.................K/9IP..........AVG Against..........OPS Against
2000..........6.86................238.......................612
2001..........6.68................253.......................644
2002..........5.33................257.......................654
2003..........5.11................268.......................715

This isn't good stuff. His strikeout rate is declining dramatically and, at the same time, opposing batters are hitting him more often and harder. There is no real reason to believe that he will improving in any of these areas in 2004, or even maintaining his current levels. More decline is likely to occur.

In any event, I don't believe that Greg Maddux is going to help whatever team he signs with as much as they are going to hope he does. At the moment his two major suitors are Los Angeles and Chicago. This makes sense, the Dodgers have a history of throwing money at players who aren't worth it and the Cubs need to ensure that they don't make the playoffs this year or else they might be confused with a "good" franchise.

Neither situation is ideal for Maddux but there are certain benefits to each. Dodger Stadium is the kind of spacious field that Maddux needs to help maintain his stellar career numbers. He will be able to keep his ERA down and the ball inside the ballpark (Maddux gave up 24 home runs in 2003, the most of his career). Of course, the Dodgers have one of the weakest offenses in baseball so Maddux isn't likely to see much run support unless he gets amazingly lucky. Look for a Kevin Brown type season if he signs with the Dodgers, an ERA in the high 2.00s and a 13-12 record.

If Maddux signs with the Cubs he will be returning to the team that he first broke into the majors with in 1986. Chicago is a legitimate playoff contender because they have a solid rotation as it stands now and a respectable offense. Maddux would probably be their fourth starter after Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano. Matching up against the bottom end of other teams' rotations Maddux would likely see his 300th win well before the end of the season. His other numbers might suffer a little because of Wrigley's more intimate confines but I believe Maddux is more interested in that 300th win than putting together another season with a sub-3.00 ERA.

In the end, if Maddux wants to make it seem like he still has his old "stuff" he'll move out to Los Angeles. But if he wants another chance at the playoffs and little more publicity around his 300th win then he will be pitching for the Cubs next year. I, for one, hope he ends up with the Cubs - but let's see what Scott Boras makes him do...

Trot-ting Toward the Future
Trot Nixon has signed a three-year $19.5 million contract with the Red Sox. The deal adds much needed stability to the team for the coming years. Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, David Ortiz, Nomar Garciapara, Scott Williamson, and Jason Varitek are all eligable to become free-agents after the 2004 season. Not all of these players will be coming back, but knowing that a 25 HR, 380 OBP player will be returning is very nice considering the price.

Theo Epstein has done a fantastic job of locking up players for reasonable prices. The aquisitions of Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke along with his shrewd management of team salary has proven Theo as one of the best GMs in baseball. It's good to see that the Red Sox aren't bleeding money like they did in the past under Dan Duquette.


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Posted by Ben K. on Friday, February 06, 2004

From Worst to....Worst

As we all know by now, Ivan Rodriguez, the team MVP of the 2003 World Series Champion Florida Marlins, signed a four-year, $40 million contract on Monday with the Detroit Tigers. Pudge gave up the chance to make around $16 million for two years in Florida to play with a team that lost 119 games last season, a total of 225 games over the last two years, and a three-year total of 321 losses, three short of the 87-year-old American League record held by the Philadelphia Athletics.

In the face of unprecedented losing, Pudge, of course, had all the right things to say about the signing and his new team. As MLB.com reported, Rodriguez said, "Believe it or not, when I was a kid, this was one of my favorite teams. I watched Detroit a lot on TV and have all those memories of a winning team all those years. I'm very happy to be part of this organization." It's a mystery to me how Pudge, who grew up in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, almost 2500 miles away from Detroit was able to watch the Tigers on TV. Also, in examining Detroit's team history, I see four years during Pudge's life where they could be considered competitive. So I don't know what winning Tigers teams Rodriguez watched on TV, but that's not my point today.

Instead, I'm more concerned with another one of Pudge's quotes. In the same MLB.com article, he said, "This team to me is not a losing team. Any team can have a bad year. This team did and it's already behind them." But did the Tigers really simply have a bad year last year as their new All Star catcher so succinctly put it? Let's take a closer look.

The Tigers finished last season with a 43-119 record, setting a new American League record for most losses in a single season. This dubious achievement left them with a .265 winning percentage. They finished 47 games behind the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins and 58 games worse than the best team in the majors last year. As a team, they hit just .240 with a .300 OBP and a .375 slugging percentage. They scored only 591 runs--less than 4 runs per game.

While the Texas Rangers' pitching staff was actually a little worse than that of the Tigers', Mike Maroth and company weren't exactly setting any records. Well, actually, Maroth himself did when, on September 5, he became the first pitcher since 1980 to lose 20 games in a single season. He would finish with 21 losses. Overall, the team finished with a 5.30 ERA. They managed three complete games and held their opponents scoreless only five times the entire season. The staff struck out a Major League-low 764 hitters while racking up a team WHIP of a stunning 1.51.

Pudge, I hate to break it to you, but this team did more than just have an unlucky bad year. The 2003 Tigers were one of the worst teams in the history of the game. Only two teams have lost more games then they did, and their level of ineptitude hadn't been reached since 1962. Despite Pudge's predictions that this team won't be a losing team in 2004, it's tough to argue otherwise. Bad breaks don't account for the horrible nature of the Tigers last year.

So the Tigers were bad. In another interview, Pudge even acknowledge this. "I know they had a bad season last year, but I think this is going to be a completely different season," he said. But is it really? Will the Tigers led by Ivan Rodriguez go from worst ever to first in the league next season? For a hint on the future of the Tigers, let's take a look at all of the teams in Major History that have lost more than 110 games.

I'm going to make this nice and easy. The following table will break down the teams that have been notoriously bad. It will have the team's record in the year they lost more than 110 games, the team's record the following season, the place in which the team finished that next season, and the number of games by which the team improved. Let's do it in order of teams that lost the most games. Also, as a note, I'm going to look at teams considered in the modern era of baseball. That is, only teams after 1903 are on this list.

 RecordNext SeasonStandingsGames Improved
1962 Mets40-12051-111Last Place+10
2003 Tigers43-119NANANA
1916 Athletics36-11755-98Last Place+20
1935 Braves38-11571-836th (out of 8)+32.5
1904 Senators38-11364-877th (out of 8)+26
1952 Pirates42-11250-104Last Place+8
1965 Mets50-11266-959th (out of 10)+16.5
1932 Red Sox43-11163-867th (out of 8)+22.5
1939 St. Louis Browns43-11167-876th (out of 8)+24
1941 Phillies43-11142-109Last place+0.5
1963 Mets51-11153-109Last place+2


The future for the Tigers does not look too good from what we see in this table. First, let's look at the bad news. The 1962 Mets are the only team on this list to lose more games than the Tigers. In 1963, they improved by only 10 games and are the only team on the list in consecutive seasons. In 1964, they lost 109, narrowly avoiding the list. It would be the only time they would so between 1962 and 1965. The 1939 Phillies are clearly the team on the list that improved the least. By losing 109 games the next season, they too avoided consecutive years on the list. Those Phillies, however, lost 100 games or more for five seasons in a row. They are the only team to achieve this dubious feat. The Tigers have lost more than 100 for only two seasons in a row.

Now for the relatively good news: The Tigers have to get better. On average, teams with over 110 losses improve by 16.5 games the next season. That would put the Tigers at around 59-103 for the 2004 campaign. Additionally, no teams have done worse in the season after losing over 110 games. So I think it's safe to say that Pudge's Tigers won't be any worse this season than the Pudge-less Tigers were in 2003. What it does mean however is that the Tigers will have lost 328 games in three seasons, thus setting a new record for most losses in three consecutive seasons. And to think Pudge could have stayed in Florida, defending a World Championship and not a loss record.

Is it really realistic though to assume that the Tigers will improve only by those projected 16 games? No and yes. no, because the Tigers' offense is radically better for next season. Rondell White, Fernando Viña, Pudge, and Carlos Guillen are all significant upgrades over last year's no-name offense. While Pudge's 23 win shares were the most he's had in four years, it's safe to say that he'll be better than Brandon Inge was behind the plate in Comerica last year. I don't think Pudge will reach 23 again, but he'll make a difference, as will the rest of the Tigers' additions. But the pitching has not improved. Detroit's pitching staff was not fooling anyone last year, and they won't be fooling anyone this year even with the help of Ivan Rodriguez.

In the end, I predict 95 losses from the Tigers. This would represent an improvement of 24 games over 2003, which is no small feat. But it's not really the "completely different season" that Pudge predicted. It's still a season of disappointment for the players and the fans, and it's most definitely a season at the very bottom of the mediocre AL Central.

Finally, Pudge also claimed that we, the fans, would see the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs "very soon." But unless the Tigers upgrade their pitching staff, those 96 losses may be the high-water mark for the Pudge era. Rodriguez will only get older, and the Tigers don't have much in the way of pitching prospects. I highly doubt, Pudge, the Detroit Tiger, will see a return to the October glory he enjoyed with the Marlins.


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Posted by Dave on Thursday, February 05, 2004

Scott Boras: Social Enemy?

Normally, before I launch into the post, I have some dirty laundry that I like to air out. Today, there isn't much because there isn't much going on. I still do have a few comments: I'm nearly outraged that the Twins haven't signed Johan Santana to a long-term contract, this guy could be one of the best pitchers in the MLB in a few years (he's already close), and the Twins haven't signed him to a Huff/Zito/Halladay deal. Realistically, they could sign him for 4 years for about 28 million and have it backloaded. I also suspect that if they accomplished a deal like that, it would have tremendous value in the future. I also highly suspect that they'll have a ton of difficulty getting him to sign a contract similar to this following next season...I agree with Rob Neyer's latest article - I think winning is by far the most important thing in sports. This is precisely why I am so surprised that it was not one of the categories listed in the ultimate standings. They include "Championships," but that eludes "winning." Maybe the creators of the poll thought "winning" was too broad an explanator in determining the value of a franchise. I don't believe that, however. Who cares if winning explains 70% of the quality of a sports team? That makes perfect sense, and it doesn't diminish from the study being interesting. In the end, you wouldn't care in the slightest about fan relations, stadium experience, ownership, the likability of the players...all of these wouldn't matter if your sports team wasn't winning. There's a reason no one goes to Camden Yards anymore, and I can guarantee you that it has nothing to do with ticket prices, ownership, or the likability of Jerry Hairston Jr. (I'm sure he's a swell fellow). It has everything to do with them cellar-dwelling, don't let that poll convince you otherwise...In an interesting story from ESPN.com, Fred McGriff injured himself after construction on a HR-sign that would countdown to his 500th. Going into this season, McGriff had 478. The Dodgers calculated that he would hit 500 on approximately August 22nd. This would mean he'd have to not only hit 22 HRs this season, but do it all before September. McGriff actually was on pace to hit more than 22 last year in an LA uniform, but to say he'll even hit 22 this season (the full one, not just until August) may be a bit of a stretch. McGriff isn't just on the wrong side of thirty, he's really on the wrong side. I take it all back, McGriff has been so consistent at bombing 30 out in a season that I suppose it's fair for the Dodgers to surmise he'd have 22 by that date. That's pretty incredible that he's maintained his power - let alone a job - until age 40.

Let's move onto Scott Boras, the man everyone loves to hate. But is he really that bad an agent? Remember this: His job is to get his clients in the best situation. With each client, there are a number of questions that are important in whether or not he signs with a specific team: How much money am I getting and for how many years? Where am I playing, am I near my family? Does the team win? Will the team have a realistic chance at winning a championship? How is the quality of the schools in the area? How is the nightlife (David Wells)? There may be other questions, but those seem to be the most important. Boras is notorious for getting above market-value for his free agents using strong-arm tactics and by always squeezing his client's suitors for more money. This is beneficial to the player; he's generally receiving the maximum amount of money possible when he's being represented by Boras. It's also beneficial for Boras; his wallet gets fatter with each extra million that's added to his clients' contracts. I think this truth about Boras is often underrated. Pudge Rodriguez accomplished all he could ever want to accomplish last season. He put together a fine season, winning WS MVP, and was arguably the premier catcher in the National League. After a year when you've accomplished it all, why not get some financial security for the future. For Pudge, he may have desired money much more than he desired playing near his current home, winning, or winning championships. This would seem to be the case if he accepted 40 million over 4 years instead of 24 million over three years from Florida (sans the voidability part, I would imagine). In Pudge's case, it almost (read: just barely in the realm of possible beliefs) makes sense that he'd put such a premium on the money. Boras also helped Darren Dreifort to a 5 year, 55 million dollar contract. This is an incredibly beneficial contract (even in the Golden Age of Contracts) especially considering Dreifort's history of injury. Boras did very well for his client in that case.

As much as I would like to condone Boras' behavior (it is in his job description to do the best he can for his clients), it seems that all too often, Boras does not behave in the best interest of his clients. Bill Madden informatively points out that Boras has behaved poorly in a number of cases:
Kevin Millwood had the chance to sign a 3 year, 35 million dollar contract with the Phils, but Boras turned it down because he claimed Millwood could get better. He didn't, and is now in arbitration.
Kenny Rogers wanted to stay in Texas last year, but declined their 2 year, 11 million dollar contract. He ended up signing with the Twins for 2 million for one year. He's back with the Rangers now - for 2 years and 6 million dollars, however.
Rey Sanchez has had to deal with the greatest amount of misagenting, however. In 2001, Rey Sanchez was apparently offered a 2 year deal worth 7.5 million. His salary for one of those years would exceed his salary for the last three years combined. Poor Rey.
We all know the situation with ARod too.

So, is Boras a bad agent? It depends who you ask. Perusing some of Boras' clients (middle of the page, in a table off to the side) If you're a player like JD Drew, Rick Ankiel, or Darren Dreifort, having an agent like Boras is extremely beneficial. Boras will help players get what they deserve (or much more), even if they're merely prospects (the former two) or unestablished players (Dreifort). These are the players that have the most to benefit from financial security because they're still young and their careers could become marred by physical injury (Darren's lost in Injury Hell, it seems) or, in the rarest of circumstances, psychological injury (Rick Ankiel, imagine what you could have been).

It seems, however, that if you're an established player (Millwood, IRod, ARod, Rogers, Sanchez), having Boras as your agent may cause one of two pitfalls: Boras overvalues your worth initially, trying to work for a better deal (Millwood, Rogers, Sanchez). After trying to strong-arm the club, the offer is dropped off the table later in negotiations. This is bound to happen with Borasian tactics. You may fall into the other pitfall, however. You may think you want the maximum amount of money, but end up miserable at your destination. This has already happened to one Rod, and will almost surely happen to the other Rod. If Boras was truly concerned for his clients' welfare, I feel he would better articulate the importance of the environment that the player is playing in. For players like the Rods, I don't believe that Boras does this. ARod must've had an inkling of a feeling that the Rangers would be put in financial chains as a result of his contract, preventing them from competing effectively (an extremely important factor in ARod's decision on who to sign with). The point, however, is that ARod shouldn't need to realize this. Boras should inform him that if he signs a 252 million dollar contract, he probably won't be able to compete for a divisional title in Texas. I feel as though this is what happened to IRod. Boras probably selfishly emphasized the importance of money in having IRod sign with Tigers. Most sports fans are bewildered by the signing - it would seem to most everyone that IRod would have a significantly higher utility in Florida. Hopefully Boras isn't behaving selfishly, I would hate to find out that a majority of his clients were unhappy with his services. In truth, I would suspect that most of them are dissatisfied with his services; I, for one, would not desire to have Boras as my agent.


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Posted by Jon on Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Yankees to Serve Lamb at Third

Texas finally caved, trading their infielder to a powerhouse AL East team. Only, the team wasn’t Boston, and the infielder wasn’t A-Rod. In an unforeseen move, New York will trade minor league pitcher Jose Garcia to the Texas Rangers for third baseman Mike Lamb, as soon as the Yankees free up a spot on their 40-man roster. Can the Yankees’ hole at third base now be considered filled?

With a shortage of other alternatives, New York will probably stick with Lamb and the gang (Houston, Wilson, Cairo), at least until the trading deadline, when better options may become available. As it stands, Lamb is their best option at the hot corner, but he only has one full year of major league experience. Lamb has posted decent numbers in parts of four seasons in the majors (only one as a full-time starter). His career numbers – .282 Batting Average, .336 on-base percentage, and .385 slugging percentage – are decent, especially considering the dearth of quality third basemen in the league. The real reason why I question this move: Lamb’s defense is nothing more than adequate, if that. With him at third, the Yankees’ infield defense will be below average all around.

Having no better defensive alternatives, Lamb easily beats out Tyler Houston as the best option in the Bronx. With the emergence of Hank Blalock, the Rangers had no need for Lamb and sent him down to AAA for much of the 2003 season. He performed dismally in only 38 plate appearances with Texas. In his last full seasons in the majors, although not a full-time starter, Lamb’s numbers are certainly good enough to beat out Houston in New York. Following is a comparison of their numbers in each of their last two full seasons in the majors.

Lamb............AB............BA............OBP............SLG............BB/SO............HR
2001............284...........306.......... .348............412............14/24..............4
2002............314...........283...........354............411............33/48..............9

Houston........AB............BA............OBP............SLG............BB/SO............HR
2002.............97............281...........323.............428............16/62.............7
2003............320...........278...........320.............402.............6/19..............2

Unlike Tyler Houston, Mike reaches base at a league-average clip and Lamb's BB/SO ratio is far better than Houston's. Compared to their other options, the Bombers’ meatiest lineup will be with Lamb at third. He will have to due until the end of July, when New York will trade for some Grade A beef.

Respect Your Elders

After Jesse Orosco officially retired a few weeks ago, I was a tad taken aback. For as long as I’ve been following baseball, Orosco was a part of the game. And he was always old! In the retirement of Orosco, baseball lost its oldest active player. But don’t fret! Another member of the rookie class of 1979 is prepared to take the torch from the old lefty, provided a team allows him to participate in the marathon’s final legs. You know who I’m talking about. You can see his years of baseball in the wrinkles on his face: 3081 little wrinkles – one for each game played in the majors.

For a second straight season, Rickey Henderson will be entering the season without an MLB contract. Rickey refuses to take the hint, though, and remains confident that he’ll catch on, as he did last July with the Dodgers. Like Orosco, who toiled through his worst season in the majors last year with a terrible ERA+ of 53 (easily a career low), Henderson suffered through his worst season at the major league level. He recorded career lows in batting average, OBP, stolen bases, and games played (only 30) – and that’s a long career.

It’s nice to know that one guy from the rookie class of 1979, despite poor performance, refuses to admit defeat. Most likely, Rickey will find a team to take a chance on him next season (maybe GM Billy Beane will pick him up, providing Henderson with a fifth tenure in Oakland. He has the reputation of a poor clubhouse guy, but if any teams are looking for a veteran presence, they can’t go wrong with Henderson.

Coming or Going?

It appears that the Pirates are on the verge of signing Randall Simon, who they traded to the Cubs before the deadline last summer. In exchange for Simon, Pittsburgh received minor league outfielder Ray Sadler, a moderate centerfield prospect. The Pirates are the only team interested in the notorious Sausage Smasher, but they are not the only club to sign a player who they traded away during last season.

The Orioles recently (re-)sig;ned Sidney Ponson to basically the same contract he rejected (a 3-year $22.5 million deal) before he was traded to the Giants. In the trade, Baltimore received pitchers Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth, and minor-leaguer Ryan Hannaman, who could end up as a decent starter or late-inning reliever, according to Baseball America.

In a way, the Pirates essentially rented their first-baseman out in exchange for the rights to a minor leaguer. Baltimore pulled the same trick, acquiring three pitchers of varying talent, health, and development, only to reacquire Ponson after the season. These something-for-nothing deals are pretty sweet for teams out of competition by the trading deadline. A team that likes a player enough that it plans on paying more than market value for him after the season, should trade him for some prospects at the deadline, and try to then resign him during the off-season. Whether their strategies were purposeful or not – Ponson knew that Baltimore’s deal would stand after the season – aside from the Rule 5 draft, there’s no better way to add prospects for free.

Coming or Going? – Part II: Burks Returning to Beantown

Speaking of teams reacquiring former talent, it appears that Ellis Burks is close to signing with the Red Sox. Burks wants to play in Boston in 2004 and Theo wants him there. He is in Boston now, ready to undergo a physical.

While his career has spanned eight fewer seasons than Rickey’s, at 39 years old, Ellis Burks is no youngster. Red Sox fans weren’t happy when Burks was sent packing in 1992 after contributing a lot to Boston: he was a standout 20/20 rookie contribution in 1987, he became recognized as one of the best centerfielders in the American League (Gold Glove in 1990), and was an All-Star in 1990. My father, who had a special knack for predicting Burks homeruns, was unhappy with the move. “He’s injury-prone,” the Red Sox said. “He won’t last another few years in the majors.” Did he ever prove them wrong!

Following his time with the Red Sox, Burks put up consistent numbers over the last ten seasons, including another All-Star appearance in 1996. Following a season filled with injury, Burks, now a regular DH, is determined, having never won a championship on any level, to return to baseball for one more season, probably in the form of a Boston homecoming.

The Red Sox are searching for a right-handed bench hitter, and Burks has a recent, history of dominating lefties (note: the sample sizes are relatively small and are not be conducive to extrapolating predictions for the future):

Burks..................AB............HR............BA............OBP............SLG
2002 vs. LHP.......136............9.............316............400............581
2003 vs. LHP........59.............3.............322............444............576

Burks, a capable right-handed bench bat or platooner at DH (with Kevin Millar), is exactly the type lefty-killing hitter Boston is interested in signing. Since Oakland signed Eric Karros, Boston’s list of such options is dwindling. Watch for a deal to be signed within the week.

Are the Twins insane?

After finally allowing him to cement himself a spot in their rotation, Johan Santana – a left-hander – appears to be the best starter pitcher on the Twins, and one of the brightest young pitchers in baseball (he’ll be 25 this year). Since his first start after regular rest on July 11, Santana posted some wonderful numbers: a 3.25 ERA, 95 strikeouts, and only 25 walks in 91.1 innings. After the All-Star break, opposing batters only .216 against him and starting on August 3, he did not lose a game in his last eleven starts, tallying eight wins during that span. Minnesota would probably do anything to keep such a young, potentially dominating pitcher a happy member of the Twins, right? Wrong!

Santana has filed for salary arbitration, asking for $2.45 million. Considering his performance as a reliever and a starter over the last two years, this sum appears quite reasonable. The Twins, though, refused to offer that much, beginning their offer at a mere $1.6 million, which is not fair compensation for a pitcher of his caliber. The Twins just upped their offer by $300k, but they will most likely lose the case if it goes to arbitration.

After mismanaging his career for the last two years, the Twins are now mismanaging his contract negotiations. Consider this: Brad Penny, two years away from free agency, avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $3.725 million contract with the Marlins. Carl Pavano, a free agent after 2004, did the same, agreeing to a $3.8 contract with Florida. Santana is a better pitcher than both Pavano and Penny, despite having less experience as a starter. When he becomes a free agent, Santana will probably be happy to take the next available flight out of Minneapolis.


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Posted by Mike on Tuesday, February 03, 2004

New England Patriots - Super Bowl XXXVIII Champions

Congratulations to the New England Patriots! Once again Super Bowl champions after a dramatic and nail-biting 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Houston. With just a little over a minute left on the clock, just like he did in 2002 against the Rams (this time with a little help from the Carolina kicker), Tom Brady drove the Patriots downfield into fieldgoal range to give Adam Vinitieri a chance to put the Patriots ahead by three points with just four seconds left on the clock. Once again, Vinitieri came through in the clutch. Absolutely amazing, absolutely unbelievable.

How about Tom Brady? Brady has secured himself a place in history as one of only nine quarterbacks to win multiple Super Bowls. This exclusive club includes Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, and John Elway. Brady is only 26 years old and may still have a chance at a third Super Bowl title. Should that chance never arise he is still one of the elite Boston athletes past and present, now in the company of Larry Bird, Bobby Orr, and Ted Williams (who may have been the greatest hitter of them all but never did win a World Series).

As for the Patriots, they have finally secured the respect from the media and the rest of the country that they deserve. They were the best team in the league this year and have become one of the true powerhouse franchises. Well deserved respect and praise to Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Adam Vinitieri, Mike Vrabel, Troy Brown, Ty Law, Deion Branch, the entire offensive line, as well as the rest of the team.

King of Beers

Because nothing in America can exist without controversy or complaint... The Budweiser commercial that has received so much attention here at Talking Baseball has provoked backlash from readers. My friend Yakov in New York remarked, "apparently all it takes to set women back 50 years is 30 seconds and $2.5 million." I find it refreshing that at least one other person still has a sense of humor in our increasingly politically correct world. Not that it bothered me in the least, but I would have imagined Kid Rock wearing an american flag as a poncho would have been more of a hot topic than a mildly sexist and ultimately humorous beer commercial.

Now that football season is officially over, on to baseball...

Ivan Rodriguez and the Tigers

"This is an exciting day for me. I know they had a bad season last year, but I think this is going to be a completely different season." - Ivan Rodriguez

Ivan Rodriguez has finally found a new home for the 2004 season with the Detroit Tigers. ESPN.com reports that the contract Rodriguez signed is worth $40 million over four years but that only $19 million of the contract is guaranteed. The Tigers also have the option to buyout the remainder of the contract for $5 million if Rodriguez goes on the disabled list for more than 35 days in 2004 or 2005.

Two major points:

1.) This is not a good deal for Tigers, and Rob Neyer agrees. They have just signed a future Hall of Fame catcher with injury concerns to a contract that allows them flexibility if those injuries do materialize. This is good. For a team that was one loss away from tying the major league record for losses in a season in 2003 the addition of Rodriguez will give Detroit fans at least one reason to attend at least a few games. He likely isn't going to make Detroit a .500 team but at least they will not be a complete disgrace to their city once again. Maybe part of their logic was that he can help develop the young pitchers Detroit has, whether or not you consider them worth developing is another matter. As Neyer points out though, should Rodriguez remain healthy in 2004 and 2005, the real issue will be 2006 and 2007 when he will likely decline dramatically. This is bad.

2.) This deal is bad for Ivan Rodriguez. Coming off a World Series title and WS MVP season he has signed a non-guaranteed contract with the worst team in baseball. Rodriguez, like almost every catcher before him, will not be able to produce numbers in his 30s that are close to as good as what he could produce in his 20s. This fact will not be aided by Comerica Park, a notorious pitcher's paradise.

It looks like a future Hall of Famer is going to waste away the last few productive seasons of his career on a last-place team. Rodriguez may not have had much of a choice in the matter though, Florida seemed to show little interest in bringing him back unless they could for much less money and Baltimore found its catcher more than a month ago when they signed Javy Lopez. If not for all the chaos in the front office of the Dodgers because of their impending sale then maybe they would have made a legitimate attempt to sign Rodriguez. More likely though, if they were willing to spend the money, the Dodgers would have preferred Vladimir Guerrero. There just is not much of a market for aging catchers with injury problems as one might imagine.

Speaking of those young Detroit pitchers...

If Ivan Rodriguez thought the pitchers he was catching in Texas were bad, wait until he sees the three Detroit aces that he will be catching this year:

......................................AGE..........IP..........SO..........BB..........ERA..........ERA+
Jeremy Bonderman...........20.........162.0.......108..........58..........5.56..........78
Nate Cornejo...................23.........194.7........46...........58..........4.67..........92
Mike Maroth....................25.........193.3........87...........50..........5.73..........75

Jeremy Bonderman is only 20 years old and maybe someday he will turn into a good 4th or 5th starter but even that is a big "maybe." While the ERA leader among Detroit starters last year, Cornejo strikes out too few batters to have any real hope of lasting in the majors and the same might be said for Mike Maroth. There should be little or no hope in Detroit of any of these in house pitchers being able to lead the staff in the future, if there is that hope is misplaced. In fact, on most any other team in baseball none of these pitchers would find a place in the rotation and would be lucky to find a spot in the bullpen. There were actually a few more starting pitchers that Detroit used over the course of the season (if they could be called pitchers) but their numbers were just too terrible to mention.

I lied, they're just too laughable, here they are:
..............................AGE..........IP..........SO..........BB..........ERA..........ERA+
Adam Bernero...........26.........100.7.......54..........41...........6.08..........75
Gary Knotts..............26..........95.3........51..........47...........6.04..........71

Both Adam Bernero and Gary Knotts struck out more batters than did Nate Cornejo while throwing about half as many innings. Well this happens, right? Not when their strikeout rate is in the 4.8 K/9IP range. Considering that both Bernero and Knotts are entering what should be their primes I am fairly certain neither of these pitchers have much of a future in the major leagues.

I haven't researched this in any way, but what exactly has Detroit done with their draft picks for the last few years? Obviously nothing.

More than they needed Ivan Rodriguez, the Tigers needed to sign a starting pitcher during this offseason. While his signing was a good PR move and some needed help for what was the worst offense in baseball last year, from a long term perspective it was not the move they needed to make. For about the same cost as Ivan Rodriguez, the Tigers could have signed Kelvim Escobar, Damian Moss, and Raul Ibanez. If you do not like those names there were plenty of other players available at reasonable prices; Sidney Ponson, Carlos Guillen, and Eric Karros to name a few. Too often teams bring in that big expensive free agent when they really need to fix the foundation of the team first. Unfortunately for the Tigers they will have a long time in the cellar to think about the best way to create a future.


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Posted by Ben K. on Monday, February 02, 2004

A Baseball Fan's View of Levitra

Many of you might load this page today, look at it, and say, "Why is Ben posting? Is he kidnapping all of the Red Sox fans?" I just want to allay your fears. I haven't kidnapped anyone. Mike is deservedly celebrating the Patriots' Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers. Since the rest of my colleagues are all New Englanders, I volunteered to fill in for today. Mike will post on Tuesday.

That being said, I want to congratulate the Patriots on their victory. I've been rooting for them to win this year. Some of you might say that's sacrilegious. As a die-hard Yankee fan, can I really root for a team from New England to win in any sport? As long as the Red Sox continue to lose, I'll gladly root for the other teams in New England. Considering how much more I care about baseball than anything else, if the sports gods reward New England with football championships instead of baseball championships for the rest of my life, that's ok with me.

Alright, now that I've pissed off half of my readers, I'm going to get into the subject of my post. Since Ivan Rodriguez has, as of 11:22 pm on Sunday night, yet to sign with the Detroit Tigers, I'll save my analysis of the Tigers' situation until my next post. Now, I would like to analyze a few of the non-sports related aspects of the Super Bowl and close with my thoughts on the competition between baseball and football perpetrated so tastelessly, tactlessly, and falsely by Mike Ditka and Levitra tonight.

I would first like to award Worst Super Bowl Pun to the AP story I linked to in the first paragraph of this post. Saying "Houston, we have a champion" is about the worst way ever to start a story. I consider myself a journalist. As I've alluded to in other posts, I'm the editor in chief of my college newspaper. I've been a reporter for almost seven full years now, and as I apply for summer internships at various papers around the country, I like to think that I know a little something about the art of journalism. Granted, the Associated Press is a bit different than the personal reporting that I do, but still. If I were to see an article with a lead like that, I would stop reading, send it back to the writer, and tell him or her to come up with something just a little bit better. That phrase is one of the most clichéd phrases in our culture. Since Apollo 13 came out in 1995, it's been killed. While it won't be the last we here of that pun, it should be buried for ever.

Now, what good would a post on different aspects of the Super Bowl be without some mention of the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake incident? Justin sang, "I'll get you naked by the end of this song." And you know what? He wasn't kidding. I personally thought that added some excitement to one of the worst Super Bowl halftime shows of all time. I was watching the game on a projector screen in a room packed with other college students, and the reaction was priceless: dead silence in the room. Then, applause. Of course, college student, football fans couldn't have asked for more: nudity and football. Everyone else anywhere with decent taste--and even many college students too--were rightfully appalled.

Seriously, that's gotta be one of the greatest flashes in football history. While hi-res pictures do appear to show Janet wearing a pastie (I swear, mom, I didn't look at them. Um, someone else..yeah, someone else told me about that), CBS was rightfully appalled. Even better, though, for those of us who hate MTV was the NFL's reaction. In this article highlighting CBS' apology, NFL Executive Vice President Joe Brown issued the understatement of the night when he said, "It's unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime." Yeah, Joe, good call on that one. While Matt Drudge is reporting that CBS knew about it beforehand, I believe it was a major publicity stunt on MTV's part. And it worked. The controversy will focus on MTV for days, and for a few seconds, millions and millions of viewers got a clear glimpse of Janet Jackson's right breast. MTV completely hoodwinked CBS, and that's all there is to it. Like most things in our pop culture, it was tasteless to the max but extremely effective.

Now, I would like to turn to the commercials. Best Way to Get Out a Message goes to TheTruth.org's commercial showing the Shards O' Glass company. That commercial was so devastatingly effective in reaching the people with whom I was watching the game, and I think that's the point. For those of you who missed it, it was basically a company saying why they sell ice pops with shards of glass in them and how they know how dangerous they are for you. It was meant to mock the tobacco industry, and it certainly accomplished that. The best part is that if click right here, you can even visit and explore the Web site that's flashed in the commercial. ShardsOGlass.com is indeed a real site. As someone vehemently opposed to smoking, I approve.

Next, Most Worthless Commercial. That Budweiser one with the referee being yelled at. Way to set women back 50 years. That's it. Horrendously tasteless. Or as Dave would say, flagrantly tasteless.

And finally, for some baseball. In what I think was one of the most offensive commercials, Mike Ditka was advertising Levitra as a drug for men who like football. Like football, it will give you that rush. In fact, Ditka even went so far as to say that baseball needs Levitra because it would give the game a rush. Ditka's argument was that in baseball, there's too much waiting and sitting around. The pitcher takes too long; the batter takes too long; there's too much strategizing, illustrated nicely by a pitching coach slooooowly placing a call to the bullpen. Football, on the other hand, is, unlike Ditka, erect...I mean, football supposedly is full of life and energy. Because the game is constantly on the move and everyone's getting tackled, it's much more fast-paced than football.

I hate to break it to Mr. Ditka, but the only game that comes close to what he was describing is hockey. Football's just as bad as baseball when it comes to delaying the game. Take tonight for example. A 60-minute game took over four hours to play. For those of you are mathematically-challenged, that's 240 minutes or 180 minutes of sitting around and waiting for things to happen. I saw tonight a game where the game clock routinely hit 1 or 0 before a snap. I saw the clock run for 7 seconds at a time before stopping. I saw a quarterback routinely conferring with his coach through a headset, with his team through huddles, and even more with his team through audible signals as they adjusted to the defense. To me, this sounds a lot like baseball but with more ridiculous testosterone and without some of the more subtle points.

I don't intend to start a fight over the merits of baseball vs. the merits of football. Both have good poitns and bad points, and I enjoy watching football games, although not as much as I enjoy baseball games. If you, dear reader, want to do start that fight, check out our brand new forums. What I would like to say is that Ditka and Levitra completely dissed our National Pastimee. They insulted the manliness of all of the fans of baseball worldwide with their 60-second diatribe about why baseball needs Levitra. Meanwhile, Ditka criticized baseball for all of the things wrong with football!

Let's see. Lots of time standing around waiting for a play to happen, check. Lots of boring line changes and coaches' decisions, check. Brief spurts of action followed by lots of time standing around, check. More commercial time than anyone knows what to do with, check. Furthermore, in 2002, the average length of a baseball game was 2 hours and 52 minutes. The NFL is barely matching this, and they certainly aren't setting any time-of-game records during the Super Bowl.

To me, it seems ridiculous that Levitra and Ditka felt it necessary to blatantly attack baseball and its fans. Most football fans attend baseball games during the summer, and many baseball fans with a limited interest in football were watching the Super Bowl. I should know because I was one of them. I think this clearly goes under theheadlinee of "If you have nothing nice to say, don't say it at all."

That's all. Football is as guilty of all of things Ditka said about baseball. In my opinion, baseball is more subtle than football as well. A well-executed hit-and-run or suicide squeeze is more excited than a touchdown run or field goal attempt any day. I know my fellow posters are more sympathetic to football than I am, but I just wanted to defend baseball. I do like watching football and playing it, but it didn't deserve that bashing tonight. And it's important to remember that those $2.3 million commercials reach a wide audience of very gullible Americans (as those SUV ads illustrated).

Alright, I'm signing off now. I know this wasn't a post much in the line of what we've done so far, but I think it's nice to vary things up every now and then. This was a mighty slow weekend for baseball, but by the end of this week, we'll have some things to discuss. I predict that the Yankees will land a third baseman, Greg Maddux will land a real potential suitor, and the Tigers will land an All Star catcher. And to whet your baseball appetite, I'll preview my next post. I'm going to write about improvements witnessed in really bad teams and what the Tigers prospects are for the 2004 season. So enjoy your Monday, if that's possible. And I'll catch you on Friday.


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Posted by Jon on Sunday, February 01, 2004

Arthur: Paving the Rhodes for Bradford in 2004?

The best closer in the American League last season, Keith Foulke, could have stayed in Oakland, where Billy Beane offered as many millions as he could to prevent his All-Star from signing with the AL Playoff rival Red Sox. But Foulke, the AL Rolaids Relief pitcher of the year, decided to bring his relief to the city most hurting from stomach pain and heartburn, and most aching for a World Series title. Baseball Prospoectus thinks the Red Sox will end up losing big on his contract, but I, along with the rest of New England, eagerly envision Foulke trekking cross-country to the Bay State. I see him entering Fenway with a solitary suitcase, busting at the seams due to its contents: 21 Win Shares and a self-made pamphlet about throwing the palmball. This is all the relief Red Sox Nation needs.

Foulke, ranked by Adjusted Runs Prevented, was the sixth-best reliever in baseball in 2003. After losing one of the best closers in the game, the Oakland A’s needed to find somebody to fill their suddenly cavernous hole in the bullpen. Billy Beane signed Arthur Rhodes, a reliever who has never closed games for a full season, to a three-year $9.2 million contract, making Rhodes his new relief ace. This move divided the writers here at Talking Baseball. Mike argued that Rhodes, while a solid addition, should be the primary set-up man before Chad Bradford, one of the stars of Moneyball. Dave understandably favors Rhodes. I decided to mediate the dispute.

Looking only at last season, Oakland has no choice but to admit Chad as their best reliever. Rhodes had a dismal year, posting an ERA+ of only 106, or just minimally above league average. Compared to Bradford, whose ERA+ was 140 (or a bit better than Mike Timlin), Rhodes seems like a distant second option. But it must be taken into account that 2003 was Arthur’s worst season since 1999. Let’s examine his stats and try to determine whether last season’s falters were just a blip on the radar screen or a preview of what’s to come in Oakland.

Some disturbing differences appear between his stats in the 2001-2003 seasons and his stats in 2003:

Rhodes
....................K/9.............K/BB...........OPS............ERA+
2000............10.00...........2.66............602............107
2001............10.99...........6.92............507............245
2002............10.46...........6.23............500............181
2003.............8.00............2.67............688............106

In 2003, Rhodes’ K/9 was as low as we have seen from him in a decade, and his K/BB is down so drastically that you may wonder why Beane made this move at all. But we must remember that in 2001, Rhodes sported a better K/9 and ERA+ than Foulke in 2003, and Arthur continued to have a very good season in 2002.

One important descriptor of Rhodes’ career is the word ‘inconsistency’. Since 1997, when he first appeared in over 50 games, his ERA+ has fluctuated wildly, from poor (1999) to mediocre (2000, 2003), and from above average (1997, 1998) to elite (2001, 2002):

Rhodes
........................ERA+
1997.................145
1998.................129
1999..................89
2000.................107
2001.................245
2002.................181
2003.................106

So before the 2003 season, Rhodes last pitched that poorly in 2000, which he followed with a phenomenal season in 2001. It is worth noting here that Rhodes' 2003 numbers are relatively strong with the exception of the month of July. In July, Rhodes fell off a cliff, sporting a .448 batting average against and allowing eight earned runs in only six innings, and was probably injured. With the exception of July, Rhodes posted a 3.12 ERA, which is nothing to scoff at. But it is questionable as to whether Rhodes will be better this season. His September ERA ballooned back up to 6.75, and his .385 September batting average against, should give rise to suspicions that Rhodes may have trouble readjusting in 2004. Closers must also prepared to pitch at least 75 innings, and to pitch in multiple games in a row. At the very least, Rhodes' 2003 performance leads to serious questions of durability. He only pitched in 54 innings total all year and from July to September, he appeared in only 28 games and pitched only 17.2 innings. Questions of durability, inconsistency, and injury remain.

Look back at the first table I provided. In 2001, Rhodes was striking out more than one batter per inning. Last season, he struck out one quarter batters fewer per inning than in 2000. This decline should raise some eyebrows, but Arthur’s largest problem in 2000, and then in 2003, was his K/BB ratio. In his only two dominating seasons, 2001 and 2002, Rhodes’ K/BB ratios were more than two times better than in his most recent problematic seasons, 2000 and 2003.

We all know Billy Beane’s philosophies regarding closers: (1) just about anybody can be a decent closer, and (2) relievers are fickle. Rhodes has the warning signs of a pitcher in decline. Fortunately for him, his career has been so unpredictable that it still seems possible for him to bounce back to at least a decent level of production. Although Rhodes is not a safe bet, Beane really believes that most any pitcher can act as a team’s closer.

But if Rhodes proves Beane wrong and isn’t Oakland’s answer for the ninth inning, Chad Bradford could be an in-house solution. First (although I consider it meaningless, you may not), Chad has yet to allow a run in over eight innings of postseason experience. Does that indicate he has what it takes to finish games in pressure situations? I think not (he has not accumulated enough innings for his post-season performance to be statistically significant). There are a few important trends in Bradford’s recent seasons. He, too, seems to be slipping:

Bradford
....................K/9............K/BB............OPS............ERA+
2001............8.35............5.67.............757............161
2002............6.69............4.00.............622............150
2003............7.25............2.07.............686............140

For a guy who doesn’t rely as heavily on strikeouts to get hitters out, Bradford has boasted respectable and steady K/9 numbers since 2001. But his K/BB and his ERA+ have both declined over each of the last three years. Bradford’s deterioration, though, has not been as dramatic as Rhodes’ one-season slip. Both pitchers should expect some more difficulties next season. While Rhodes could conceivably revert back to his old ways, posting at a productive, but not great, level, expecting a return to his 2001 form would be ill-advised.

The Bradford-for-closer argument is not far-fetched. His declining ERA+ shouldn’t worry the A’s because luck does play a part in the determination of a pitcher’s ERA. Bradford’s ERA+ has been relatively consistent, though it has experienced a noticeable decrease. In addition, Bradford has an extra tool in his utility belt: that crazy delivery, which induces a huge amount of ground balls. Although hitters may be getting used to it, as evidenced by his flagging K/BB numbers, Chad’s ability to induce ground balls at a level rarely paralleled in Major League Baseball, might make him Beane’s best option in the ninth. Interestingly, Bradford could be a Derek Lowe-type of closer. Chad’s numbers compare favorably to Derek’s All-Star season in the bullpen.

............................GB/FB............K/9............K/BB
Lowe (2000)............3.45............7.79............3.59
Bradford (2003).......3.54............7.25............2.07

They share almost identical GB/FB and K/9 ratios. Bradford’s largest problem last year was that he doubled his walks from the previous season.

There is little doubt in my mind that Bradford, with a bit better control, could be an effective closer in the majors. And after this analysis, I consider him the best of the A’s relievers going into the 2004 season. That being said, there is absolutely no way that Chad will ever be named as the A’s closer, even if Rhodes has the worst season of his career. For one, all who read Moneyball know that Bradford dislikes the limelight. He prefers perform his job quietly, as just another player. Endorsing him as their closer, Oakland would be setting Bradford up for a role he would not appreciate and one in which he would not perform especially well. Also, this is Billy Beane we’re talking about! Beane knows that a team’s best reliever need not be their closer. While Bradford may be a noticeably better than Rhodes next season, Beane loves having him ready to take the mound when the game is on the line, usually in the seventh or eight innings. Bradford is happy to come into a tight game, induce a double play and be out of the inning. Why save Bradford to start him in the ninth-inning, when he has more value getting out of tough jams with runners on base?

Derek Lowe proved that a groundball pitcher who strikes a few guys out can be an All-Star closer. Chad Bradford, given the opportunity, has the talent to thrive in closing situations, too. But he will never be used this way; in 2004, Bradford will continue to pave the way for Rhodes.


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