Tuesday, November 27, 2007

When the truth doesn't suit our bromides

Sean Taylor is dead, in case you haven't heard. The reaction from the media, I think, has been pretty muted, considering the nature of the murder and the talent level of the victim. But I guess that's what happens when the player in question hardly ever spoke with the media; in the absence of personal anecdotes, there's really not much to say in situations like these. Or at least that's the stance most media members have taken with Taylor's shooting and subsequent passing, sticking to the facts and editorializing little.

But what of those facts? Not of the shooting; those surrounding Taylor's life. Isn't there something to be said of the fact that Taylor's last few years have been a bit troubling on the "getting his name in the blotter" tip, even by the standards of the NFL? This guy's name has been linked with gun violence on multiple occasions, both as victim and perpetrator. This isn't to say he's a murderer or a gangster; it's just to say that the search "Sean Taylor+guns" would come up with a few more hits than "Bob Sanders+guns."

Mike Wilbon thought Taylor's backstory was relevant. Here's what he said during a chat, yesterday:

McLean, Va.: Will your opinion of Taylor change if this does not turn out to be a random incident (e.g. home invasion)?

Michael Wilbon: No ... people's opinions are shaped by the way they've grown up, the way they see the world, what they know about the world the person in question grew up in, etc. Sean Taylor isn't the only guy I know who fits his general profile. I've known guys like Taylor all my life, grew up with some. They still have shades of gray and shouldn't be painted in black and white...I know how I feel about Taylor, and this latest news isn't surprising in the least, not to me. Whether this incident is or isn't random, Taylor grew up in a violent world, embraced it, claimed it, loved to run in it and refused to divorce himself from it. He ain't the first and won't be the last. We have no idea what happened, or if what we know now will be revised later. It's sad, yes, but hardly surprising.

Unsurprisingly, Wilbon's catching some blowback. From Chris Mottram's Mr. Irrelevant:
This is ridiculous on so many levels, but the worst part is that it sounds an awful lot like Wilbon is suggesting Taylor had this coming. Sure, Taylor’s had some troubles in the past, but that’s like suggesting the slutty girl from high school deserved to be raped. See, the way it works is that crimes are not the fault of the victims.
Listen, I don't have an axe to grind with either of these guys, and I can see where Mottram's coming from. Wilbon's comments do seem a little chilly, especially now that we know the guy ended up dying.

We're supposed to be nice to the dead and dying, and "concern" ourselves more with that person getting better or ascending swiftly to the pre-assigned level of heaven in times like these. We tend to wait at least two weeks before suggesting anything negative about the deceased, and even then you must chase any statement with, "... may god rest his/her soul." It's proper form. It's also bullshit.

It's not Wilbon's or Mottram's job to comfort the family of the dead, folks. Reporters and columnists are there to let us know what the news is, and sometimes what their opinion of the news is. And Taylor's death is a sufficiently big story that people are allowed to call it like they see it. That's what Wilbon did. Taylor's been in trouble, and a good percentage of those situations involved guns. No, he wasn't Tupac, but it's so totally not surprising that he got shot. To say otherwise is disingenuous.

I also don't think that Wilbon — or anyone who cares to mention Taylor's history and the possibility that there's a connection — is saying Taylor "had it coming," an expression that implies the person deserved it. No one has a fucking bullet to the groin "coming to them." But to borrow Mottram's rape analogy, you needn't suggest the slut deserved to get raped to point out that sluts are more likely to get raped than girls who are in bed by 10 p.m.

I'm really wondering if Wilbon's going to be the only one to point out the obvious: That, despite alleged attempts to improve his life — and I love how everyone has taken statements to this effect as gospel — Taylor's past almost certainly came back to haunt him. We may not really understand (yet) what Taylor's past involves in whole, but a few well-publicized incidents give us an idea. A couple of years ago, he stuck a gun in the face of someone he had just beaten up over a stolen SUV, and subsequently was the reason someone went NYPD on a friend's truck during a drive-by. And from the scraps of information coming through about recent events, Taylor had reason to believe he was still a target, especially considering that a little more than a week ago someone broke into his house and left a fucking knife on his pillow. This shooting was not the product of some casual disdain, or a desire to separate Taylor from his wealth. Someone wanted him dead, or seriously fucked up, and dedicated no small amount of thought and effort to achieving that end. Murder like this doesn't happen by accident; at some point, Taylor or a close associate initiated a chain of events that led to yesterday's murder. You don't need to be McNulty to figure this stuff out.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that outside of a few glancing blows like this one, we're not going to see anything substantive on this until REAL Sports or another investigative (and non-print) outlet decides to tackle the "Athletes and Gun Violence" story again, maybe even with a new perspective. But, like the Brian Pata/Darrent Williams situations proved, even the hardest-hitting outlets are loathe to dig into what it is that these young men did that made their murder such a priority for someone. Maybe one of them was a "senseless" killing — the more we hear about the Williams slaying, the more it sounds like he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time — but it's not possible that they all were. Pata was executed, and Taylor was stalked before being executed. Pata and Taylor did something to inspire these killings. If you're going to report the story, you need to be willing to address that issue. That is the story.

The fact that he responded to his SUV being stolen by hunting down some guy, beating the living shit out of him, and then putting a gun in his face tells us something about Sean Taylor's character. You don't brandish weapons in the process of disputes unless deadly weapons — and the violence associated with them — are a central motif in your life. The only way we can insult Taylor's memory is to accuse him of being stupid enough — after growing up in a Florida inner city — to think that he could simply walk away from that kind of past without it catching up to him at some point.

It is unfortunate that Sean Taylor is dead. It's tragic that his infant daughter will grow up without a father. I feel for everyone involved in his life, many of whom are not only dealing with grief but the kind of anxiety that springs from someone your age dying. And I certainly don't believe that Sean Taylor deserved to be murdered. No one deserves to be killed; murder always represents the grandest of injustices. I hope his killer(s) are found, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and never allowed to take the life of someone's son, brother and father. Who wouldn't share those sentiments?

But I, like Wilbon, am not surprised by Taylor's death in the least. I don't believe it's an inexplicable tragedy; it's merely a tragedy, and further proof to anyone dense enough to still need it that if you're willing to point a gun at someone else, there's a strong likelihood that you will find yourself at the other end of one at some point. Whoever killed Taylor that night did so not only armed with a gun, but what he felt was reason enough to use it. And to pretend that's not the case is to willfully ignore that which is right in front of your face.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Yo. It's me Aaron Rowand. I used to play center field for the Philadelphia Phillies, but I'm now unemployed. I doubt I'll be out of a job for long, but apparently I had to wait for some dude named Torii (what kinda name is that?) to get signed so everyone could figure out how much they were willing to pay me. They say I'm going to get paid less; not a whole lot, maybe 10 percent less overall. OK, that's cool, considering dude just got signed for $18 milly a year to play in that place by Disney Land. Heh. I like the tea cups ride.

Anyways, my only question is: Why is this Torii guy going to get paid more than me, exactly? Don't get me wrong, he seems like a cool guy and everything, and I've seen him on Sports Center robbing dudes of home runs and stuff, which is cool. But, hey, you might have noticed me on Sports Center a couple of times to, face-planting into fences. Alls I'm saying is that it's not like he's got a monopoly on highlight catches. He may jump, but is he willing to look like a fucking hockey player for the rest of his career? Yeah, I didn't think so. If he only knew how much the broads dug steri-strips.

So, if it's not the highlight catches, then what is it? As far as I can tell, I'm as good as the dude. Maybe better. My boy Diesel got me some numbers on this shit, and told me to paste 'em on here.

Aaron Rowand career OPS+: 106
Torii Hunter career OPS+: 104

Aaron Rowand WARP3, 2005-2007: 19.1
Torii Hunter WARP3, 2005-2007: 19.0

Aaron Rowand Age: 29
Torii Hunter Age: 31

Also, on defense, Diesel told me it's basically a wash. Hunter has a slightly higher "range factor" and "zone rating," I got a higher "fielding runs above replacement" figure, and we got the same fielding percentage.

Yeah, I'm like you: I don't have a motherfucking clue what WARP3 is, either (Diesel also said something about my VORP being higher than Torii's last season, but I told his geek ass to shut it already), but I think it's pretty cool that the stats are saying I'm better than the other guy who's gonna get paid more than me.

Hold on, that's not cool at all. That's actually really fucked up.

They Aren't What They Think They Are

You can come out of Sunday night's game and do what most people are doing, and continue to fellate the Patriots while slapping the Birds on the back for their moral victory, losing by only three to the Greatest Team In NFL History, Ever, quarterbacked by Tom He Just Plays Like a Champion (that's his Indian name). It's easy to do that, if it's the only Eagles game you've watched this year. It's easy to buy the idea that this is a good franchise that can sneak up on anybody, even the mighty, peerless Patriots.

Well, that's bullshit. I'll tell you what I take from the game: the Pats are not that good.

Let's get it out of the way now: how good is that good, exactly? They're the best team in the NFL this season. That's it. I'm sick of hearing all this other hype. I'm not convinced this year's Pats are the best team I've seen in the last three years, or in the salary cap era, or even that they're better than the '04 Pats. I've only followed the NFL for about 15 years, only really followed it for about ten, and they're not even close to the best team I've seen, much less the best ever. Who is? More on that later.

For now, let's discuss what happened last night. Not that you heard any of this from the announcers or studio analysts, but here's what happened. The Patriots went to the wire with a team that:

1. Was .500 going into the game, both this season and over the last three seasons combined. For those of you who remember the 2004 Eagles, know that this is not that team. This is not a good football team. This is a team that got embarrassed by the Cowboys and Giants this year. This is a last-place team.

2. Was playing on the road, in late November, in one of the hardest places to play in football.

3. Started A.J. Feeley at QB. Yeah, he played well, spectacularly except for a few bad throws -- even if those throws did cost them the game. But he's had enough NFL starts -- 20-ish -- to show exactly who he is and who he isn't. He isn't an NFL-caliber starting QB. Ask the Dolphins. And he spotted them 7 points right off the bat on a horrendous throw. A guy who's been starting all season doesn't come out and throw that ball on the third play. Now, I'm not saying Donovan McNabb would have won this game -- he wouldn't have, and there's no doubt in my mind, but that's a whole different post. Only that a pretty mediocre quarterback started in his place.

4. Started one third-string safety who was out of the NFL a few weeks ago (and got hurt during the game), and another who's 34 and banged up, against the best passing attack in the league. Both starting safeties dropped crucial interceptions that should have been caught pretty easily.

5. Was coached about as poorly as could be, offensively. The defensive game plan was great, and although I'm sick of Jim Johnson and his constant blitzing, the three-man front was brilliant. The no-huddle four-wide would have shredded a lot of defenses. But Reid and Morninwheg pulled all their usual bullshit, burning timeouts they'd need later, and -- in a move that would have given me a coronary if I weren't already expecting it, because I've seen the same thing so many times -- they called a deep pass pattern on the final drive, when the only reasonable gameplan in the world would have been to run the ball or throw short passes for two minutes and go for the tying field goal. Feeley made a bad throw -- LJ was open short -- but he never should have been put in that position.

6. Did not force a turnover, unless you count the turnover on downs when the Mastermind decided to go for it and the Second Coming threw a duck. Usually when a team loses to a lesser team, turnovers are the reason: a few freak fumbles, Eli Manning's three pick-sixes against Minnesota. The Pats dominated the turnover battle, including a pick-six two minutes in, and still barely won.

7. Got a grand total of 92 yards from its best player. That's 60 less than Westbrook has averaged on the year. It would be much more understandable if the Eagles were close because Westbrook blew up, but he was not much of a factor.

All that, and the Best Team Ever still needed a few breaks to win by three? Get the fuck out of here. A couple of things go the other way -- that inexplicable fourth-down offsides by the Eagles, which led to the Maroney TD; if one more safety was healthy, the Birds wouldn't have had linebackers on Welker all night; if they catch even one of those picks; if Feeley throws only one baffling interception to Samuel instead of two -- and the Eagles win.

(So right about now is when some of our faithful commenters accuse me of making excuses for the Eagles. But that's not what I'm doing here -- if I was going to do that, I'd mention how Brady false-started all game, stepping back and ducking his shoulders in an oft-successful attempt to draw offsides, but never got flagged for it, or how that Gaffney TD would have been reviewed if any other team in football scored it, or how, if you watch that fourth-down offsides again, it looks like a false start. But I'm not going to do that.)

What I'm saying is that there's a reason the spread was the biggest ever. The Eagles are a mediocre, banged-up team, and the Pats had looked like a great one all year. It was in Foxboro. The Pats had nobody injured going in. A historically great, healthy team at home against AJ Feeley? It should have been a massacre.

Except it wasn't, because the Pats aren't that great. Brady got rattled under pressure -- not that much pressure, either -- and started airmailing receivers or throwing what should have been interceptions. They dropped a ton of passes. Moss got jammed at the line and frustrated into irrelevance. Stallworth was invisible. They have no running game. Their linebackers can't cover for shit, so the middle was wide open all day. Their D-line couldn't get to Feeley. Their kicker missed an easy field goal.

So what? The Pats still won, right? Yeah, they did. And maybe winning -- even if it's close, even if it takes a little luck -- is the mark of a champion (barf). But I just don't want to hear it anymore about the fucking 2007 Patriots being the best team ever. The team I saw tonight wasn't even close to the early '90s Cowboys, as much as it pains me to use that hated franchise as a reference point. Or the Steve Young Niners. Those teams didn't need to play their best game -- no turnovers, a defensive TD, no key penalties -- to beat shitty teams at home.

The Pats' flaws were exposed today, and they are few but significant. They have no real running game. They have a bunch of geriatric linebackers who can play a mean fullback and tight end but can't cover anybody. Brady is human if you can ever get pressure on him (which rarely happens, because they have a great O-line, not that you'd ever hear it in all the Tom Brady fluffing). Outside of Asante Samuel, their secondary is pedestrian. Their D-line doesn't get much push. And if Brady sees pressure like he did tonight, you could be looking at Matt Cassell under center. He's been lucky so far, but look around the NFL and see how many starting QBs are hurt. One play could end all this history talk real quick. (Are you listening, Ray Lewis?)

If the Pats run the table this year, that says more about the sorry state of the NFL than it does about their greatness. I don't see it happening. If the Steelers or Giants don't get them, they'll still have to face a Colts team that ought to be healthier by then.

Either way, they're not the best team ever. Last night's game made that pretty clear.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sink or swim

It's no surprise that the term "witch-hunt" has been bandied about in our cliché-crazy environment when referring to the hysteria surrounding steroids and baseball. I've long thought that the Red Scare was the best available analogy, particularly in light of the "What about the kids?!?" pap that's been trotted out by dozens of supercilious columnists trying to justify their rending of Tommy Bahama shirts and well-worn 501s, but we're not here to discuss the relative merits of hackneyed terminology. We're here to talk about, instead, our weird perception of morality and justice as it pertains to athletes.

As tired and inadequate as the witch references may be in general, the concept of a witch trial is most appropriate when sizing up the situation faced by one Barry Bonds, he of the home run record and 1,000 moments of terror for sports writers. The crime Bonds is being pilloried for today is lying to a grand jury, when the opportunity for "immunity" was presented should he offer any testimony that would be self-incriminating. But, considering that what he said that day was going to become public knowledge, he was really faced with a witch's "water test": If he confessed to a crime everyone had already assumed him guilty of, then he would be finished. If he maintained his innocence — honestly or not — then he would face the punishment nonetheless.

If the body floats, it's a witch. If the body sinks, it's not a witch. Live guilty, or die innocent.

The prosecutor was already armed with evidence that Bonds was a customer of BALCO, and had in the process of his patronage obtained anabolic steroids and a series of other performance-enhancing drugs from BALCO honcho Victor Conte. He was also armed with enough evidence to indict Conte as it was; the use of Bonds, Jason Giambi and a handful of other professional athletes amounted to, at best, piling on, and at worst a dog and pony show for — supposedly — the benefit of those in attendance, and those in attendance only.

That last part is what we're most concerned with, at this moment. Grand juries exist to allow prosecutors to, in theory, test the viability of a case they wish to bring to trial. In reality, grand juries exist to strengthen a prosecutor's case by virtue of an indictment that is granted in a closed proceeding without the benefit of judges, the defendant, or lawyers for the defendant or any witnesses. It is not a stretch to suggest that what often takes place within a grand jury proceeding is nothing short of slander against a prospective defendant, which is why it's increasingly rare for a prosecutor to not earn an indictment as a result of these patently farcical proceedings. Evidence that wouldn't see the light of day after discovery is fair game in a grand jury proceeding, and there's no limit to what a prosecutor can do to witnesses that he or she would otherwise be given a severe reprimand for repeating in an open court.

A prosecutor can also offer immunity to any witness, which in theory — sorry if I keep using this particular caveat as a rhetorical device — obviates the need for any witness to invoke his or her Fifth Amendment right to not be compelled to self-incriminate. Bonds, like the other BALCO clients, was granted immunity in return for honest testimony, which in a lot of people's minds means that Bonds had no excuse to lie about his steroid use.

Bonds is a lot of things — megalomaniac, an asshole, selfish — but he's rarely been accused of being stupid. Nor, I suspect, are the members of his legal council. Anyone with half a brain could see the BALCO grand jury for the circus it was, and thusly had to understand two things about it:

1) It was a pointless exercise of prosecutorial power, and;
2) There was absolutely zero chance that testimony would remain secret.

Bonds, like every other athlete called to testify, had much more to worry about than the criminality of any actions they might admit to on that stand. Rarely are the users of "illegal" drugs like steroids convicted of anything more weighty than a misdemeanor; it's only ever the suppliers that need be concerned of serious jail time, and no one has ever accused Bonds of sharing his stash. But an admission to using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs was nothing less than professional suicide, and in the case of almost every BALCO client, that meant millions of dollars lost. Perhaps I am overly cynical, but I don't know many people who honor the "truth" — particularly when it's over such a petty crime, in the eyes of the law — enough to sacrifice that kind of money. In addition, Bonds stood close to the precipice of one of the greatest professional accomplishments any athlete could hope to accomplish, which meant he stood to lose both material wealth and athletic immortality. He had every reason to lie that day, seeing as the prosecutor's promise of confidentiality promised to be worthless, a belief borne out by the subsequent leak and publishing of that testimony in newspapers and The Game of Shadows, a book that virtually re-wrote the rules about yellow sports journalism.

So, why did anyone expect him to tell the truth on the stand? Where's the benefit? Furthermore, how is the "greater good" served by his telling the truth in this situation? Even if you believe Conte deserved to be locked up for his crimes, whatever Bonds said that day really didn't change things one way or the other. The player's "crime" didn't harm society; it harmed a game that had looked the other way for at least a decade as juiced ballplayers brought fans back into the seats and dollars back into the pockets of team owners (and, yes, the players themselves). The "crime" was against hopelessly naive fans who clung onto silly notions of athletic purity. And, if you really want to go left-field on this situation, Bonds' crime was against his "legacy," or "natural talent," or "respect for the game," ideas that shouldn't be uttered with a straight face. In truth, Bonds' only "crime" when it came to performance-enhancing drugs was that he shopped with the wrong distributor, or perhaps made his use a little to conspicuous. Perhaps that's a sign of poor forethought, but more than likely it's bad luck. Luck, and the fact that he was so unabashedly better than everyone else — even those juicing just as much — that the scope of every self-righteous, fame-hungry writer or federal prosecutor was aimed directly as his expanding head.

The real "crime" Bonds is being punished for — with this perjury indictment serving as proxy — is being unwilling to offer a lame, emasculating and humiliating "apology" like Giambi (who only apologized after the testimony leaked; had it actually remained secret, he would still maintain his innocence) so the rest of us could feel superior for a day before moving on. Because this proud, arrogant athlete didn't prostrate himself, he is everything that's wrong with the game and should be fitted with shackles. Worse yet, now, and only now, that there's an federal indictment — as opposed to just reams of evidence, two books loudly proclaiming his guilt and a general consensus among everyone that he used PEDs — he's suddenly untouchable, and will not be signed by a team this offseason even though he's still one of the 20 best offensive players in the league and without question the best remaining offensive player on the market. How fucking capricious and hypocritical is that, baseball?

If Bonds goes to jail — he almost certainly won't, by the way, because it's virtually impossible to prove perjury in this particular situation — he should be defiant on his perp walk. The only shame that should be felt is by those who think that what's taking place right now is anything except a travesty and embarrassment. Athletes who have killed people, or been party to a murder — hello there, Ray Lewis and Leonard Little! — received nowhere close to the self-congratulatory bile that's filled sports pages the last three years every time the subject is Barry Bonds. One wonders if the fan reaction to Pac-Man Jones the next time he steps on a field of play will compare to anything Bonds received last season on the road.

I'm not saying that what Bonds did was right — taking steroids or lying to the grand jury — nor should anyone "defending" Bonds have to say as much. But I'm not going to pretend that either infraction is anywhere close to deserving of the punishment he's already received, not to mention the punishment he possibly could receive down the road. Nor am I going to give the hyper-moralists a pass, particularly when almost every one of them have done things in their life to further their careers or contribute to their personal wealth — embellishing resumes, backstabbing co-workers, dodging taxes — that are no better or worse than what Bonds did. There are real criminals in sports that are much more deserving of our hatred, but most of them are lucky(?) enough to not be so good that the mixture of misdeed on their part and jealousy on everyone else's part proves potent enough to fire up a crooked trial.

I finish with a question: Do you really feel better now that Bonds has been ruined?

Blow up Boston!

No, seriously, please do. I hate that city's sports teams and their fans with the fire of a thousand suns.

Returning to the Phillies-free agents conversation, turns out marquee free agents are turning down $12 million dollars to play for the Red Sox. I don't know why. Playing in Philly obviously gives you the best chance of winning an MVP.

Also, the Eagles are 22-point dogs in Foxboro this weekend. You read that right. Biggest dog of the season, and in Eagles history. C'mon, Diesel, take the Pats with the points. I dare you.

Monday, November 19, 2007

It ain't just B anymore ...

I've found a mocha-skinned sister to love. Everybody, meet Jemele Hill, whom I had rarely read before today, when she wrote the single best piece of commentary I have ever read about Barry Bonds.

I should probably just stop there, since the Brothers Anonymous are probably flinging objects across their earth-toned living rooms already. But I can't resist observing that one of the precious few measured, logical, original, and convincing opinion pieces I've read about Bonds -- and the only readable opinion piece I've seen from ESPN in recent memory -- was written by a black woman. And, even better, she actually acknowledged her race and gender, and the role they play in her perspective, unlike pretty much any of her colleagues, ever (and by colleagues, I don't mean other black female sportswriters, or other black sportswriters, but simply other sportswriters). She obviously knew many of her readers (and, I would bet, many of her colleagues) would accuse her of playing The Race Card, and yet she discussed race, anyway. That takes grit.

(On the race card issue: it consistently baffles me that educated and intelligent people -- I've seen it used in the comments here -- still use that phrase, apparently ignorant of the blatant and sadly ironic racism inherent in suggesting that race is just a card minorities use to win arguments. Accusing somebody of playing the race card is the new race card.)

Are her race and gender why the column's good? No. Are they why her perspective is unique? Actually, yes, they probably have something to do with it. I originally wrote a cynical, sarcastic comment in this space, but that whole bloviating tone is really tiring, here and on every other sports blog I read. (And I'm sure a couple of our trusty commenters will take care of that for me, anyway.) So I'll just say this: that column is a great example of why I think sports journalism would be better off if it offered more minority perspectives.

Second place in the best-recent-Bonds-piece competition goes to McCovey Chronicles.

Later edit: This is sort of interesting. A little bit of digging on Ms. Hill reveals that, in a study done last year, she was the only black female sports columnist employed by the sample size of 305 newspapers. Is she the only black female sports columnist in America? Anybody know?

Friday, November 16, 2007

A few last words ...

I don't really care enough about this to do an extended back-and-forth. But a couple scattered observations as my last thoughts on it:

Michael Bourn is not that good right now. Look, he's not a younger Dave Roberts. He could be a younger Dave Roberts in a year or two -- but that's his ceiling, not where he is right now. He could also be Willy Taveras, or Doug Glanville, or Endy Chavez, or your typical fast, slappy, armless fourth outfielder. I think you and Dave Silver and every other prospect guy sometimes (often?) lose sight of that distinction, which is important.

The big difference between Victorino and Bourn is offense. Victorino's better defensively because of his arm, but that's just a bonus -- lots of CFs don't have great arms. The big difference is that Victorino has much more pop, and it's not even just a CBP thing -- he hit half his homers on the road. Bourn has zero power.

Jayson Werth is better offensively than Bourn -- even in your theoretical musical-outfield situation (which, by the way, I disagree with, because it makes no sense to be moving your best outfielder between positions every other night -- that's the kind of thing that sounds great in theory, but loses sight of the fact that we're talking about human beings here, and humans generally do better when they're playing the same position every night), it's not really a choice between Victorino or Bourn, offensively -- it's a choice between Bourn and Werth. And Werth offers a lot more of what they need: a corner outfielder with decent pop, a little speed, and a capable all-around game. If he rakes lefties and is replacement level against righties, that means he's better than replacement, overall. Worst case is you spell him sometimes with Greg Dobbs or some other role player. They'll probably pick up another outfielder, since uberprospect Greg Golson (yet another reason Bourn has little value to the Phils) isn't ready yet.

J.C. Romero -- How the fuck is Eric Gagne worth $6M and Romero's not worth $4M? That's the second time you've said that, and Silver said it too! That is about the least self-evident claim I've ever read -- explain that to me, because I don't believe it. You want to talk about what Romero did in Boston last year? Let's talk about Gagne's BoSox stint!

Also, you keep saying that Romero is somehow not that good simply because he was released twice. According to baseball reference, Romero was only released once last year, and the fact that he was released doesn't change the fact that he pitched extraordinarily well for the Phillies -- (and pretty well for Boston, too, but they have ridiculous bullpen depth, which I guess is why they waived him, so they could trade for the Mighty Eric Gagne).

Bottom line on Romero: they signed the best lefty reliever available for less than a lot of worse pitchers get. Yes, the deal is for 3 years, but he's only 31 (six months younger than your boy Gagne, incidentally, and without that whole history of catastrophic arm injuries). I know you hate free agent signings, but get over it. Not every multi-year signing is a mistake. I haven't seen a single other person mention it as some horrible signing -- some other people have wondered if he's really as good as he showed last year, but nobody else is blowing their stack about the humanity of it all as if it were Adam Eaton Part Deux. If Romero tanks -- which, again, is an if -- then he'll be about the fifth or sixth worst contract on that roster. It's a non-story.

The market price of free agents -- You're also talking all this small-market salary strategy about the Phillies. Wrong team. This isn't the NL West, where a ballpark the size of a soccer field, two great pitchers, and Kevin Kouzmanoff get you a shot at the playoffs every year -- they're competing against the Mets, the Yankees of the NL, which puts them in spend-or-suffer mode. Nobody's itching to sign with Philly for a hundred reasons, but they need to fill holes and compete now, so they have to overpay. I'd rather it be a little than a lot.

All this wait-and-develop shit is fine. In theory.

Myers and the rotation -- It's not any more "asinine" than it was last year, and your guarantee about them not making the playoffs with him in the rotation means exactly zilch after they did it this year while trotting out guys like J.D. Durbin to start. If they sign or trade for a starter like Wolf or Colon or Garland, like they keep saying they want to -- and if Eaton's shoulder doesn't require surgery -- that'll give them six. Which means somebody's going to the 'pen. I'd love to see Eaton banished, but I don't see it happening when he's making $8 milly. (For three more years. Kill me.) Who else? Derail a promising young starter's career (Kendrick)? Force a 45-year-old into a position change? Move Cole Hamels, the future of the franchise? If the following things happen, I think Myers will be the closer:

1. They acquire a starter.
2. Eaton is healthy.
3. Lidge struggles and/or they fail to sign anybody else for the pen.

The bullpen cost them too many games last year, and needs to be a priority. Which it is, as they've repeatedly said. Which brings me to the last reason we won't miss Bourn or Costanzo:

The offense is fine -- They've been one of the two best run-scoring teams in the NL the last two years. They don't need more offense from their outfield (and, for the hundredth time, Bourn wouldn't have provided it, anyway.) They need a guy like Lidge to shore up a train wreck of a bullpen.

To sum up, are they the greatest, most earth-shattering moves the Phillies have made in years? No. Do I think these transactions will single-handedly make them NL East favorites? No. Do I even think they'll be the most significant moves they make this offseason? I'm going to wait and see.

They're completely unremarkable moves (which is why I didn't write about them originally) that you and Silver are making out to be way bigger deals than they actually are. You might not hear Michael Bourn's name once next year if you don't watch the Astros. You sure as hell won't hear Mike Costanzo's. And the other guys we're discussing are above-average relievers. Romero and Lidge might flame out completely, but the organization's not going to miss Bourn or Costanzo all that much. These moves just aren't going to be difference-makers, one way or the other.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I like it!

For the first time in a long time, we're actually having an argument on the argument blog! Even better, good points are being made like fucking crazy. Word.

Pepe, I do see some of what you're saying, and you've made enough good points that I'll admit to saying there's some possibility this could end up working in the Phillies' favor. And I don't think anyone has to be worried that either Bourn or Costanza will one day make this look like a Larry Andersen/Jeff Bagwell deal.

However, that doesn't mean I agree with you ...

The reason I didn't mention Victorino is because I think he's got a capable — not great, but capable — bat for a corner outfield spot, whereas Bourn clearly didn't and Werth does only against southpaws (more on that in a second). You're right that Victorino is a better defensive outfielder than Bourn, but the FH's main advantage is his arm strength, which is better utilized in right field. Furthermore, the combination of Bourn and Victorino out there would probably be worth at least one win, if not two, defensively, since Bourn is a vastly better defensive outfielder than Rowand was last season (desire to run into fences notwithstanding) and all of the Phillies' pitchers are flyball pitchers, if memory serves.

Werth is as "perfect" a platoon player as you'll find these days. He absolutely kills lefties, but is right around replacement level for an outfielder against righties (here are the actual numbers). I love guys like Werth, because when properly utilized they're fantastic, low-cost weapons. He and Bourn would have been perfect platoon partners, as the latter evidenced a huge platoon split himself in 2007, albeit over a smaller sample size. In my idealization, Bourn plays CF against righties, while Victorino starts in CF against lefties with Werth slipping into RF. That's a very favorable situation for any team, and also gives the Phils the opportunity to rest the perpetually ailing Burrell whenever needed, since they'll have four OFs getting regular PT.

I guess the argument, at least to me, doesn't really rest on whether Lidge is good, great or otherwise. It rests on the relative costs and availability of replacements. Bourn may not be a great player, but he's a good player — think a younger Dave Roberts — who's essentially free for the next four years. Costanza is, as you suggested, a Kouzmanoff in a perfect world, which has value but perhaps not as much as the prospect freaks like myself would like to believe. Furthermore, the Phillies have a very real need for OFs, since Rowand most certainly is not coming back, nor should he be pined over at the price he's asking for. I see a ton of value in Bourn, not all of which is directly tied into pure performance. Costanza's potential value — even if it's moderate at best — only serves to tip the scales a little more in the direction of this being a bad trade.

Relievers can be had in this market, and can be had for better prices relative to their actual value, than equivalent OFs. I'm not sure Cordero is worth $40 million — actually, I know he's not — but Gagne is probably worth about $6 million a year, which is very affordable when you consider that Bourn costs virtually nothing. And I think that's the point Nate Silver was driving at — if the Phillies were going to spend an additional $15 million (I'm just throwing that number out) this offseason, there are probably better ways it could have been allotted. And, at the end of the day, the more major-league caliber players you have under your control for league minimum, the better off you are. Every one you trade away costs you not only that player but also the payroll and roster flexibility they afford (you could send down Bourn in a pinch, because he still has options left, for instance).

As for Romero, you're quite right to think that the Phillies needed to retain the best available left-handed reliever on the market. And had they signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal with performance-vested options in 2009 & 2010, we wouldn't be having an argument at all. But the chances of Romero giving the Phillies even one great year — and $4 million for a situational/one-inning reliever should pretty much guarantee "great" — are pretty marginal already (again ... he was waived twice last year! He did not turn into Mike Morgan in 33 innings, at the age of 31), which means the chances of the Phillies even getting a moderate return on those three years at $4 million per annum is a longshot at best. Is it the worst contract of all-time? No. It's not even the worst contract on that team. But I see it as more of the same from a front office that has consistently overpaid for average pitching, and paid for it almost every time. And that's why, in particular, news of the deal was received with much hyperbole on my end.

Stepping back from the specifics, part of the reason I am willing to afford a little leeway to the Phils here is because we've yet to see the extent of their offseason, which could end up providing a much more flattering context for these two early salvos. If they are making a real push at a title, then a wasted $10 million here or there is understandable, if not advisable considering the revenue that kind of success can generate. The timing would appear right, as well; the team's troika of superstars are all in their prime and fast approaching the period where diminishing returns are to be expected from all. If the Phillies follow this up with a deal for a good-to-great outfielder — I don't think such a being exists on the free agent market, unless Mike Cameron's drug suspension seriously impedes his ability to be as overpaid as his contemporaries — then it could possibly reap dividends. But make no mistake, there's no way the Phillies can come into this year with two legitimate OFs with past injury problems and one marginal OF who can't hit righties, and expect to be considered favorites in the NL East, not to mention NL.

Furthermore, the reaction from these two early moves must be to put Myers back in the starting rotation, because it's asinine not to. I don't care what he prefers, he's a legitimate No. 2 starter on a team that needs as many good starting pitchers as it can find right now. Go make a move for another reliever if need be — hell, if they're serious about making a run, I go get Gagne if he'll accept a two-year deal at $6 million per — but whatever you do, make it clear to Myers that he's expected to give his team 200 innings this year. I promise you, if Myers is still in the bullpen when the season rolls around, this team will not make the playoffs, because N.Y. and Atlanta are going to be better, and the Phils simply can't afford to keep that kind of asset in a diminished role.

If I'm the GM, I like my position better with Bourn (and potentially Costanza) and the saved cash than I do with Lidge, and I certainly would have done everything in my power to keep Romero's deal within two years — or three years if the third is a performance-based vested option — even if it meant losing him. I would have taken that money and taken a flier on guys like Gagne, Garcia and perhaps even Colon since it's possible all three will accept one- or two-year deals in return for the opportunity to re-establish their value on the market. Hell, I even strongly consider Cordero, but the apparent necessity of giving him at least four years probably scares me off. Then, I go after guys like Mike Lamb and Morgan Ensberg — both of whom fill needs while hitting, at the least, for better-than-average OBPs — because they'll come cheap and will appreciate the opportunity to play half their games in a hitter's paradise.

But perhaps Gillick has something else planned that will make his first two moves of the offseason make a little more sense. And, saying that, I'll save further criticism until Spring Training.

Though, that's not really a promise.

OK, fine, I'll talk about the Phillies' deals ...

I'm sitting here fucking around on the internet, procrastinating from a late-night run, and now you've gone and given me a reason to procrastinate past the point when I'll actually have to go running. I've said it once, I'll say it a thousand times more: Goddamn you, Diesel.

But Anonymous's evil twin has also been hectoring me to discuss Lidge (seriously, you should just change your name to Hector, or maybe create a blogger alias and just join us on the blog). So here goes.

Your post doesn't upset me at all because it reads as if you're consciously overlooking a few important things for the sake of argument, and I think you realize those few things full well.

Silver's column angers me a little bit, simply because he's being a jackass. He's doing what seems to be a staple over at BP (at least from what I've read, which admittedly is not enough to say authoritatively): neglecting to mention relevant information in order to make a point for the sake of making a point. He ignores a lot of relevant stuff, as well as making some ludicrous comparisons and projections, in order to shore up a flimsy claim, a claim he probably only made in the first place because he wanted to say something controversial. Still, these are things that, if he's supposed to be a professional baseball writer, he should know better than to believe. And if he does believe them, he could plainly see their wrongness if he'd only read up a little bit in the real media on the state of the organization or the players in question.

I can hopefully address both of your pieces by enumerating these topics. I'll start with topics relating to the Lidge trade:

Aaron Rowand's departure is a foregone conclusion -- That Silver seems to be project the Phillies' resigning of Rowand as likely or even probable is the first of many things he says in that column that lead me to believe he doesn't know much about the organization. The Phils are not going to re-up Rowand, and nobody who follows the organization has thought they would for months, since it became clear he would be looking for $14M per in a long-term deal. There's just no reason for them to do that, because he's not that good -- not nearly as good as his 2007 accolades would suggest, offensively or defensively. I can expand on this point if you'd like, but I'm pretty sure we've discussed it before, and that you agree. The fact that the Phillies made no real move to sign him during their exclusivity period suggests that they do, too. There's also no reason to because of ...

The presence of Shane Victorino -- You make no mention of the Flyin' Hawaiian, and neither does Silver, which is a pretty glaring omission. He would have replaced Aaron Rowand in center regardless of what they did with Bourn, because he's a lot better than Bourn and has proven it. (A brief aside: Bourn [not Bourne] may be the most-misspelled major leaguer in recent memory. I've seen him called Bourne a dozen times in recent articles. The Bourne Identity ruined his life.) There's no way in hell Bourn would have been the Phillies' starting CF as long as Victorino is there. Victorino's been exiled in right too long already. He also quietly posted a pretty good year, especially considering the ample time he missed with a calf injury -- before that he was on par to put up solid numbers even relative to other RFs. It's problematic to try to forecast stats for Bourn, considering the way in which he was used this season, almost always as a late-inning pinch-runner for Pat Burrell. But the Good Phight broke it down pretty well here.

In short, Victorino has all the attributes Bourn has -- decent hitter for average, nearly identical OBPs, excellent base stealer, stellar range -- and a few very important ones that Bourn doesn't: a cannon arm and respectable pop for a CF. Also, the fact that he's two years older shouldn't be a huge deal when you consider that he's shown what he can do over a full MLB season, while Bourn hasn't.

Barring a move for a RF, which I sort of doubt, Werth will be the starter next year. I'm not sure exactly why you think that Bourn is a legitimate starting outfielder and Jayson Werth isn't, but the Phillies think otherwise (obviously), and they have pretty good reason. His numbers were damned good for a guy who made only spot starts and pinch-hit a lot -- they project to a solid-to-good season out of a right fielder, and are head and shoulders better than Bourn's. I don't have the time or inclination right now to parse his defensive metrics, mostly because I have little faith in them anyway, but I know he had a decent amount of assists and was considered above average as a defender. There's no reason to believe that an outfield of Burrell (who isn't going anywhere), Bourn, and Victorino would be better than Burrell/Victorino/Werth, and there's a good amount of reason to believe it would be worse.

The fact that none of the prospects is very good -- Bourn was going to be the Phillies' fourth outfielder even with Rowand gone, for the foreseeable future, for reasons outlined above. Bourn is nothing special right now, and he won't be hard to replace. If the Phillies really need a fourth outfielder to play defense and pinch run, they could just call up Chris Roberson.

As far as Costanzo, everybody (including Silver) seems to mention his 27 homers and say he was the Phils' 3B of the future. What he fails to mention is that he's a defensive butcher and is absolutely abysmal against LHP. They were supposedly thinking about moving him to the outfield. He's drawing lots and lots of Russell Branyan comparisons, which isn't good unless we're playing MLB '07 at the Anonymous household (in which case, Branyan is Roy Hobbs). And really, since when is the fact that Ed Wade scouted him and liked him cause to think he's any good?

The third piece, Geoff Geary, is a proven commodity. Proven to be the definition of mediocre.

So you have one completely unremarkable MR, and two prospects who show few signs of future stardom. In contrast, they got a major-league-level utility player for their bench (who, while not groundbreaking by any stretch, will probably contribute as much to the 2008 Phils as Bourn would have, and far more than Costanzo), as well as somebody who could really make a difference, because ...

Brad Lidge makes a pretty good closer and a great setup guy -- First of all, I don't buy the organization's insistence that this means Myers is moving back to the rotation. The organization has hinted that that's the case, but this is the same bunch of people who said Tom Gordon was their closer last year. Myers has said he prefers closing and he was really good at it when healthy. The bullpen was also the biggest area of concern for last year's Phils by far. Add in the facts that the Phillies have four starting pitchers pretty much penciled in for next year -- Hamels, Moyer, Kendrick, and (sigh) Adam Eaton -- and that they've made it limpid in every official comment that their #1 priority this offseason is pitching, possibly starting pitching, and it becomes far from certain that Myers will be back in the rotation. He might, but there's no guarantee. If they acquire anybody else, possibly an El Duque type on a short-term deal, I bet Myers winds up back in the pen.

And if their bullpen is Gordon/Madson/Romero/Lidge/possibly Myers and whoever else, that's one hell of an upgrade from last year. I don't know why everybody talks about Lidge as if he's damaged goods. He's a 31-year-old, high-strikeout, low-ERA guy who's been excellent in the past, had one bad year, performed well last year and comes relatively cheap (and the $6 millionish they'll pay him after arbitration is relative cheap, considering the $15M Rivera will likely be getting in the next few days), all because of some abstract mass conception of his mental fragility or something. In his original article on the trade, Silver himself estimates that he's quite possibly one of the 15 best relievers in baseball.

He's inarguably better than anybody in their current bullpen not named Brett Myers, unless it's ...

J.C. Romero -- Simply put, Diesel, your text-messaging up-in-armsedness over this deal baffles me. I know you're on this big homegrown-talent kick, and it seems like Silver is, too, but the fact of the matter is that they just signed the best lefty reliever available for $4M/year. Given the market -- with last year's free agents such as the Gagnes and Foulkes and Dotels and Borowskis and Wickmans of the world all making significantly more than that, as well as the LaTroy Hawkinses and Roberto Hernandezes and Jorge Julios making close to the same -- that's not at all unreasonable. Especially not for a guy who was spectacular from the moment he signed with the Phils.

You talk about the signing like he's another Tom Gordon or something, and I fail to see why that is. He's their best option for next year, and if they wind up regretting it in two years, as you say, they only have one year of wasted contract. And that's irrelevant anyway, because of ...

The fact that the Phillies need to be legitimate contenders next year, or else there will be massive changes -- One of the bigger reasons Costanzo and Bourn don't matter is that by the time they might become regular contributors -- and my guess is that neither will ever be good major leaguers -- it will be way too late for Gillick and Manuel, and maybe for the Phillies. The not-so-dynamic septuagenarian duo will break up next year if Gillick leaves, and might be gone regardless, simply because of their age. The Phils' core of young talent will start to break up shortly thereafter as their contracts expire and they can't all be re-signed.

The Phillies have to contend now. These moves give them a better chance to do so, as even you and Silver admit. So it really doesn't matter if they're auctioning their future (which they're not, and I've explained why, without even getting into the huge amount of money [$25M+] coming off the books when the Burrell and Thome and Gordon contracts expire after next year). If they just hung on to average organizational guys for years despite their obvious flaws, expecting somehow to win a championship that way, as you and Silver seem to advocate, then they might as well just move across the street and change their name to the Eagles.

A few other thoughts:

Silver's contention that signing Eric Gagne for $6M or Cordero for 4 years at $10M per would somehow be smarter is one of the three most asinine things I've read this month. The other two are that they have any chance at Rivera and that they should have saved their money for A-Rod. I mean, seriously -- this guy's a journalist? What a load of utter bullshit. The Yanks are offering $15M/year for a 37-year-old closer who's already well past his peak, and nobody with half a brain or any familiarity with the Phillies thinks A-Rod is a possibility. He should at least read the stories posted on their official site before spouting off like that.

His entire last paragraph is also revisionist blather. At the time of that trade, when Beckett had that oft-cited sub-.500 career record and Lowell was a shadow of his former self, I bet you he was one of the legion of reporters blasting that move, too. And to compare giving up Michael Bourn to giving up Hanley Ramirez is just laughable.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Worst-case scenarios

Well, Week 1 of Diesel's Vegas Blitz has revealed this idea to be as foolhardy as it appeared it might be in my most pessimistic moments. I got killed, lost my iPod, and realized as I sat getting drunk in the terminal while waiting for my delayed plane that the percentage of me that was really looking forward to coming back in five days was roughly the same percentage of my original stake still available for gambling.

Fear not: I'm not going to bore you with more details. Instead, I'm going to bore you with commentary about the only group able to boast having a worse go of it than my foursome of friends in Vegas last weekend: Pepe's beloved Philadelphia Phillies.

Any good Civil War buff knows you can't half-ass historical re-enactments. Sure, most of those pansies out there at Antietam don't know a Parrot Rifle from a Blakely Rifle, but the real enthusiasts know that the different between a lame re-enactor and a great re-enactor is the willingness to contract dysentery. Needless to say, the Phillies' re-enactment of Wade's Lost Cause is proving that one can never take too many steps to feign authenticity.

First, they trade away a legitimate leadoff hitter/very good defensive CF in Michael Bourn and a decent power-hitting 3B prospect in Michael Costanzo for Brad Lidge. Yes, Lidge is still a good pitcher, and he automatically becomes the best reliever on the team, regardless of Brett Myers' future role. But being the best reliever on the Phillies right now is not quite a compliment, either, and this isn't the same Brad Lidge that once belonged in the same class as Billy Wagner, Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera and John Smoltz. Furthermore, Lidge can become a free agent next season, which means that even if the Phillies could convince him to come back to Citizen's for another tour — which could be a tough feat after he gives up 15+ HR this season — they won't be able to do so without paying him well above what he's actually worth.

What's interesting about a trade like this one is that both teams probably "lost." The Phillies had their CF replacement in Bourn, and the potential cure to a perpetual black hole at 3B in Costanza. Both of these players would have controlled salaries for the next 4+ years as well, which means that they were essentially free talent that would enable the team to be more aggressive in the free agent market. As BP's Nate Silver pointed out, wouldn't the Phillies have been much better off keeping their two players and getting an "overpaid" free agent like Coco Cordero to step in as closer? That works out to three positions taken care of for less money — even if they gave Cordero something like $10 milly a year — than the Phillies will spend on Lidge and a free-agent CF, which they now have a pronounced need for, unless they really think Jason Werth is capable of being an everyday player (hint: He's not). As for the Astros, a team that is completely irrelevant, it's hard to believe that they couldn't have done more for Lidge, as ESPN's Keith Law has pointed out. But that's neither here nor there.

Then, the Phils went and re-upped JC Romero for $12 million. It being over three seasons diminishes the insanity a little, but that's still $12 million for a guy who was waived by two teams last season. Yes, Romero's campaign with the Phillies was impressive, and it would have made total sense to pay him $4 million next season to see if his performance was the sign of an actual career turnaround or simply an aberration. But to lock in 32-year-old reliever to a three-year deal on the strength of a 33-inning performance last season is, at best, a panic move and at worst an admission by Pat Gillick that he doesn't give two shits about this franchise's future beyond next season (he's already said this will be his last season).

I know some people disagree with me on this point, and I'm not saying that this deal is without merit. Romero was by far the best left-handed reliever in the free agent market, and he's proven to be more durable than the average bear. But unless you're of an unlimited budget, these are the kinds of deals that teams almost always end up regretting two years in.

p.s. — Anyone willing to lend the Diesel $300?

Friday, November 09, 2007

TGWNA All-Star Selection: Assistant GM (Since Diesel is the GM, obvs)

I would write a better intro, but I'm still toweling off my pants:

We are going to utilize several objective measures of player performance to evaluate and develop players. We'll rely on the more traditional objective evaluations: OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) , WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), Runs Created, ERC (Component ERA), GB/FB (ground ball to fly ball ratio), K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings), K/BB (strikeouts to walks ratio), BB%, etc., but we'll also look to rely on some of the more recent variations: VORP (value over replacement player), Relative Performance, EqAve (equivalent average), EqOBP (equivalent on base percentage), EqSLG (equivalent slugging percentage), BIP% (balls put into play percentage), wOBA (weighted on base average), Range Factor, PMR (probabilistic model of range) and Zone Rating.


It's new Pirates GM Neal Huntington.

While that answer, in no way, assures us that he'll actually be good at his job, it certainly suggests there's no reason to think he won't be, either. Man, the Pirates could be really, really good in about five years.

(Big ups to Rob Neyer for the link)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Spend it on what, exactly?

Commenter Pete Toms, who has a great blog of his own, brought up some interesting points about the Devil Rays' situation, particularly in terms of exactly how the Devil Rays are spending their not-hard-earned revenue sharing lucre. He referenced a recent post on the also-excellent The Sports Economist that discussed the absolute abortion that is the current revenue-sharing system in baseball. Essentially, the ownership group for the Devil Rays have pocketed eight digits' worth of other teams' largesse while dropping the team's overall payroll between 2006 and 2007. Correctly, the authors of TSE see this not as a failing of the Devil Rays, per se, but more a failing of the system that attempts to redistribute wealth among the already insanely wealthy.

I'll not cop to economics as a personal area of expertise, but as an avowed libertarian I can confess to an intense loathing of corporate welfare, which is exactly what MLB's revenue-sharing system is. It will be a cold day in hell before you can make me feel bad for the owner(s) of a baseball team, who entered into their situation fully cognizant of the situation before them. In the case of the Devil Rays, they knew that the Trop would be the stadium, the AL East would be the division, and the Tampa area would be that from which they hoped to cull fans. Before the contracts were signed. I feel as bad for the Devil Rays as I do a man who spends his last $5 on a trifecta; you weren't worried about losing money when you had your eyes on the potential windfall, so don't come bitching to me after it doesn't work out.

But here's my question: Why should the Rays spend that money on payroll (which would mean spending it on free agents)? As I've detailed before, most high-priced free agent contracts are a bloodbath for the teams involved, and in today's market high-priced deals are being shuttled toward some patently mediocre players, particularly if they ply their trade with a single limb. The message inherent in revenue sharing is that small-market teams, instead of being prudent, should start dumping money into the same kind of dumb contracts the Yankees have made famous in recent years.

(Aside: I will concede this about payroll restrictions, or a lack thereof: The Yankees have been able to retain their best homegrown players once the arb-eligible/free agent years hit, which is a HUGE advantage. If Carlos Beltran came up with the Yankees instead of the Royals, he would still be employed by his original team today. This is the one area in which big-market teams have a decided advantage over their small-market counterparts. However, this doesn't mean that the Yankees are automatically winners in the game of life, either. First, you have to develop the talent, and then you have to properly assess the value of that talent once it reaches arb-eligible/free agent status. Yes, it's an advantage to have Jeter come through the system and then keep him once the big bucks are his for the taking, but if Jeter came up for the Pirates, a savvy GM could have gotten a king's ransom for him in a trade as well. In fact, it's entirely possible that a team would be better off trading a Jeter when he's approaching free agency than spending the money to keep him, provided the return in a trade is good enough. This is the situation faced by the Padres (Peavy) and Twins (Santana), for instance. While the fans of those respective teams would assuredly like it if management would/could lock each up in long-term deals, it's probably a bad idea for both teams. And not just because they don't have the money. But, I'll leave it there, in an effort to not have a longer aside that the post in which its contained.)

If I'm the owner of the Devil Rays, I would probably do the same thing the non-imaginary ones are doing as we speak. The marginal value of any free agent on the market isn't anywhere close to what would be paid to any of the individual players, particularly when one considers that a long-term contract for a veteran would probably serve to block a top prospect. The Rays are wise to plan for 2009 as the year everything comes together, because by that time they'll be fielding a team that could bring a prospect evaluator to tears, and almost all of those guys will have enough major league experience to justify high expectations. Anything the Rays do between now and then on the free agent market, with the possible exception of locking up Carlos Peña (provided they can do so reasonably, both in terms of dollars and years), is probably going to undermine their potential for success. In the meantime, anyone stupid enough to fork over millions of dollars, without attached strings, deserves to be robbed.

As for Pete's second contention, I will recite it here before dealing with it:

The D Rays, Jays ( woe is me ) & O's are at the biggest competitive disadvantage in MLB, playing nearly 1/4 of their games against the Evil Empires. I am an embittered Jays' fan who thinks it's bullshit.

Pete's is not an uncommon refrain for fans of the lesser-endowed AL East teams, and the last decade has done little to convince anyone that it's anything but unfair. I'm not sure I had pubic hair the last time the Yankees weren't in the playoffs, and the Red Sox aren't far behind. If weren't going to define the term "competitive disadvantage" to mean "constantly has to play two of the best teams in MLB," then the plight of the O's, Jays and Rays surely fits the bill.

However, as far as the Jays and O's go, I've got absolutely zero sympathy (the Rays, as an expansion team, are not really the same as the other two, so we'll leave them out [also, the Rays are going to make the playoffs by 2009, mark my words]).

In the case of the O's, their fate has been sealed by some of the worst management seen in baseball the last decade, in spite of advantages in terms of ballpark, market and payroll that more than half the teams in the majors would offer a metaphorical left nut for. Baltimore spent more than $93 million in 2007 to field a team that would have struggled to place third in any division in baseball, mainly because most of that $93 million went to shitty baseball players. I would compare the O's to the Dodgers if it weren't for the latter's farm system, which ranks as one of the best in baseball (even if the current GM would rather get sodomized than actually clear the way for any of his top prospects). The O's have everything that a team needs to compete for the playoffs annually except a functioning brain in the front office and a non-self-immolating owner.

The Jays are a little bit of a different story, because the SkyDome Rogers Centre is a titanic piece of concrete shit, Torontonians prefer almost anything to baseball, and the currency conversion situation has historically put them at a disadvantage (Canadian currency in, American currency out). HOWEVA, I again place the blame on the front office, which has consistently botched the job when it comes to understanding what needs to be done. The previous Ash regime was a relic of the Gillick years, when the Jays ran up massive debt to buy playoff/WS appearances, and the Riccardi years have been even harder to swallow, particularly when one considers Riccardi's pedigree as a Billy Beane disciple. In fact, the day I renounced my allegiance to the Jays — which will be regained by the team of my youth when Riccardi is fired and Chris Antonetti is hired — was when Riccardi publicly stated that he needed more money to compete with the big boys. No, J.P., what you need is a willingness to not spend money on horrible contracts, like those given to B.J. Ryan, A.J. Burnett, Vernon Wells, John McDonald and now Matt Stairs. The Jays probably could have won as many games last season for $20+ million less, which bothers me more than the fact that they didn't just win more games. The reason Canada's last man standing isn't cracking the top two positions in the AL East anytime soon is because they abandoned what was once one of the best scouting and development programs in baseball and convinced themselves that the Lyle Overbays of the world are the key to success.

I don't mean to paint the situation as one in which perfect management for either the O's or Jays would mean that the Yankees or Red Sox's effect would be negated. As our legal system proves on a regular basis, wealth means you can get away with more mistakes than the common folk, and that's the situation for the current pole sitters. But it would be a better argument for both of the "poorer" teams if they didn't spend so much time shooting themselves in the foot.

And that's all I gots to say about that shit, at least for tonight; I got a Vegas trip to pack for. Thanks to Pete (shout out to Ottawa!) for giving me some good stuff to chew on; everyone should really read his blog, which is much more thoughtful than ours.

OK, this is the kind of shit that drives me fucking crazy

Who's Sean McAdam? Fuck if I know, except he's somehow been asked by ESPN.com, a site that employs a host of talented and knowledgeable baseball writers, to write the "Offseason Outlook" for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

I didn't even need to read the story to know that Mr. McAdam was about to bombard me with wrongness. The article was linked with the following explanation:

Devil Rays ownership does not seem ready to spend the money necessary to challenge the big-market competition in the American League East.

That would be, approximately, the moment I had a brain aneurysm and almost died. Mercifully, the Mayo Clinic had some crack neurologists on call, and they managed to repair the rupture and get me home in enough time to make sure this post was still timely. Amazing, that medical technology.

Tampa's rotation is young and gifted, anchored by Scott Kazmir and James Shields, with Andy Sonnanstine gaining valuable experience in the second half. But the Rays could use a veteran starter to set the tone -- someone like, say, Jon Lieber or Russ Ortiz.

I swear, he actually wrote that what the Devil Rays need to do this offseason is sign Russ Fucking Ortiz. I mean, has Sean McAdam ever witnessed a contest of base-ball before in his life?!?! Russ Ortiz! He wants RUSS ORTIZ to "set the tone" for a MAJOR-LEAGUE pitching staff! I DO NOT RESORT TO HYPERBOLE WHEN MAKING POINTS!

No, Sean, what the Devil Rays need to do is precisely the opposite of what you're suggesting: DO NOT SIGN SHITTY, SURE-TO-BE-OVERPAID STARTERS AS FREE AGENTS IN THIS RIDICULOUS MARKET.

In what universe does a team get better by picking up players who are worse than replacement level? It's awe-inspiring, really, how this dude could conclude this is what he wanted to include in his supposedly authoritative piece on the Devil Rays.

And, at the risk of throwing another broken record onto the player, enough with the money shit. Tampa Bay has spent the last two seasons doing everything just about as well as it could be done, stockpiling loads of cheap, young talent while not weighing the roster down with overpaid veterans in long-term deals. The Rays have, at almost every position on the field, either one of the former top-five prospects for that position in place (Upton, Young, Pena, Kazmir, Crawford, Baldelli [when healthy]), or have a top-fiver coming up (Longoria, Brignac, Price, Niemann, Dukes [if he ever makes it up again]). That is awesome, and most of those guys are going to be awesome, but everyone knew it was going to take a little bit of time for the players to come around. And now, most people think that within the next two years, the Rays are going to make a serious push for the playoffs. I promise you, if that's the case, that Jon Lieber will not be one of the reasons why, unless you consider his not being there a reason why.

I would like to think the average baseball fan is astute enough to know that McAdam is totally wrong, but I know that's not the case. In fact, the majority of the people who read that story will think, "Yeah, that's the problem ... those tightwad Rays just aren't willing to spend a buck to beat the YankSox!" Some of those people might even be residents of Tampa, who will now be even more resolute in their unwillingness to attend the games of this particularly fun, exciting team (though I'm unsure that I would be willing to sit in Tropicana Field 20+ nights per year, so I can't be too critical). They will complain on sports radio and write letters to the editor about how management "doesn't care" about the fans, and maybe the owners will decide that the front office in place — which could turn out to be a pack of geniuses when it's all said and done, for these and some other reasons — needs to be replaced by Ed Wade, Jr., who will immediately sign Rheal Cormier to a four-year, $26 million contract with a vested team option for the fifth year that kicks in if Cormier, at any point in his contract, throws a ball that a batter actually misses.

For what I know won't be the last time: There is more than one way to skin a cat. And, depending on implements available, there are ways to skin cats that are good for some people, but wouldn't work for other cat skinners. To continue with this uncomfortable analogy, the Yankees can afford the PussySkinner3000TM, which costs $150 million and is made entirely out of Howard Hughes' melted-down gold fillings. The Devil Rays, on the other hand, can only afford the Mangy-Cat UnMasker 1975, an aluminum contraption they bought for $5 at the local swap meet on which, depending on the light that day, you can still see the Pepsi logos of the recycled cans it's made out of. The PussySkinner is much faster and divesting cats of their dermis, however at that price they can only afford a limited number of cat-skinning implements, so each implement has to be so fast as to ward off the competitive efforts of the plucky/gritty/skins-cats-the-way-cats-are-supposed-to-be-skinned Devil Rays skinners, who are able to afford a multitude of Mangy-Cat UnMaskers, which allows them to compensate for the lesser performance of each individual cat skinner when held against superior cat skinning devices via a greater number of cat skinners that are easily replaceable through the Devil Rays' vast supply room full of Mangy-Cat UnMaskers. In fact, the Devil Rays buy Mangy-Cat UnMaskers in such great volume that, every so often, they'll accidentally get a PussySkinner at the same price of a Mangy-Cat UnMasker, which means they realize much better cat skinning for their cat-skinning dollar. Sure, the Devil Rays probably wish they had more PussySkinners, but after a while you begin to realize that it doesn't matter how you manage to fill a warehouse of cats sans peau, as long as you go ahead and do just that. Because, at the end of the day, you're just doing it for the love of skinless cats.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

November is the cruelest month ...

or maybe that was April. If my boy T-money had run a sports blog instead of penning whackjob Modernist opuses, he'd have changed the month but kept the title: we're in the Waste Land. (That's right, mothereffers, I just dropped a T.S. Eliot reference into the first line. You know you missed me.)

So it's been awhile, awhile as in amonthorso. I been busy, you know? I've been writing postmodernist short stories about gay priests and reading Oakley Hall and Haruki Murakami and applying for jobs in Singapore and dressing up as Kevin Federline, in addition to my usual hatin' and perpetratin'. And besides, nothing of note has happened. back then the Phillies were on the fast train out of Playoffsville and the Eagles had just been curbstomped by an NFC East rival.

Well, the train arrived on schedule. Otherwise, shit is the same. What about the World Series, you say? What about it? Maybe you mistook me for some asshole chowd if you thought I gave a flying f-word. All it did was cement Boston, a city I used to love above all others except Philadelphia, as the red dot on the target of my sporting hatred. Worst sports fans in the world. I miss the curse. Let's move on.

What about Pats/Colts, you say? Actually, I doubt anybody said that, because the goddamned game was covered like a fresh body by everybody from Stu Scott to your neighborhood Pats douche. And AFC football resides right above IHL hockey on the list of sporting leagues I give a shit about.

What about the Eagles? Oh Christ, who even cares anymore. They suck for all the reasons I've been talking about for years. Their offensive and defensive playcalling expose their personnel weaknesses rather than playing to their strengths. They have no receivers. The coaching is as abominable as I've ever seen. Westbrook can't save them when he doesn't get the touches, and McNabb's not good (or healthy, or both) enough to win games on his own anymore, which has been true for two years. The only new thing that's come up in the last few weeks is that Andy Reid's house is a drug emporium. He still won't be fired this season, so I'll have to watch the same bullshit next year -- pass every down on offense, blitz every down on defense -- and, barring a 4-12 season (which I'm praying for this year), he might not be fired even then. His contract is too big. So from here on out I'm just waiting for them to finally blow it up and rebuild. And drinking. A lot.

There's the J-Roll for MVP campaign I've been trying to mount. But the NL MVP isn't announced for two more weeks, and the voters will give it to Holliday, because his team made the World Series (where he and they both pulled an epic choke job), and because they don't care about the fact that he's not an MVP-caliber player on the road, or other little things like the defensive half of the game or speed or runs scored.

The start of the NBA? Please. Why don't we just write about NASCAR.

College ball? Well, it's early, but Lute Olson has taken a leave of absence. There's that. But I don't know what to say other than that I wonder if Parkinson's disease qualifies as a "personal reason." The only person with any sort of inside perspective whom I know, TGWNA's good friend Anonymous, didn't have much to say about it. Personally, I think this is his last season. He looked horrendous by the end of last year -- you no longer need to be looking or have HD to see the shakes and bewilderment -- and so did his team. I don't worship Lute like most Tucsonans and UA alums, because I've had to interview him and I've watched immensely talented but poorly coached UA teams choke for the last six years. But it's still really sad to see this. I've been a UA fan for a long time -- I went to his basketball camp in sixth grade, and have the hopelessly awkward picture to prove it -- and I certainly don't have any animosity for him, either. (Can't speak for my compatriot on that one, though.)

Maybe I'm way off here. I'm sure something else really is going on to prompt the leave of absence. But I'm also pretty sure the team will play better without him, and that his age will become an unavoidable issue this year, and that, even in Tucson, the whispers have probably already started. Once that happens, it's only a matter of time. I think the best-case scenario for Lute lovers is that he remains the figurehead for two more years, with O'Neill running the show behind the scenes. Let's just hope O'Neill can pull a Ben Howland and turn around a sinking program. I guess the worst case is that he never coaches another game, but I don't think that'll happen.

But hey, what do I care? As of tomorrow, I'll be a member of Sixth Man! Suck on that, you public school plebes.