Monday, June 23, 2008

Cito Gaston, Full Circle; Blue Jays Front Office, Incompetent

Two World Series titles buys you about 3.5 years. Thats for how long Cito Gaston managed the Jays after Joe Carter's walk-off. The Blue Jays fired him in 1997, and Mel Queen, the pitching coach, filled in as the interim manager. Since then the Jays have proven themselves inept at finding a viable replacement.

Tim Johnson lead the team to its first post-WS winning record, motivating his players with stories of his tour in Vietnam. After the season, he admitted the stories weren't true. It took the Jays' management three months to decide that the lies posed a "credibility problem." They fired him less than a month befre opening day.

They replaced him with Jim Fregosi. The mid-March coaching candidate pool is like a grocery store after a hurricane warning and Jim Fregosi was the dented can of spam. Perhaps it was the Jays' scramble to fill the vacancy that led to some sort of "Wait, what about the guy we beat in the WS?" logic that conveniently, or perhaps naively, ignored the rest of his resume. Not surprisingly, they didn't bother to extend him 2 years later.

Buck Martinez managed for a season and a half and Carlos Tosca finished off Martinez' year and then stuck around for another year and half himself. Neither left behind a winning record. Neither managed before or since.

The feisty John Gibbons will best be remembered for fighting with Ted Lilly and trying to fight Shea Hillenbrand.

Now that the Jays fired Gibbons, we come back to Cito Gaston. This is the Jays throwing their hands in the air, conceding that they haven't had a clue for the past 10 years. Obviously they figured since they've already fired 4 of their last 5 managers mid-season, whats one more? They are out of ideas, curled up in the fetal position, trying to comfort themselves in the cocoon of the good 'ole days. Supposedly, Cito spent the interim as a special assistant to the Jays' CEO, but what does that really mean when a then-10 year old MC Hammer was the VP of the A's?

I'm not saying the new Gaston era wont work out. I'd love to see a Tolkien-like story emerge, where we see that only Cito, the true manager of the Blue Jays, can win in Toronto! Then again, another mid-season firing is more likely.

Doesn't this Put Karl on the Hot Seat?

The Nuggets just promised 'Melo that they wouldn't trade him.

If you read between the lines, it seems that 'Melo, after hearing trade rumors about himself, gave management an ultimatum: trade me now, or not at all. That George Karl was the one seeking out the trade and was eventually trumped by management does not bode well for his future.

Melo is now armed with the absolute assurances of a no-trade, effectively all the anti-Karl leverage he could want, should he feel slighted by the coach that wanted to trade him.

Doesn’t this have a tinge of Willie Randolph to it, superstar players going behind their coach's back, knowing they have management's support? What happens at the first 'Melo-Karl dust-up, or even any Karl locker room incident with which 'Melo might disagree?

Though there's no specific Anthony v. Karl history there seems to be a perfect storm for a Karl firing. There's already been speculation about Karl's job security the past two years ('07, '08). Melo, after starting his career 0 for 5 in the first round, is now firmly in McGrady territory and will be hearing as much throughout the season. To top it all off, there were trades floated for Iverson and for Camby as well. This, in turn, is reminiscent of last year's Bulls, where half the roster was linked to trade rumors and thus lost their confidence and/or desire to play for the team, leading to that spectacular .402 winning percentage after pre-season talk of a title run.

The seeds have been sown. There's no way Karl makes it through the whole season.

Underdogs you might not have been watching

Fresno State advanced to the CWS final yesterday. After starting the year 8-12, they finshed the season 16-4. They're the first #4 regional seed to reach the CWS and should they win, they'll set a record for most losses by a champion.

They take on Georgia tonight at 7 pm on ESPN2.

Russia beat the tournament favorite Netherlands in overtime to advance to the semis of Euro '08. Left for dead after getting trounced 4-1 by Spain in their opening game, they've won three in a row. Much credit should to go to their coach, Guus Hiddink, who seems to be the Larry Brown of international soccer, and to Andrei Arshavin who was in the middle of every offensive threat after returning from a two game suspension.

Their rematch with Spain in the semis is 2:45 on Thursday, ESPN.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Griffey to the Rays Would be All Good

Perhaps the most emphatic sign that the Rays are a different kind of team this year is the news that Ken Griffey jr. is considering waiving his no trade clause should he be shipped to Tampa Bay.

No, he's not the Griffey of old. "...It was no accident that 600th homer came on a breaking ball," says a scout within Stark's latest rumblings column. But his name alone stamps a sort of certificate of legitimacy on this Rays season. More than his name, he'd be bringing experience to a pretty young and unproven clubhouse, and his bat, which with the extra games at DH, could prove that much more potent. Within that same Stark piece, another scout imagines, "You run him out there with his big smile and his sweet swing, and it's a drawing card. And even if he's slipped, you're putting another left-handed bat in the middle of that lineup. Could be scary."

This calls to mind the 2002 Expos. Shocked to find themselves in contention at the end of June, only months after being threatened with contraction, they traded for the best pitcher on the market, Bartolo Colon, and then for Cliff Floyd, similarly considered one of the best available bats ( a relative title if there ever was one). Colon went 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA, but Floyd couldn’t add as much on the offensive end and when the Expos saw two new teams leap ahead of them in the Wild Card standings he was jettisoned 19 days later. The Expos finished the season a respectable 83-79, but 9 games back of the WC Giants.

They took their shot and missed; they traded Colon that winter. But the Rays are in a very different position than the Expos. The Expos, toiling under Selig’s thumb, were, at best, in limbo, and at worst, just playing out the string. Their trades were a last gasp, a desperate reach for relevance.

Aside from the rare Cliff Floyd pinch hit, these Rays are every much the opposite of the 2002 Expos; they evoke freshness with their new name and new uniforms, and management has their eyes focused firmly on the future. They’re playing better ball than those Expos too, currently leading the wild card race.

The Griffey trade is not make or break for them, it can only have a positive outcome. Because even if the do finish out the playoffs, they’re almost sure to set a team record for wins (as we predicted here), and even without on-field results, the deal will surely be a marketing boon at the very least. More importantly the Rays are a team built for the long term: they have the 4th youngest roster in the majors and have been making a point of securing their young stars for years to come.* And while they’d never send a Colon-type package to the Reds, whatever youngsters they did send, they could afford to do so without sacrificing their long-term plans.

Hopefully they make the trade, make a splash, and do better with the pressure of expectations and winning than their 2002 counterparts.

* They just signed Kazmir, Shields, and RP Dan Wheeler to extensions, locked up Evan Longoria for 9 years, and still own the rights to Crawford and Upton for another 2 years+ each.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Miggy-Johan update part 2: Johan


Like the Tigers, the Mets have struggled this season. The two teams with huge payrolls and expectations to match have combined to win 49% of their games, and each is in 4th place in their respective division. Mets Santana's been good, but not great, not $135 mil great. At 7-4 and a 3.08 ERA he's not best-pitcher-in-the-game great, for sure. He's been less of a disappointment that Miggy, but how much of a compliment is that? The upside is he's consistently had better second halves (last season not withstanding). An '06 or an '04-like July-Sept run would justify his salary and maybe even rescue the Mets' season and Willie's job.


Carlos Gomez is filling the void* left by Torii Hunter. Gardenhire debated bumping him from the lead-off spot, but settled on keeping things as they were, reasoning that "Gomez is so dynamite as far as leading off a game and can spark us so much..." Alternately, the AP's Dave Campbell suggests that Gomez needs to harness his eagerness. Within the same piece he calls Deolis Guerra, still playing A ball, the most promising of the three pitching prospects in this deal. Considering Humber's and Mulvey numbers, Guerra can have that title almost by default. Phil Humber, initially touted as the 1A to Gomez among the four prospects, has been struggling in AAA (1-5 and 5.89 ERA), and is now day-to-day with elbow soreness. Kevin Mulvey is similarly underperforming, sitting at 2-6 with a 4.36 ERA.

What the Yanks and Sox held on to:


Last we checked in, the Post's Joel Sherman speculated about Melky Cabrera's potential regression. He started the year slow, but now his numbers project out to about the same ones he posted last year. Phil Hughes has been sitting on the shelf since the end of April with a broken rib. The initial projction was that he'd be due back in two months. Today he was cleared to start a throwing program in two weeks, but the Daily News reports that he'll likely be out until August. Baseball Digest think his mechanics are suspect.

Red Sox

To begin the month Jon Lester sandwiched a beaning and a suspension in between two wins. For what its worth, Lester believes he was innocent, and points out that he hit Carl Crawford with a breaking pitch. Of course the biggest Lester story of the season was his no hitter that was trumpeted with well-deserved headlines like this. He's 5-3 with a 3.43 ERA and a remarkable 7 no-decisions.

Clay Buchholz was originally sent to Triple-A Pawtucket to rehabilitate after he broke a nail. Seriously. After he finished his rehab the Sox left him in the minors to work on his arm slot and to better locate his fastball. He blamed his latest poor outing on his catcher.

Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting only .280 and has an .370 OBP, but he leads the league in stolen bases, is on pace to score 100+ runs, and is one of the best defensive outfielders in the league.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Miggy and Johan Update (Part 1, Miggy)

See the guidelines about which players we're following.


The news of the day is that Dontrelle Willis was sent to A ball the other day. Right past rehab assignment locales like AA or AAA, all the way to Lakeland, Florida, where most major league Tigers only play their spring ball. Willis line to date: 0-1, 10.32 ERA, and a guffaw-inducing 21 walks in 11 1/3 innings. The Tigers are a much discussed disaster this season. Most stories usually preface disaster with "unmitigated"or "$138 million."

Miggy himself, while putting up decent numbers, is far off his regular pace across the board. We can't even point to an "especially." No - his numbers are down to about 60%-70% in every category.


Meanwhile the Marlins are succeeding just as famously as the Tigers are faltering. Naturally headlines like these follow.

Cameron Maybin is heating up in AA ball, getting to everything in the outfield and hearing praise for "major league pop."

Andrew Miller had himself nice highlight with a strikeout high when marlins finished an intense D-Backs sweep a weeks back. Since then he's reverted to looking very much the rookie (with the exception of a strong start against the Phils Wednesday night).

Mike Rabelo won the starting catcher job in spring training despite expectations to the contrary. His season highlight was catching a Scott Olsen near gem. The life of a catcher I suppose.

Eulogio De La Cruz had a cup of coffee and gave up 2 earned in 3 IP.

Burke Badenhop - after pedestrian numbers as a starter, he's been moved to the bullpen.

Dallas Trahern is toiling in the minors. His family is really rooting for him.

Checking in on what the Angels and Dogders ultimately preserved


Howie Kendrick - After hitting .500 through the first 10 games of the season, Kendrick spent a month on the DL because of his hamstring. Now he's back and slumping.

Jeff Mathis - he is indeed splitting time with Napoli, but the latter is the one getting all the ink and all the homers.

Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders have been on fire. They dot the AL's pitching leaderboards.. Saunders is in the top 10 in Wins, ERA, and WHIP. So is Santana, but along with Ks, CGs, and IPs to boot. Their combined line: 17-5, 3.14 ERA.

Nick Adenhart picked up his first major league win and was promptly sent back to the minors


Matt Kemp - while he's mostly on a similar pace as he was last year, because of a full season he'll have career bests in every category. He's already set those marks for SB and 2B (and about to do so for SO too). He's hitting .300 and is the Dodgers leading run producer. His numbers are strikingly similar to Miggy's, plus the stolen bases.

Andy LaRoche rehabbed in the spring and had to sit in AAA, mostly stewing over sitting in AAA. Up until now management preferred Terry Tifee, but Laroche will finally get a taste.

Clayton Kershaw - He was sitting on the cusp after spring training and now got the call up on 5/25. He gave up a workman-like 2 in 6 innins of work and even struck out 7. Since then, he's struggled, walking guys at Dontrelle-like rate.

The Johan portion will follow shortly.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Closer Look at Team Big Brown

The "rogue's gallery of cheats and crooked moneymen" behind the possible Triple Crown Winner.

Also: here's Affirmed's victory over Alydar at the 1978 Belmont Stakes, the culmination of a legendary rivalry.