January 2008

NL East Arms race heats up

If you were wondering when exactly the New York Mets were going to make any substantial off-season moves before heading to Florida, then the answer came on Tuesday. USA Today reports that the Mets and Minnesota Twins have agreed on a deal that will send ace left-hander Johan Santana to New York in exchange for highly regarded outfielder Carlos Gomez, starter Philip Humber and minor league hurlers Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey. All that remains is working out a contract extension to Santana’s liking.

The Tom Glavine sized hole that was left in New York’s rotation has been filled by the best pitcher (statistically) in baseball since 2003. Santana has been mowing down American League line-ups since joining the Twins rotation full-time in 2004.

As the Mets and Santana try to iron out the details of that contract extension, the move has already sent ripples across the NL East. Rumblings thus far indicate that we’re talking about $25 million a year for a term of no less than six years, according to Santana’s representation (agent Peter Greenberg). With Santana signed, sealed and delivered, New York has an indisputable ace to lead an already capable four-some of Pedro Martinez, John Maine, Oliver Perez and Orlando Hernandez. Talk about a loaded rotation.

The Braves of course can counter with their veteran trio of John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Tom Glavine. Throw in a healthy Mike Hampton and a rejuvenated Chuck James and Atlanta could be dog-fighting it out with New York into the month of September.

Both rotations have health concerns. New York’s primarily lie with Martinez and Hernandez while the Braves deal with the ever-present quandary that is Hampton. The moves made by both teams (Atlanta with Glavine and New York with Santana) definitely push the Phillies into crunch time as they make a decision on bringing back Kyle Lohse.

Though Lohse (9-12, 4.62 ERA in ’07) hardly represents the impact of Santana, or Glavine for that matter, he does represent the solidifying of a rotation that will welcome Brett Myers back into the fold and already has young stud Cole Hammels, surprisingly dependable Kyle Kendrick and veterans Jaime Moyer and Adam Eaton.

This move certainly ranks among the biggest of the post-season, as the landscape of the NL East will be decidedly different in 2008. Preview time is nearly upon us.

Till then,

G-Mc

Kotsay taking over CF

I think we all had a sinking suspicion that Frank Wren and the Braves weren’t through shopping, but with the addition of Mark Kotsay on Monday, it looks like the club may be just about complete.

The speculation swirled around all week and initially was reported by ESPN’s Buster Olney as a done deal. At the time it appeared Atlanta was only going to have to part with righty reliever Joey Devine in exchange for Kotsay and cash to off-set his $7.375 million price tag. Turns out the Braves did have to add 21-year old righty Jamie Richmond to sweeten the deal for Billy Beane. Neither seemed likely to have a big impact in 2008, but Kotsay’s veteran presence helps fill a rather large void in center.

Let’s face it, there isn’t anyone on earth who would want the responsibility of following the Andruw Jones show in center field for the Atlanta Braves but Kotsay brings a great reputation as a hustle outfielder who makes his share of plays. Since his first big league season in 1998, Kotsay has lead all outfielders with 110 assists. Not too bad.

Andruw did everything and then some defensively during his career, and that isn’t lost on his former teammates or the Atlanta fans. Still, we have to realize that a player that dominates a facet of the game to that degree is going to be hard to replace… and you never really "replace" that kind of player.

The beauty of the trade and it’s classic 2-for-1 swap of prospects for a proven everyday Major Leaguer, is the fact that it does not create a long-term road block to the Braves plans for top outfield prospect Jordan Schafer. It allows him more time to gain valuable experience in either Mississippi or Richmond this season. We could see him in September if he repeats his numbers (.312-15-63 with 23 steals and 86 runs in 136 games) of a year ago between Single-A’s Rome and Myrtle Beach.

Kotsay’s new teammates all seemed excited about what was then a possibility during this past weekend’s Fanfest event at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Tim Hudson, Tom Glavine, Mark Teixeira and Kelly Johnson all raved about the defensive abilities and the intensity that Kotsay brings to the table. While John Smoltz wasn’t immediately up on the latest trade rumor, he quickly added his approval as well during Sunday’s Fanfest festivities.

Meanwhile, a tight-lipped Frank Wren steadfastly stuck to his guns on not leaking any details on possible deals, save the statement that the team has, "a couple of deals we’re working on right now."

Kotsay, 32, brings over plenty of experience with winning, having been a part of the Oakland teams that averaged over 90 wins a season from 2004-2006. Despite an earlier trade with the Houston Astros that brought over Josh Anderson, few were convinced that he would be the final candidate chosen to take over the vacant center outfield spot. What Anderson could be is a key insurance policy should Kotsay’s back injuries continue to bark.

Passing his physical should be a good sign that Kotsay is ready to get back to the business of winning this season. The Braves will certainly like that.

Guess it’s about time for a few previews. Coming soon!

Till Next time,

G-Mc

Murphy fit for Hall of Fame

The Baseball Writers of America announced the results of the annual Hall of Fame balloting on Tuesday. Just one new member, albeit a long-overdue and deserving one in Rich "Goose" Gossage, will be making the trip to Cooperstown for enshrinement in July. While Gossage got in on his ninth try, former Atlanta outfielder Dale Murphy is still waiting on his call.

Few players embody the wholesome ideals that many still prefer from their favorite athletes. Humble and soft-spoken, uber-talented in his prime and never caught in the tabloid pages or police blotters. In retirement, he has even taken the initiative to champion the cause of keeping young athletes away from choosing to use/abuse steroids.

No, it doesn’t get much classier than Murph. He became, perhaps, the most popular player in the game by the mid-80s and already had racked up two MVP awards by the age of 27. The list goes on, five gold glove awards as an outfielder – his third position in the major leagues. Murphy debuted as a catcher in two brief trial during the 1976 and ’77 seasons, switched primarily to first base in 1978 before settling into the outfield in 1980.

There’s a theory here that I am hoping will come to practice sooner than later. That being that through the turbulent "Steroid-Era" controversy, players of past generations – particularly stars of the 80s – will get a new look as being Hall-worthy.

Murphy, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and Dave Parker join already enshrined sluggers Mike Schmidt and Eddie Murray to represent the most potent bats from 1976 -1990. You can lump a few others names in there, but those six players are at the top of the charts offensively. The best part about the production you see on the back of these player’s cards in that the numbers are all-natural.

Keeping the focus on Murphy, there are some detractors to his career. The quick decline is the one that draws the most critique. Murphy played in an era when 400 homers would generally mean enshrinement (the only notable exception being feast-or-famine slugger Dave Kingman). Had there not been a work stoppage in 1981, Murphy would likely not be sitting on 398 career homers. Of course, it doesn’t work that way but you don’t need a vivid imagination to put Murphy among the most feared sluggers of his day.

His .265 career batting average and nearly 1,800 punch-outs aren’t exactly the bright spots of his HOF resume, but there are people with more K’s and lower averages. I think, for all that is going on now, Murphy should be elevated by the fact that he has been and continues to be a class act. Dale Murphy is good for the game.

Till Next time,

G-Mc