Catching up with Giancarlo Stanton

This post will be brief, but perhaps the first step in getting back to some Major League blogging once my minor league season comes to a close on September 2. I had the opportunity to talk with Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton about his rehab from right knee surgery, his path to the Majors and the 2012 Marlins.

Enjoy — G-Mc

The Curious Case of Albert Pujols’ Free Agency

You’ve probably heard by now that Albert Pujols is changing addresses. No matter what your opinion of the contract awarded to Pujols by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – and there seems to already be one overwhelming consensus – this marks the end of era in St. Louis and the National League alike.

Pujols, who turns 32 prior to the 2012 season, got an incredible offer from the Angels in order to leave the St. Louis Cardinals on the heels of a World Series championship. In his 11-seasons, Pujols terrorized NL pitchers while putting together a Hall of Fame resume. The fact remains, he is not going to be getting any younger and his best days have probably already passed.

So, who exactly won and lost with this deal? It’s a little more complicated than money, statistics or age. In some ways, all of those things favor both the individual and the clubs involved. In other ways, those same things befuddle the mind when it comes to rational spending and/or decision making.

Right out of the chute, I am going to call this a WIN for the Cardinals – though they may not want to hear it. Not signing Pujols to a 10-year contract may end up being in the best interest of St. Louis. The staggering length of contract puts Pujols in his early 40’s by the time this deal has reached a conclusion. Are we to believe that he’ll be capable of playing the field at a high level on a regular basis while making an incredibly high salary and being essentially untradeable? Highly unlikely. A regular soapbox that I may jump on later states, “You cannot get caught up in simply paying for the past without reasonable regard for the future.”

The consensus as I interpreted it, believe this contract would have been a terrible decision for National League team. It’s certainly questionable for the American League club that landed him. By the way, not signing Pujols to a 10-year contract is also a WIN for the Marlins, who were likewise spurned in the pursuit of Albert’s services. All the same reasons I listed above would have applied to any NL suitor.

The very fact that the Angels will be able to utilize the designated hitter rule in the waning years of this contract makes it a WIN for the Angels. Of course, a healthy Pujols, which we have no reason to doubt at the outset, will make an obvious impact in the Angels lineup – and that’s the biggest WIN for L.A. They’ll be making more than a few extra bucks on season tickets, jerseys and other merchandise that Pujols’ signing generates as well. It’s not everyday that you acquire  “the best hitter in the game,” so Angels fans have plenty to be excited about.

On the other hand. St. Louis fans are obviously crushed by this turn of events. As team legend Ozzie Smith said Friday on MLB Network, there’s a lot to appreciate Pujols for in his time in St. Louis. The Cardinals got 11 great years, two World Series titles and 3 MVP’s from Pujols. He certainly won’t be Stan Musial, who was, is and always will be “The Man” in St. Louis. Could Pujols have eclipsed Musial? We’ll never know.

It’s a WIN for Pujols, who got the big money, long term contract that came with that coveted no-trade clause. He’ll be well compensated for 10-years on the playing field, and retained for an additional 10-years as a consultant to Angels owner Arte Moreno when his playing days are over. That was not readily apparent when the initial facts and figures of Pujols moving out to Anaheim were coming across the wire.

Speaking of money, here’s another tidbit I gleaned from MLB Network: Musial made roughly $1.26 million over his 22-year playing career (according to Baseball Reference).  Pujols will make that same sum every 2 1/2 weeks in his new deal. Times have most definitely changed.

I guess it’s time for me to point out the losses and/or losers in this deal. The Angels aren’t exactly winners simply because they can DH an aging Pujols in the twilight of his career. It will probably be around that time (2019-21) that Angels fans start wondering what exactly they are paying for. I’ll call that part a LOSS for the Angels in all likelyhood. He may be equally loved by Angels fans at that point. He may stay healthy and age gracefully. He may continue to be good, if not great at the plate. That certainly is a lot of money to be tied up in a lot of maybe’s.

The Cardinals get a LOSS for ever allowing their franchise figurehead to reach free agency to begin with. The fact that he was not re-signed at some point over the past two seasons was a strong indication that the two sides had a pretty serious difference of opinion on the money or the years… or both. Why Pujols should have be forced to settle for considerably less than the contract signed by Alex Rodriguez in December of 2007 is a valid point.

Rodriguez was roughly the same age when he signed a record 10-year $275 million extension with the Yankees. A-Rod is the only other player who’s been in a similar situation as Pujols. That is being perhaps the best in the game, just past his prime and looking for a long term contract to close out a legendary career. We’re seeing the declining numbers in New York for Rodriguez. Could that be a harbinger of things to come in Anaheim?

I’m going to go ahead and give the man himself a LOSS as well. That’s right, despite the years, the money and the no-trade clause all going his way, Albert Pujols lost out here too.  I’m not one for making the remark, “What’s a few million if you get to stay with the one club you’ve grown up with?” However, I would have to utter something along those lines in this case. If the years were there and the money was substantial, why would you walk away from your legacy and a city that adores you? It’s a valid question. And it’s one that will only be answered in time.

Did he make the right decision? That too will be answered in time.

Winter Meetings: Miami Marlins setting the tone

The Marlins introduced new closer Heath Bell on Monday at the Winter Meetings.

The Winter Meetings got under way in earnest on Monday, but the new look Miami Marlins weren’t waiting around for the baseball world to gather in Dallas. Instead, they were busy setting the tone for a franchise on the rise in the National League East.

A new ballpark, new manager, new uniforms, and some serious new acquisitions are all being set in place for 2012. And the Marlins may not be done spending yet.

Not by a long shot.

PHASE 1:

Prior to the meetings, Miami took an aggressive approach to begin filling voids via free agency. All-Star closer Heath Bell was the first piece of the puzzle. Bell, 34, inked a 3-year $27 million deal that includes a fourth year vesting option. The Marlins won’t have to wonder what they’re getting – or who they’re getting for that matter (Leo Nunez) – in Bell.

After replacing  Trevor Hoffman as San Diego’s closer in 2009, the hefty right-hander registered three consecutive 40+ save seasons (132 total) to go along with a composite 2.36 ERA in 202 1/3 innings. The NL hit just .219 against Bell, who was an All-Star each of the past three seasons while serving as the Padres stopper.

PHASE 2:

As if Bell didn’t send a message that the Marlins were interested in spending some money this offseason, their next big move was certainly an attention grabber. Already with one young superstar shortstop, the Marlins added a second by agreeing to a 6-year $106 million with Jose Reyes. Another aggressive negotiation that not only made Miami better, but it allowed them to weaken a divisional foe by plucking him from the rival New York Mets.

The deal is expected to be announced in Dallas before the meetings come to a close, as soon as Reyes completes a physical. While it does include a vesting option for a seventh year (worth $22 million), it’s interesting to note that a no-trade clause is not included in the deal.

Reyes, 28, is an exciting player to put at the top of the lineup. Whether he bats leadoff or in the two hole, the Marlins just got a premier run-scorer. While leading the NL with his .337 batting average, Reyes scored 101 runs in 126 games played in 2011. The unfortunate thing for Reyes has been his battle to stay on the field over the past three years. He has missed a combined 191 games during that stretch. When healthy, the four-time NL All-Star led the league in triples four times, stolen bases three times, and hits on one occasion.

The aforementioned other “young superstar shortstop” would be none other than Hanley Ramirez. The signing of Reyes means that the Marlins will be shifting Ramirez (soon-to-be 28-years-old) to another position, which most believe will be third base. Whether or not Ramirez is thrilled about putting his days as a shortstop behind him has been debated, but Reyes will be patrolling that spot for the foreseeable future. The signing of Reyes makes the Marlins better, and that is something Ramirez has probably realized.

Ramirez is coming off the worst season of his young career, batting just .243 and appearing in just 92 games, so he’ll be looking for a fresh start in more ways than one. Before you get caught up on that last statement, one fresh start that does not appear to be in line for Ramirez is via trade. All indications are that the Marlins will be holding on to the talented young infielder.

PHASE 3:

With two big pieces already on board, Miami is still actively pursuing the biggest names on the market. Albert Pujols has already received a 9-year offer and his agent, Dan Lozano, spent a very busy Monday meeting with Marlins brass to continue talks that could bring Pujols to South Beach. Imagine a lineup with Reyes, Ramirez and Pujols joining Mike Stanton and perhaps Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison to form some sort of new age “Murderers’ Row.”

I don’t think anyone needs me to spend the time to type out what exactly adding the best hitter in baseball would mean to the Marlins, so I’ll be brief. When you talk about rebuilding the image a franchise, making a splash, creating excitement from a marketing standpoint, selling those flashy new jerseys… well, Pujols can do all of the above. Oh, and he can flat out rake.

Winner of three MVP Awards while finishing runner up four other times, Pujols has put together one of the best statistical resumes in baseball history. He’s on pace to eclipse numerous offensive records while carving out a place in Cooperstown. Sure, Pujols only managed a meager 99 RBI’s in the 2011 regular season, but don’t fret, he cashed in for 16 more in his 18 postseason games for the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

(I really need someone to get to work on that long awaited “Sarcasm Font.”)

Aside from building a strong lineup, the Marlins are also looking to add to the rotation. Left-handers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle are both available, and not surprisingly both are drawing interest from Miami. There are of course big differences between the two. Wilson, who just turned 31, is younger by roughly two years. More to the point, he figures to be much more expensive than Buehrle, who turns 33 at the close of this coming Spring Training.

Wilson made the move from reliever to starter in 2010, and it’s a transition that has worked out nicely. He has won 31 games over the past two seasons while turning in a 3.14 ERA in 427 1/3 innings of work over that time. So he is both durable and successful, quite a nice combination. It’s worth noting that Wilson’s postseason numbers were marred by some control problems as he finished 0-3 with a 5.78 ERA over 6 appearances. He walked 18 men in his 28 innings of work.

Buehrle is a veteran left-hander who has won 161 games over his 12 seasons with the White Sox. He has a reputation for being one of the more durable starters in all of baseball as well. Buehrle has tossed 200 or more innings in each of his 11 full seasons in the big leagues, twice leading the league in both innings pitched an games started. Unlike Wilson, his postseason work (2-1, 4.11 in 6 games) is marked by impeccable control. Buehrle has issued just one walk – intentional at that – in 30 2/3 innings of October baseball.

New Marlins skipper Ozzie Guillen is very familiar with Buehrle’s body of work, having managed him in Chicago for the past eight seasons. Whether or not that will have any bearing on who Miami ultimately goes after with more vigor is yet to be seen. It’s always good to have a Plan B, especially when as many as a dozen other teams may be vying for the services of the two hurlers. Wilson will be commanding more years and more money, perhaps a 6-year pact. Buehrle could likely be had for a 3-year deal.

Of course, neither Wilson nor Buehrle may end up signing with the Marlins, making this entire discussion a moot point. For Pujols, however, it certainly feels like he may indeed follow in the footsteps of Bell and Reyes.

CONCLUSION:

The Marlins have definitely announced to the rest of Major League Baseball that they will be spenders. With the new ballpark, new uniforms, new manager, two big player acquisitions and possibly more to come, Miami is preparing to make a serious and prolonged run toward reaching the postseason. Teams who will most certainly take note of the expenditure of money and influx of talent would be those who are competing with Marlins in the NL East. It appears as though the Phillies, Braves, Mets and Nationals will be experiencing a whole new brand of baseball in Miami.

Cards, Wainwright dealt bad hand

Wainwright2.jpgPitchers and catchers were joined by position players, which meant the next step in the progression toward the 2011 season was to play some Spring Training games. You can put a big check mark by that one as well. Spring is in full swing.

There is a sense of renewal in the air, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve already heard the phrase, “Hope springs eternal.” Somewhere, there are even long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans saying, “This is the year.”

Now that baseball is back, it’s fun to get caught up in the excitement of the teams in uniform and taking the field with all their new pieces for the first time this year. However, there is a flip-side to that coin. Injury.

The St. Louis Cardinals found out first hand when ace right-hander and perennial Cy Young contender Adam Wainwright was lost for the season after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. It was the latest in a string of events and stories that haven’t exactly instilled confidence in Red Birds camp.  

With the fallout from tabling their very public contract negotiations with superstar first baseman Albert Pujols still echoing around camp, the injury to Wainwright only serves to further dampen the Cardinals spirits. While there’s never a good time, no club wants to have to address a major injury before the season even begins. And there is no way around the fact that this one, quite literally, hurts.

Wainwright will undergo Tommy John surgery on Monday and miss 12 to 18 months, wiping him from the Cardinals rotation for at least one full season. The righty went 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA in 2010, striking out 213 hitters over 230 1/3 innings of work. It was the second year in a row that Wainwright threw as many innings, leading the senior circuit with 233 in 2009. Durability didn’t even begin to speak for Wainwright’s value, but it was certainly a large part of it.

Thousands upon thousands of words have been spilled in newspapers, internet reports, blogs, sports radio, television, and all forms of social media in an attempt to underscore Wainwright’s importance to the Cardinals’ playoff hopes. His loss will place pressure on veteran co-ace Chris Carpenter and 24-year-old lefty Jaime Garcia to carry their load and then some.

The loss of Wainwright will also send the Cardinals scrambling for some sort of replacement, whether internal or via trade. It will be no easy task. Wainwright was the best pitcher not named Roy Halladay in the National League last season. 

No word yet on what exactly Cardinals GM John Mozeliak has planned, but he will do everything in his power to offset the loss and allow St. Louis to contend in what should be a very competitive NL Central race. With the exception of the Pirates, the rest of the division either supplemented their 2010 success with a few new cogs or completely rebuilt their roster with major additions.

The Cardinals added some power in Lance Berkman, but that was done in mind of solidifying the middle of the order and helping put runs on the board for the likes of Wainwright, Carpenter et al. Now the rotation will be reliant on Carpenter and Garcia to anchor the front end, while Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse will have to step forward and do a little bit more than simply eat innings and keep the club in the game.

Trade rumors have persisted regarding highly touted center fielder Colby Rasmus, who has not exactly meshed with manager Tony LaRussa. The jury is still out on Rasmus’ path to possible superstardom, but it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals selling low on a young impact bat simply to plug a hole in the rotation. A panic move won’t fix this problem. No overly exciting names are dangling on the free agent market and the trade market is often difficult to project.

Still, Mozeliak will need to get creative. The time is now for the Cardinals to set the tone for the franchise this decade. In more ways than one.

 

Pujols entering uncharted territory

Pujols Media Circus.jpgIt’s not often that the best player in baseball gets to explore free agency in the prime of his career, but when the St. Louis Cardinals failed to come to terms on a contract extension with Albert Pujols by the slugger’s 11 a.m. CDT deadline on Wednesday, it became a very real possibility. Perhaps reality.

As it continues to unfold, reports are indicating that the length of contract was not the biggest roadblock. Instead, all signs are pinning the inability to reach agreement on a difference of opinion over the annual salary figure. SI’s Jon Heyman tweeted that the Cardinals offered a 9-yr deal for more than $200 million, but exact details have been hard to come by thus far.

This entire process brings up a rather interesting question: When you are negotiating with perhaps the best player of a generation, how do you set the market value?

Pujols has done nothing but hit at the highest level in the game since bursting on the scene in 2001. He played left field and third base before settling in at first base, where he has captured three MVP awards and finished second on three other occasions.
Pujols has also won five Silver Sluggers and added a pair of Gold Glove Awards to his ever-expanding trophy case.

While the Cardinals will have an exclusive window to negotiate with Pujols following the season, it remains unclear just how much work is needed to bridge the gap between the two parties. One thing appears to be set in stone, Pujols is not interested in rekindling contract talks at any point between now and the end of the World Series.

The only player to reach free agency possessing a skill set remotely close to Pujols is New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. He was able to turn that trip through the employment line into the richest contract in all of baseball. Not once, but twice.

When the Yankees inked the then-31-year-old Rodriguez to his current 10-year $275 million contract in December of 2007, many industry experts cited the obvious effect that it would have when it came time for Pujols to negotiate his next deal. Throughout this process, the A-Rod contract has been the rumored jumping off point for a deal between the Cardinals and Pujols.

I would go into a long and exhaustive study of the numbers between the two, breaking down years of dominance and overall projections of greatness, but I think we can all surmise that both men are supremely talented generational talents. By the time they’ve played their last game, both Pujols and Rodriguez may very well be sitting in the Number 1 and Number 2 spots atop baseball’s all time home run list. The order may be the only question.

Pujols has won three MVP awards in the National League, Rodriguez in the American League. Nine All-Star seasons for Pujols, 13 for Rodriguez. Silver Sluggers? Six for Pujols and 10 for Rodriguez. And, of course, two Gold Gloves for each man.

Those are the kinds of résumés that some players can only dream of, and owners and general managers salivate over adding to their roster. There is absolutely no denying that Pujols’ trip to free agency may end up being the most notable and fascinating such case in baseball history.

Stacking Pujols and Rodriguez side-by-side may be the only peer-to-peer comparison that is available in today’s game. However, the things that Pujols has accomplished in his first 10 seasons in the majors put him in a class all his own. The fact that he will be hitting free agency at roughly the same age as Rodriguez when he cashed in a 10-year deal to stay in the Bronx may suggest that the paths of these two sluggers will remain somewhat similar in yet another aspect.

Pujols has been a stoic figure in Cardinals history despite having some rather large shoes to fill not long after breaking in. Following the retirement of St. Louis legend Ozzie Smith in 1996, Mark McGwire was the face of the franchise in the late 90s. All Big Mac did was break the single season home run record. Pujols was selected NL Rookie of the Year while playing with McGwire in 2001, a season which proved to be McGwire’s final curtain.

For some franchises, the loss of such a prodigious power threat and box office attraction would be a crippling blow. Instead, Pujols stepped in seamlessly and has anchored the heart of the St. Louis order. In 2006, the Pujols-led Cardinals had just enough to capture the NL Central crown and went on to win the World Series. By that time, Pujols was already being anointed as the premier hitter in the game.

St. Louis faces a public relations nightmare should Pujols depart. There is no heir to the throne this time around. When McGwire departed, there was no shortage of sidebar topics that could distract from the luster of his once iconic status in the city. His rapid decline due to knee injury left him just a shell of his former self. Allegations of performance enhancing drug use have all but quieted the mention of the man who inspired the nation to believe in baseball  again, perhaps saving the game in the magical “Summer of ’98.”

True, some club could come along and offer Pujols a mountain of money to leave the only city he has called home. I would guess no less than half a dozen clubs would be willing to put big money offers out there in hopes of wooing him away from St. Louis.

For some reason, I can’t help but feel the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, spurned numerous times by 2010 free agents, would be licking their proverbial chops to have a chance to offer Pujols a high-dollar long term deal to head West. Owner Arte Moreno has to be lying in wait, hoping he gets the chance to at least pull out the check book and make an offer.

I can’t speak for Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, who said the MLB Players Union may have been applying some pressure for Pujols to maximize his value and thereby gumming up the works as it were. That may be true. I somehow doubt that the union is needed to remind Pujols of exactly how valuable he is, and exactly how much money there is to be made in his next contract.

That is exactly the kind of question that Pujols has vowed to avoid throughout Spring Training and all through the 2011 season. He was quite direct when addressing the media around midday in Jupiter, Florida, shortly after reporting to Cardinals camp on Wednesday.

See for yourself (Please excuse any and all video advertisements – a necessary evil to bring you the man himself):

That sounds like a man who is pleased to let all of his talking be done on the field.

Whatever the reason, maintaining a level of respect for the organization, limiting distractions for himself and/or his team, avoiding a media “zoo,” or simply letting nature run its course, Pujols has made up his mind. The negotiations are on a nine-month hiatus.

Till next time,

G-Mc

The Breakup: Baseball Style

Michael Young.jpg

The discord currently brewing behind the scenes between the Texas Rangers and their All-Star third baseman Michael Young could very well prove to be one of the more fascinating offseason storylines.

One thing is for sure, the sordid details may not remain behind the scenes for much longer. Strong words from Young were reported late Monday.
According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, Young made some very direct remarks to clear up any public misconception regarding the linking of his name to trade rumors. I’ll get to those in a moment.

Essentially, the dispute stems from the Rangers assuring Young
that they were not seeking to trade him, while reports continued to
persist that the team was still actively shopping him. Those reports did not sit well with Young. 

This situation is clearly not some simple “change of heart” that was reported earlier in the day, leading Young to kindly request a trade. That could not be further from the truth according to Rangers infielder:

Snip 1.png

“I’ve
kept a low profile out of respect for the team, the coaching staff, my family and the fans because I didn’t want to put anybody on an unnecessary roller-coaster,” Young said in a brief phone conversation. “Now, I think it’s important to address the inaccurate portrayal that is being painted. The suggestion that I’ve simply had a change of heart and asked for a trade is a manipulation of the truth.”

“I want to be traded because I’ve been misled and manipulated and I’m sick of it.”

Snip 2.png

Those are words that absolutely no front office wants to have linked to their handling of players, particularly veterans who have been with a club almost long enough to gain those all too valuable 10-5 rights. Once those kick in, Young can veto any trade that Texas may agree to. Young may have declined to give specific details on the rift, but his days in Texas are no doubt numbered. To be expected, Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels had a markedly different take:

Snip 1.png

“It’s not our first choice,” Daniels said. “Our first choice is to continue
with our offseason plan and continue with Michael playing a pivotal role. He’s had a change of heart about that role. If we can accommodate his request and upgrade the club, we’d like to do that.”

Snip 2.png

Relationships between players and management can be bumpy in some cases, but this is the biggest verbal barb that I’ve heard a player slinging in the general direction of his current employer. Still, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that there have been more epic rifts and much worse things said behind closed doors. However, this particular situation has spilled over into the public forum, and I’m hard pressed to say that it isn’t at least partly justified.

While the Rangers are coming off their first trip to the World Series in franchise history, there is no question that they would like nothing more than to find their way back in 2011 and bring home the trophy this time around. It was to that end that they set about attempting to secure Cliff Lee to a very lucrative and long term contract this winter.

When that didn’t work, it turned out that Plan B was to allow aging designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero to seek his fortunes elsewhere and bring one of the best available hitters on the free agent market into the fray. 

Unfortunately for Young, this is where things started to head south. The Rangers signed third baseman Adrian Beltre to a monster contract (six-years, $96 million) on January 5. It was on that day that you could consider my mind, much like Young’s, to be completely boggled.

Young has been a good soldier for the Rangers for the better part of a decade. He has previously changed positions not once but twice in order to accommodate the Rangers’ desire to add new faces to their infield. Coming off his first Gold Glove Award at any position in 2008, he wasn’t too pleased about having to shift from shortstop to third base
when Texas requested he do so. It turns out that the third time he was asked to move may have been strike three for Rangers management.

If the Rangers feel there are better ways to spend the $48 million remaining in the final three years of Young’s contract, they would probably be correct in that
assumption, given that he is now a
man without a position. They still contend that the plan to use Young as a designated hitter and super utility infielder should not be seen by the player as a downgrade. To make matters more complicated for the Rangers, suitable options for a replacement DH are now somewhat limited after Guerrero signed with the Baltimore Orioles.

Coming into his age 34 season, several reports on this situation have attempted to gauge what Young’s value would be. One of the factors for potential trade suitors to consider is how he would perform outside of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. His home/road splits point to the rather obvious fact that, like most Rangers hitters, Arlington has been very, very good to Young. Over the course of his career, Young’s work on the road (.279/.322/.411)
has been decent, but nothing compared to his line at home (.322/.372/.487).

There were plenty of reports linking the Rangers and Colorado Rockies in discussion involving a possible trade in December. The two sides may rekindle their earlier dialogue, but obstacles persist. Though Coors Field would help offset Young’s move away from hitter-friendly Arlington, the price would have to be
right for both sides.

The Rangers will have to offset the money owed to Young thanks to their now acrimonious relationship to make any deal work. In fairness, they would probably have had to do that before the falling out, but their current rift can’t be particularly good for leverage in trade talks. Colorado, or any interested team, may have to supply the Rangers with a suitable designated hitter.

Young can block trades to all but eight teams, but If I had to guess, I’d put the Dodgers and Padres in the mix with the Rockies. There doesn’t seem to be one clear front runner.  

 

Is Andy Pettitte Hall Worthy?

andy-pettitte2-540x360.jpgThe Hall of Fame debate usually follows the retirement of a productive high profile player, particularly one who made his name with the New York Yankees. Such is the case with Andy Pettitte, a solid if unspectacular lefty who was an integral part of multiple World Series Championship clubs.

Pettitte’s legacy and Cooperstown candidacy are bolstered immensely by his work in October and, on occasion, November. He retires with the most wins in postseason history. The fact that Pettitte appeared in the playoffs in all but three of his 16 seasons in the majors no doubt enhanced his ability to accumulate those 19 postseason victories, but that’s not the “enhancement” that will be under scrutiny.

Make no mistake, Pettitte will have to buck a recent and growing trend of this generation’s stars who put up hall worthy numbers, yet will fail to gain admission to Cooperstown because of direct ties to or even the suspicion of performance enhancing drug use.

We don’t have to debate the moral platitudes in Pettitte’s case. He admitted his use, and to his credit continued on with his life and career. Contrition may have earned points with some fans, but it’s unlikely to lessen the impact that his outright admission will have on hall voters. The next chapter appears to be Pettitte’s participation in what is sure to be the very public legal drama involving his friend Roger Clemens. We’ll table that discussion for now.

To be frank, I don’t believe Pettitte’s regular season numbers warrant his entry. I’m further more not convinced that his postseason numbers are enough to make up the difference in Hall of Fame credentials, or to erase the damage done by his admission of PED use. Coming clean to some extent, while it does not erase the transgressions against the game, afforded Pettitte an opportunity to reconcile with fans. Baseball writers will not be so forgiving when they fill out their ballots in five years.

I’d like to take this argument outside of that dreaded acronym (PED) for a bit, to look solely at Pettitte’s body of work. In other words, let’s look at the numbers and the accolades that made him a very successful pitcher for 16 seasons in the major leagues.

Pettitte is the first member of the vaunted Yankees “Core Four” – with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada – to retire. Those four players were the only men who were members of New York’s five World Series Championship Teams since 1996.

Today, pitchers who pile up postseason victories in bunches have a distinct advantage over those who pitched solely in the World Series (pre-1969). The expanded playoff format, which will likely swell again within the next two years, means that a pitcher could make between six and eight starts between LDS, LCS, and Word Series play.

Despite career numbers that are very solid by most standards, Pettitte is still not the greatest left-hander in Yankees history. Whitey Ford holds that distinction. Ron Guidry and Lefty Gomez would have to be thrown in the mix as well.

Pettitte sits high on the Yankee wins list, trailing only Ford and Red Ruffing for most victories in franchise history. In fact, Pettitte is one of just three pitchers in franchise history to reach 200 career wins. If you look up and down the Yankees pitching leaders, you’ll find that Pettitte’s name appears behind Ford numerous times.

It’s not merely the statistical comparison of the two that led me to bring Ford into the Pettitte discussion. There are some that regard the Yankee’s original lefty legend as a borderline Hall of Famer.

Perhaps it was Ford’s failure to reach the 300-win plateau, or the fact that he only had only one Cy Young Award. In fairness, Ford lost two seasons to military service and made just 16 starts combined in the final two years of his career. Ford’s career 55.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is better than Sandy Koufax (54.5), so it’s possible to make the stats – newfangled or not – say what you want them to. The Hall debate always brings out the best in statistical maneuvering.

Putting both stats and Yankee legends aside to look at awards and accomplishments, it’s pretty clear that at no time during his career was Pettitte ever considered the best pitcher in baseball. He received Cy Young votes in five different seasons. His highest finish came in just his second in the Bronx (1996), but he also finished fourth (2000), fifth on two occasions (1997, 2005), and sixth (2003) as well. It surprised me to see that he was selected to just three All-Star teams.

I’m not one who enjoys playing this game, but the number of “if-then” scenarios that would spring up in newspaper articles and in the internet community would dwarf those brought about any time that the name Bert Blyleven is mentioned.

The candidacy of Jack Morris, whose ERA of 3.90 is just .02 runs higher than Pettitte’s career mark would gain a new lease on life. In my mind, the discussion would have to expand well beyond just the Morris case, and include guys like Tommy John, Jim Kaat and Dennis Martinez. None of whom are immediately seen as Hall worthy candidates in and of themselves, and I’m not saying I support the “if-then” philosophy of awarding spots in Cooperstown for reasons other than individual merit.

One would have to look at contributions to the game, right? If so, John was on the cutting edge of a career-saving medical procedure that now carries his name. He came back better than he was before the surgery and won 288 games over 26 seasons. Kaat was a 283 game winner who claimed 16 consecutive Gold Glove Awards, transitioned into broadcasting and has been a distinguished member of the baseball community for five decades now. Martinez is the top winner (245) in baseball history among all Latin American pitchers.

Are those things not indicative of some high level of contribution? None of those men I just mentioned have their names attached to PED’s, which will almost certainly be enough to keep Pettitte out.

The Hall of Fame discussion often times degenerates into a Hall of Numbers debate, but the statistics aren’t everything and “fame” is a relative term. Would anyone ever say that Pete Rose is the worst player with 4,000 career hits? While it is an absolutely ridiculous argument, it is true. That Ty Cobb guy accomplished a few more things than Rose. Still, this entire line of discussion isn’t really worth pursuing any further.

What should we take away from the Pettitte Hall of Fame discussion?

Based on recent voting patterns and my gut instinct, while he was an outstanding pitcher who contributed to the success of the modern day Yankee dynasty, Pettitte will likely never receive his bronze plaque in Cooperstown. He was on multiple World Series winners and got paid quite handsomely. That may have to be all the reward baseball has to give in this case.

Who knows, maybe we haven’t seen Andy Pettitte take the mound for the last time. After all, “retirement” is another relative term these days.

The proverbial changeup…

Maddux.jpgConsider this a rechristening of my little unit in the MLBlogosphere. So, if you came here looking for baseball content to pass the time, bear with me for this one entry. Just like Greg Maddux did so frequently, I’m about to throw you a changeup.

This has and always will be an Atlanta Braves blog at heart, but it has struck me lately that many of my entry ideas over the past year have had little or nothing to do with the Braves. That’s usually where my inspiration would ultimately yield an extremely unfulfilling “wait-till-later” verdict.

With that in mind, I began to wonder if I should just change some things around and update the look and feel of this blog in order to stir my creative process. Perhaps it will take some of the self-imposed restrictions off and allow for a wider range of baseball content. I guess we will find out together.

I decided to go with a more MLB-centric layout to get things started. Then, in a somewhat painful move, I decided to put my original blog name (“A ‘Braves’ New World”) into storage in favor of a more middle of the road baseball colloquialism.

As some of you may or may not know, my baseball career has allowed me the incredible opportunity to work in both the Atlanta Braves and Tampa Bay Rays organizations. I spent the first four years with the Atlanta Braves Radio Network, working in production, writing and reporting. Currently, I’m preparing for my third season as the play-by-play broadcaster for Tampa Bay’s High-A affiliate, the Charlotte Stone Crabs.

Despite spending the majority of the season in the Florida State League, there are still times when it would certainly be nice to delve back into Major League topics. Hopefully, this rebranding will pave the way for a variety of baseball musings over the course of 2011.

Only 10 days until pitchers and catchers report!

Here’s to that,

G-Mc

2010 World Series Primer

World Series 2010 Small Logo.jpgAfter spending the last few days hearing the media churn on relentlessly about the lack of a so-called “marquee presence” to add to the World Series appeal, I think I’m finally ready to do my part and help those with questions to wrap their collective heads around the actual point of the postseason. That being:

The team that keeps winning gets to walk home with the trophy.

It’s a remarkably simple concept. And for a league that has preached the virtues of parity for years, this should be a celebration of sorts.

Years of work to help bridge the gab between MLB’s richest and poorest, and even those stuck in the middle, has finally paid off with a Fall Classic that has historic implications.

Despite the fact that the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants have not been as fortunate in October as the dragons they slayed to get to the World Series, neither team was ready to roll over and allow a rematch of last year’s series.

This World Series matchup contains not only great storylines but also great human interest stories.

For Texas, there is the well-chronicled comeback of Josh Hamilton, followed up by Rangers ownership’s faith in manager Ron Washington, who made some poor personal decisions but was allowed to stay the course and lead his team to the World Series.

For San Francisco, there is the clutch hitting of late season waiver claim Cody Ross, Then there’s the slim margins of victory that have led to a brand of baseball that Giants fans have dubbed as “torture.”

And of course there is Brian Wilson‘s beard.

The two teams are not complete strangers. A 15-7 lifetime Interleague mark favors the Giants, who have won seven games in a row over Texas and claimed victory in 11 of the last 12 regular season battles between the two teams.

After 50 years and two cities in the league, the Rangers started this run through October by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays to win their first postseason series in franchise history. Then they came just one big New York inning away from sweeping the much vaunted Yankees right out of the American League Championship Series.

Mays Catch.jpgStill playing in New York, the Giants last won the World Series in 1954 over the Cleveland Indians. It was in that series against the Tribe that Willie Mays made his historic catch at the old Polo Grounds.

The Giants moved out west in 1958, but have been unsuccessful in three trips to the World Series while in San Fran. A very different Giants club was just five outs away from a winning it all in 2002, before the Anaheim Angels rallied to take Game 6 and then went on to win a decisive Game 7 the next night.

The Rangers first joined the American League in 1965 as the
second incarnation of the Washington Senators, relocating to Texas prior
to the 1972 season.

As you might have gathered, these are two completely different clubs. The Giants are strong on pitching and rely on timely hits, while the Rangers hit the ball with authority, run the bases well and rely on key pitching performances to hold opponents in check.

Texas has left-hander Cliff Lee, one of the biggest weapons on the mound in recent memory. With his October work over the past two seasons, Lee is cobbling together one of the best postseason résumés in the history of baseball.

As good as Lee has been individually, the San Francisco pitching staff has been collectively. Giants hurlers boast a 2.47 ERA in 91 playoff innings and have held opposing hitters to just a .199 average thus far this postseason.

When it comes to offenses, the Rangers appear to have an edge there. Texas hit .276/.338/.419 and scored 787 runs as a club in 2010, while San Francisco’s team slash line was .257/.321/.408 with 697 runs scored.

Since they have the luxury of the designated hitter, the AL team should hold the advantage upon a cursory evaluation of the team offensive statistics. There is a rather vast chasm between the hitting exploits of Vladimir Guerrero and those of Giants pitchers and pinch-hitters. So take it all with a grain of salt.

The Rangers and Giants both hit exactly 162 home runs as a team in regular season. Texas, however, utilizes the speed game more than their NL counterpart, stealing 123 bases to San Francisco’s 55 this year.

Texas has put on a postseason power display while running wild on the basepaths thus far in October. As a team, the Rangers are hitting .281 with 17 homers and 59 runs scored in 11 playoff games. Led by Elvis Andrus‘ seven steals, the Rangers have swiped 15 bases and been caught just twice this postseason. That gives the Texas offense a rare balance of power and speed. 

Offensively, the Giants have not exactly been the biggest run producers in October. Through their first 10 postseason games, San Francisco is hitting .231 as a club and averaging just 3.0 runs per game. Their defining work with the bats seems to come in the clutch, with 15 of the 30 Giants runs coming with two outs in an inning.

Cody Ross has been the man the Giants have turned to throughout the postseason. He’s shown not only a flair for the dramatic, but an ability to give his team a lift when it’s needed the most. Ross has broken up three different playoff no-hitters with solo-homers. His heroics in the NLCS netted Ross series MVP honors.

The Game 1 Pitching Matchup:

Cliff Lee WS.jpgA pair of Cy Young Award winners will lock horns in the opening contest, which pits two distinctly different styles against each other.

Trying to write economically about Cliff Lee’s postseason career is probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Where do you start?

How about his absolutely unheard of 34/1 K/BB ratio this postseason. Or maybe his six game postseason winning streak, second only to Bob Gibson in baseball history. Or maybe the fact that Lee (1.26) possesses the third lowest ERA among all pitchers with at least five postseason starts, trailing the likes of Sandy Koufax (0.95) and Christy Mathewson (1.06).

Lee (3-0) tamed the Yankees bats as a member of the Phillies World Series squad last year and did it again for the Rangers in this year’s ALCS. He brings a streak of 14 consecutive scoreless innings into tonight’s start, and has struck out 10 or more batters in each of his three playoff outings with Texas. One more 10+ K performance would give Lee the most in MLB postseason history (6).

Tim Lincecum WS.jpgTim Lincecum has been putting together a fine playoff run of his own for the Giants, twirling a dominating two-hit shut-out against Atlanta in Game 1 of the NLDS before splitting a pair of decisions against the Phillies in the NLCS.

Lincecum (2-1) has piled up 30 strikeouts in 23.1 innings so far this postseason The aptly dubbed “Freak” is a former first round draft choice who has been silencing critics throughout his career. Nine teams passed over the hard throwing yet slightly built Lincecum in the first round of the 2006 draft, fearing his body would never be able to hold up under the incredible strain of his mechanics. If his early results are any indication, Lincecum is doing just fine, thanks.

Two Cy Young Awards later, the 26-year-old Lincecum is anchoring the pitching staff which turned in the best ERA (3.36) in all of baseball this season. Lincecum will need to channel the same kind of electric performance that he turned in against the Braves in the NLDS to get keep the high-powered Rangers offense in check. That makes a nice segway to the…

Series Keys:

San Francisco — The Giants will need more strong pitching from Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and rookie Madison Bumgarner in order to lay the foundation for success in the series. Texas has Hamilton, Guerrero, and Nelson Cruz among other very capable sluggers who can turn the game around with one swing of the bat.

If they can avoid a barrage of Rangers longballs and maintain some semblance of order on the basepaths, then there is a chance that San Francisco could minimize damage long enough for their offense to produce the necessary run support. I wouldn’t count on the bats breaking out in a big way for the duration of the series, but the Giants should be due for at least one big scoring night.

Freshman catcher Buster Posey has made himself right at home in his playoff debut, racking up a franchise rookie record with 11-hits so far this October. Veteran bats Aubrey Huff – who led the Giants in most offensive categories, Pat Burrell – who enjoyed a renaissance after returning to the NL at midseason, and Pablo Sandoval will all need to do their part to help generate the support that Lincecum and company will need.

San Francisco has one of the deepest bullpens in the NL, and have used it to their advantage throughout the playoffs. Anchored by the bearded-wonder Brian Wilson, the Giants got seven scoreless innings out of the pen in the NLCS clinching win against Philadelphia. Suffice it to say, manager Bruce Bochy would like to avoid doing that on a nightly basis.

The Giants have gone 4-1 on the road this postseason, but they want to grab the early series lead in order to make the most of the homefield advantage that was provided by the NL’s victory in the All-Star Game. The Giants can ill-afford to see the series shift to Texas with the hot-hitting Rangers up 2-0.

Texas — If Lee and/or C.J. Wilson can give the Rangers an early lead in the series, then there is a chance the Rangers can bring the series home and do some real damage. Hamilton hit .390 with 22 homers and 57 RBI’s in Arlington this season and is coming off ALCS MVP honors. His presence in the lineup will be a clear and present danger to the Giants hopes of quieting the Rangers run scoring attack.

The Rangers red-hot lineup will force Bochy and the Giants to pick their poison. Nelson Cruz (.371-13-42), Vladimir Guerrero (.315-16-63), and Michael Young (.307-16-55) likewise enjoyed the home cooking for a Texas club that batted .288/.352/.447
at home during the regular season. Luckily for the Giants, this series starts with the Rangers playing the visitor’s role.

I mentioned the Giants had the lifetime advantage against the Rangers during Interleague matchups, but the Rangers enjoyed their slate of games against the NL in 2010. Texas went 14-4 in Interleague play, while the Giants finished 7-8 against the AL this season.

At the back of the bullpen for the Rangers is the electric right arm of 22-year-old rookie closer Neftali Feliz, who strangely enough has not registered a save in the postseason. His early work was definitely shaky, with five walks and a home run allowed over his first three appearances. Feliz bounced back with scoreless frames in his final two outings against the Yankees, but if the Rangers are going to edge the Giants in close contests then Feliz must be ready to slam door.

The End of an Era

Bobby Cox (Downsized).jpg

The back and forth NLDS battle between Atlanta and San Fransisco came to a close on Monday, with the Giants taking a series clinching 3-2 victory.

And with that, a Hall of Fame career came to a close.

Thinking of life after Bobby Cox is something that most Braves fans have spent much of the 2010 season trying to come to terms with. We all knew it was coming, but this changing of the guard compels one to wax poetic.

How do you put a career of that magnitude into perspective?

Break out the book of cliches and turn to the chapter that deals with respecting others and receiving the same in return. Bobby Cox makes each and every one of them ring true. It’s safe to say that no other manager of this generation has garnered a fiercer loyalty from the men who played under him.

Cox has been a constant with the organization for the better part of three decades. It’s hard to imagine there being a time in which the Braves organization won’t have his steady hand heavily involved with shaping the roster, as he did as general manager, or steering the product on the field.

Most organizations will never know what it is like to have that kind of stability. Often second guessed and at times scrutinized, but universally respected for his knowledge of the game and commitment to his players, Cox has cemented his legacy among the greatest managers in the history of the game.

That is no easy feat.

Consider the tenures of most managers in the game today. Save a Tony LaRussa, or a Joe Torre, or a Jim Leyland, most have not served anywhere close to the number of years which Cox has. Even in a long and distinguished career, how many managers are staying with one club for two decades at a time?

None currently.

Beginning in 1978, when he took the helm of an entirely different Braves team, Cox made an immediate impact. Sure, the Braves teams under Cox of the late 70s and early 80s didn’t show immediate results, but his brush strokes were everywhere when the team captured its 1982 West Division crown under Torre.

Take a lanky catcher with throwing problems and turn him into a gold glove center fielder? Cox has done that. Just ask two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy, who has openly stated that the decision to change defensive positions made by Cox was the saving grace of his career.

The legacy of Bobby Cox will rest as much on the loyalty that was built in the clubhouse as it will on the wins that happened on the field. Cox created a winning environment in which every one of the 25 men on his roster knew that Bobby believed in their ability to thrive in pressure situations.

So as this afternoon’s press conference signals the end of one era, a new one will begin. What that will be is anyone’s guess, but Cox will be a tough act to follow.