Posted on: July 9, 2008 11:10 pm
 

Billy Beane and the NL Central arms race

Three major pitching moves a 72-hour period in the NL Central -- Milwaukee trading for CC Sabathia, the Cubs snapping up Rich Harden and, sadly, Mark Mulder leading Wednesday night's game with more pain in his left shoulder.

Mulder's comeback bid lasted only three batters before he was forced out, and in a suddenly fast-moving division, the ramifications could be far-reaching.

One of them is obvious.

One of them, not so much -- but it could have important repercussions for Chicago Cubs fans.

The obvious one, of course, is that the Cardinals are probably going to have to figure out a way to acquire more pitching help if they plan to stay in the race. They are still hoping ace Chris Carpenter returns sometime in the next month, but Mulder's setback, if it is as serious as it appears, still leaves them lacking.

St. Louis probably doesn't have the resources to trade for Toronto's A.J. Burnett, who scouts continue to say has one of the best arms in the game but never has been able to figure out how to be a winner. Seattle's Erik Bedard will be pricey. San Diego probably will be offering Greg Maddux and Randy Wolf, and wouldn't Maddux, the former Cub, be a fascinating addition in St. Louis? Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo is another possibility, but Cards GM John Mozeliak would have to convince ownership to crack open its piggy bank.

It's clear that the Cubs, with a healthy Harden, and Brewers, with Sabathia, have gotten better. St. Louis, with Mulder again hurting, hasn't. Plus, the Cardinals have problems at the back end of their bullpen -- their 19 blown saves leads the majors.

Now ... how might Mulder's latest setback be related to the Cubs?

Like this: Mulder walking off that mound in Philadelphia is simply one more reminder that Oakland GM Billy Beane's track record of trading away ace pitchers is nearly impeccable. He got peak years from Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito before cutting ties with them -- Hudson and Mulder via trades, Zito via free agency. He traded Dan Haren, starting pitcher for the AL in last year's All-Star Game, to Arizona over the winter and got back two starters, Dana Eveland and Greg Smith, who are contributing this year.

Beane does not make mistakes when he trades away pitching. That doesn’t mean Harden won't help the Cubs. But if you're a Cubs fan, it should give you pause -- and maybe even make you shudder when you consider Harden's injury history.

Likes: The All-Star break. ... The All-Star Game. ... The All-Star arguments -- who should make it, who shouldn't. ... Luis Gonzalez mentoring the kids in the Florida Marlins clubhouse. ... CC Sabathia now going by CC instead of C.C. OK, whatever, dude. ... Early action on the trade market. ... Brad Lidge coming back strong in Philadelphia. ... Mid-summer, when everyone seems to slow down and take a breath. There's no rush to get home when you're at the ballpark -- no school for the kids in the morning -- and you see all sorts of people out running, walking their dogs and gardening throughout the neighborhood. ... Summer nights, and darkness not arriving until late. ... Fresh strawberries over vanilla ice cream.

Dislikes: The construction folks beginning to tear down Tiger Stadium. It's been long overdue -- Detroit despicably allowed a treasure to become just one more abandoned building over the past nine years -- but it's still gut-wrenching.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"She acts like summer and walks like rain
Reminds me that there’s time to change"

-- Train, Drops of Jupiter

Posted on: July 1, 2008 1:38 am
 

What if Brandon Morrow was a starter?

From his perch in the Seattle Mariners' bullpen, where he is chief set-up man to closer J.J. Putz, Brandon Morrow can't help but keep an eye on his old college rival.

He isn't alone. San Francisco's Tim Lincecum is tearing it up at 9-1 with a 2.38 ERA (second in the National League) and an NL-leading 114 strikeouts.

They pitched against each other in college, sort of, Lincecum starring for the University of Washington and Morrow for Pac-10 rival University of California.

"They were rained out or something right before we played them, and they jumbled their rotation and he didn't pitch that Friday," says Morrow, who did.

He wasn't exactly disappointed at the time -- "Gave us a better chance to win," he says -- and the two would run into each other across the country in the Cape Cod League as well.

Morrow was Seattle's first-round pick in the 2006 draft, fifth overall. The Giants chose Lincecum 10th overall in '06.

Morrow made the majors to stay in '07, ahead of Seattle's schedule, because the Mariners had a need in their bullpen. He was good as a set-up man last summer, going 3-4 with a 4.12 ERA over 60 appearances, but as Lincecum deals, he can't help but wonder what life might be like back in the rotation.

"I was always a starter," Morrow says. "You can't put enough importance on a quality start. If you don't get a good start, the relievers don't matter."

Until the Mariners traded for Erik Bedard and signed Carlos Silva as a free agent last winter, the club intended to slot Morrow in the rotation this season. He even made seven starts in the Venezuelan Winter League, working on building his endurance so he could pitch more innings.

"I was slightly disappointed I went through all that" and then was pushed back to the bullpen, Morrow says. "But anytime you're in the big leagues, you can't complain."

Meanwhile, several hundred miles south of Morrow, Lincecum's All-Star season continues for San Francisco.

"He's been throwing the hell out of the ball all year," says Morrow, who's seen it before.

Likes: Tampa Bay and Boston this week in a meaningful series. What fun. ... Roy Halladay, and six complete games. He would have fit in very well alongside Mickey Lolich,  Gaylord Perry, Catfish Hunter and Bert Blyleven. ... Safeco Field. Still beautiful after all these years. ... The way they arrange the AL flags in order of standing at Safeco. And yes, what an odd thing to see the Rays flag flying ahead of Boston's and the Yankees'. ... Seattle's "Countdown to Cooperstown" -- it's at 27 days -- in anticipation of legendary broadcaster Dave Niehaus' impending induction into the broadcasters' wing. ... Tim Lincecum pitching, any night. ... ... Ferndale, Wash., from Sandy Point to Barlean's Fishery.

Dislikes: Racial threats against Boston Red Sox players? What is this, 1859? Sad to say, that kind of backwater thinking continues to exist. Look at the Democratic primaries this year, where a stunning number of voters in West Virginia and Kentucky admitted in exit polls that race factored into the way they voted.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Racism lives in the U.S. today
"Better get hip to what Martin Luther King had to say
"I don't want my kids being brought up this way
"Hatred to each other is not okay
"Well, I'm not a preacher just a singer son
"But I can see more work to be done
"It's what you do and not what you say
"If you're not part of the future then get out of the way"

-- John Mellencamp, Peaceful World

Posted on: June 22, 2008 9:21 pm
 

Campaign's over for three managers

Guys get hired and guys get fired all the time.

You work with them, enjoy some more than others and roll with it.

When Toronto fired John Gibbons, I couldn't help but smile while recalling a small moment from two springs ago.

Somehow, a few years back, I acquired a button that read: "George W. Bush: The Best Reason Yet for Canadian Citizenship."

Figuring I had the perfect person to whom it would make a funny gift, I brought it with me to Florida a couple of years ago and gave it to my buddy Jeff Blair, who covers baseball for the Toronto Globe and Mail. You know -- he's smart, pays attention to what's going on in the world, has a sense of humor, lives in Canada.

He laughed when I gave it to him that morning at Blue Jays camp, then got a devilish twinkle in his eyes.

When the workout was finished and maybe 15 of us reporters met with Gibbons, Blair waited until the session was about to start when he made a big elaborate presentation of the button to Gibbons.

Told him, "Scott Miller wanted me to give you this present. ..."

Gibbons is a Texas native.

He's a hard-core Republican.

And there Blair was, selling me out, telling the skipper that I brought the button for him.

Gibbons took the button from Blair, read it and started laughing. I, of course, immediately accused Blair of being an ungracious recipient of a gift, telling Gibbons that it was not meant for him at all.

The way the entire thing played out was pretty funny all around, and Gibbons and I joked about it a handful of times over these two years since -- me asking if he's been wearing his button, and him saying an unprintable word or two through a big smile. He's a good man, and a good baseball man, and I'm sure we'll see him somewhere around the game after he's finished de-compressing.

Which I'm sure he needs right about now. But sorry, John ... I don't have any parting gifts for you.

****

Speaking of Blair, this is one terrific quote from Blue Jays outfielder Alex Rios that appeared in his story the day Gibbons was fired: "I don't want to talk about what happened today. We can talk about other stuff. How about boats?"

****

As San Diego manager Bud Black was saying the other day after Gibbons (Blue Jays), John McLaren (Mariners) and Willie Randolph (Mets) all were fired last week, "As baseball people, you're hardened to that sort of thing. It doesn't make it any easier, but you realize these things happen.

"It goes back to your days as a player. You have friends who get traded or released, and you know these guys are doing everything they can to help the team win, exhausting everything in their power."

****

My job is to stay as plugged in as possible, and I work very hard at it, but I've gotta say: I had NO idea that Willie Randolph was fired by Mr. Met.

This clip from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart is the television equivalent of crushing a fastball down the middle.

****

I've always gravitated more toward the personalities in baseball than the numbers, but still, this is absolutely mind-boggling:

When the Lakers blew that 24 point lead in Game 4 of the NBA Finals earlier this month, it was officially only the biggest collapse in 37 years ... because no records of Finals games before 1971 are available.

Say what?

That is absolutely stunning.

That same week, when Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 600th homer, I wondered how many at-bats it took him to move from 500 to 600 compared with Barry Bonds. I e-mailed David Vincent, home run expert for the Society for American Baseball Research, and within 15 minutes -- literally -- I had an answer.

It took Griffey 1,012 more at-bats than Bonds.

But don't ask the NBA about anything pre-1971.

Likes: Summer heat. ... C.C. Sabathia with the bat. ... Detroit's Marcus Thames: Eight consecutive hits were home runs, then he doubled on Friday and then walloped another homer on Saturday. Making it nine homers in a 10-hit stretch. ... The Drive-By Truckers at the Belly-Up Tavern in Solana Beach, Calif., on Friday night. Rockin' good time.

Dislikes: Man, these are ugly days for Houston. I'm not talking about the Astros losing nine of their past 11 games. I'm talking about those mid-1970s rainbow uniforms they wore Saturday night in Tampa Bay.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Well we got no choice
"All the girls and boys
"Makin' all that noise
"'Cause they found new toys
"Well we can't salute ya
"Can't find a flag
"If that don't suit ya
"That's a drag"

-- Alice Cooper, School's Out

Posted on: June 17, 2008 1:05 am
Edited on: June 17, 2008 1:11 am
 

Ramblings of a madman

My God! A pitcher running the bases?

What could possibly be next?

A pitcher catching an infield pop-up? A pitcher fielding a ground ball?

Nooooo! Not that! Anything but that!

"My only message is simple: The National League needs to join the 21st century," Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner huffed in the wake of Chien-Ming Wang's injured foot. "They need to grow up and join the 21st century."

Look, obviously pitchers should remain hermetically sealed and be packed in styrofoam peanuts between starts. We can all agree on that. Right?

But this problem of pitchers running the bases in NL games and interleague games ... hmmm.

OK, I got it. How about if we have ghost runners when a pitcher reaches base, like we did when we were kids and didn't have enough players to fill out the sides in pick-up games?

A pitcher reaches base, he's immediately yanked off the field and placed in a protective oxygen-chamber, or humidor, and replaced by a ghost runner who shall advance as many bases as the batter.

Oh, and ghost owners, too. That would be an improvement.

Category: MLB
Posted on: June 16, 2008 4:31 pm
Edited on: June 16, 2008 4:32 pm
 

Lost at sea while Sexson cashes in

They sacrificed hitting coach Jeff Pentland last week and then fired general manager Bill Bavasi on Monday.

Now, if the Seattle Mariners really want to show their players and fans they mean business, they'll pull the plug on the miserable Richie Sexson at first base, play someone who at least has a chance and swallow whole what's left of Sexson's $14 million this season.

The club's play this season has been humiliating from all angles. The 22-45 record is the majors' worst, they were swept by Washington (who had the majors' worst record only a few days ago) over the weekend, they've lost seven consecutive home games and trail the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West by 17 1/2 games.

Bavasi, Mariners' GM since November, 2003, has been a short leash ever since that bizarre day two Septembers ago when Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln extended the contracts of both Bavasi and then-manager Mike Hargrove's contract while publicly affirming that each was on Lincoln's "hot seat."

What kind of message was that?

If you didn't have complete faith in them, why extend them?

Make no mistake, that's part of the reason the Mariners are in the shape they're in. It took the hands of many to muck things up this badly, not just Bavasi. The hiring of Hargrove back in October, 2004, was uninspired as well.

In retrospect, the fact that that Mariners were surprisingly competitive last season may have been the worst thing that could have happened to them. All it did was delay the inevitable: That this is a roster that needs to be blown to smithereens.

Sexson (.212, nine homers, 23 RBI, 64 strikeouts in 193 at-bats) continues to gum up the works. Jose Vidro as a designated hitter is an argument to simply let the pitchers bat. Adrian Beltre (.227) is a miserable situational hitter. Hell, most of these guys are: Somehow, Seattle won two of three in Toronto last week while scoring all of six runs. Against the Nationals over the weekend, they got 10 in three games.

So Lee Elia, Pentland's replacement, didn't come with a magic wand. Big surprise. That meltdown day earlier this month on which president Chuck Armstrong delivered a pre-game blistering to manager John McLaren and his coaching staff while McLaren issued a post-game tirade and Bavasi took away post-game food and towels and forced the players to stand by their lockers and face the media didn't work, either. Really?

Bavasi's assistant, Lee Pelekoudas, will take over as GM on an interim basis, mainly because somebody must fill the spot. The moves with Pentland and Bavasi are only the beginning.

This is a club in dire need of a complete overhaul, from the executive offices to the clubhouse.

Posted on: June 13, 2008 11:14 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2008 11:54 pm
 

Somebody take these targets off Atlanta's back

Not that Atlanta's recent run of injuries has bordered on the absurd, but a baseball came zooming out of the sky to knock slugger Chipper Jones out of the lineup Friday night in Anaheim.

Just like a meteor or something.

Actually, what happened was this: Jones, leading the majors with a .414 batting average, took a cut during batting practice, drilled the ball skyward ... but it slammed into one of the batting cage poles and ricocheted straight down, slamming into his left eye. Fortunately, the Braves announced late Saturday that X-rays were negative and are listing Jones as day-to-day.

For any other team, it might have been a freak thing.

For the Braves, who took a six-game losing streak into the weekend and were an embarrassing 7-24 on the road, it was business as usual.

The Braves currently have 10 players on the disabled list -- key players, like John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Mike Hampton, Mark Kotsay, Mike Gonzalez, Peter Moylan and a whole host of others.

Then there's reliever Rafael Soriano, who was just activated on June 2 but still can't (or won't) pitch on consecutive days.

And then there's Jair Jurrjens, who was scratched from Wednesday's start in Chicago when he turned an ankle falling down the stairs outside of the Wrigley Field visting clubhouse.

"We've had tough luck," said Tim Hudson, the rare member of the opening day rotation still standing, was saying not long before Jones took the ball off of his coconut and was lost Friday night. "Smoltz, Soriano ... nagging injuries throughout the year.

"Glavine's down. It's tough. We're not going to throw a pity party. It seems like every team is going through it. But we've been hit with some tough ones."

Even before Jones was taken for precautionary X-rays Friday night, the Braves put Smoltz on a conference call at midday to discuss his shoulder surgery. The legendary right-hander, though finished for the season, was optimistic on the call that he will come back.

Meantime, the Braves announced that tests revealed a small tear in Glavine's elbow but that he won't need surgery and should be back around the All-Star break.

It's not good at the back end of the bullpen, either, where Moylan last year developed into one of manager Bobby Cox's most trusted set-up men. Moylan had Tommy John ligament transfer surgery earlier this season.

"His stuff was as dirty as anyone's in the game," Hudson said.

Entering this weekend, 17 disabled list moves had cost the Braves 507 games.

Likes: The Iowa Boy Scouts. Now those are scouts. ... The halo on the Big A outside Angels Stadium being lit on nights following a victory but remaining dark on nights following a loss. ... David Letterman's Top Ten Signs an NBA Game is Fixed the other night, which included: 10. Game begins 20 minutes before visiting team arrives. 7. Missed three-pointers count for two points if they're "pretty close." 3. The team loses even though it led in points, delegates and the popular vote. ... The cab that Dave O'Brien, beat man for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Mark Bowman, of MLB.com, was involved in an accident on the Dan Ryan Freeway in Chicago on Friday morning as the pair were attempting to travel to Southern California. Good news is, it was a minor fender-bender and everyone was OK. But O'Brien, vice-president of the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America, and Bowman were forced to unload their bags from the cab and frantically hail another mode of transportation right there on the freeway. A Super Shuttle picked them up.

Dislikes: Sad, sad day when Tim Russert suddenly passes away at the far-too-young age of 58. Prayers for his family.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Mama, take this badge off of me
"I can't use it anymore.
"It's gettin' dark, too dark for me to see
"I feel like I'm knockin' on heaven's door."

-- Bob Dylan, Knockin' on Heaven's Door

Posted on: June 12, 2008 8:09 pm
 

Down the road with Wood and Prior


You missed what undoubtedly was one of the season's more touching conversations last week. So did I.

See, you and I weren't privy to it when Cubs closer Kerry Wood picked up the telephone and called his old rotation-mate, Mark Prior.

Prior, battling more pain, was forced to abort another comeback attempt -- this one with San Diego -- last week to undergo another surgery. This time, Prior had another tear in his shoulder. This makes it two season-ending surgeries in two years for Prior.

Ironically, the 27-year-old right-hander was undergoing surgery while the Cubs were in San Diego last week. Wood phoned him just before Prior went under the knife.

"He's had the same s--- before," Wood said. "Hopefully, he'll get through this. He's been through it before."

There's nobody else in the world who could talk with either of these two men as knowingly and honestly as they can talk with each other. Can't be. Nobody has lived through what Wood and Prior lived through in Chicago in the early 2000s, attempting to live up to those incredibly lofty (and, as it turned out, unreal) expectations, battling the injuries, never quite living up to what Cubs fans hoped.

Five outs from the 2003 World Series and it never would get any better than that. Prior started Games 2 and 6 against Florida in the '03 NL Championship Series; Wood started Games 3 and 7.

When the Cubs blew it, everybody braced for Prior and Wood to lead them to the promised land in '04 or, surely, by '05.

Never happened. There was soreness and pain and ice and the disabled list.

Now Wood's career as a starter is ostensibly finished, and he's thriving as the Cubs' closer.

Prior already seems washed up at 27. He's finished for this season, but vows to make another comeback attempt in 2009.

"He'll get through this, and hopefully he gets the chance to be healthy and pitch again," Wood said. "And if he doesn't, he's got a great family.

"He'll be OK."

Likes: David Ortiz becoming a U.S. citizen. How cool is it that Big Papi cares enough to do that? ... Tampa Bay. What an exciting, athletic, smart team. ... Kerry Wood's success as Cubs closer. He's been through so much, and he's so competitive, it's nice to see him finally healthy and having some success. ... The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert. ... WGN running Nostalgia Night, or whatever it's called, and breaking out the WKRP in Cincinnati reruns. ... Correcting an old error by picking up a two-disc Dusty Springfield set. The error: Buying the Shelby Lynne disc of her interpreting some of Dusty's classics. No soul at all in that disc. Teaches me a lesson to just go for the original in the first place. Valuable lesson in a lot of areas.

Dislikes: Come on, give Ken Griffey Jr. the baseball from home run No. 600. The bickering is ridiculous.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Well she was blond and tall
"She was 23
"Brought into the world
"To get the best of me
"And she never paid back
"Half what she stole
"She wanted my money
"So I gave her my soul"

-- Mudcrutch, The Wrong Thing to Do


Posted on: June 10, 2008 11:49 pm
 

Boats, beaches, AC and the Rays

Not only is one Tampa resident with a pretty good major-league background happy to see Tampa Bay's ascent this season, he's thrilled at the prospect of the Rays finally getting closer to a new ballpark, too.

But you can rest assured that Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who managed the Rays from 2003-2005, would do things a bit differently if someone handed him a draftsman's table and pencil.

"I hope so," he said when someone asked him whether he thinks the fans eventually will turn out to watch this Rays team during a conversation last week. "I hope the fans do turn out.

"I wasn't really crazy about the idea they had for a new ballpark, though."

The initial drawings for Tampa Bay's new baseball stadium look very cool. Plans are for it to be built on the site of historical Al Lang Field, the longtime spring training facility, right on the St. Petersburg waterfront.

It resembles a big sailboat, with a retractable roof that will be comprised of a light, weatherproof fabric. The idea is to shield the field from rain while leaving an open-air feel to the park. The club is advertising "sweeping waterfront views."

Mostly sounds pretty good.

What's not to like?

"I think they need (a park) like Houston's," Piniella said. "Open-air tent, Al Lang Field ... there's no parking down there. It's not an air-conditioned dome, which is what they need.

"It rains quite a bit in Florida in the summer in the late afternoon. It's muggy. If I had anything to do with it, which I don't, I'd build a ballpark just like Houston's. It would work in Tampa and it would work in Miami.

"They've got that tent thing. A hurricane comes, there won't be a tent there anymore."

Whatever, the feeling here is, anything is better than the catwalks in Tropicana Field. And the St. Pete waterfront is a beautiful location.

Now, all they need is -- gulp -- to secure the funding to get it done. Right now it must be approved via public referendum, so the pressure is on the Rays to get it onto the November ballot in the city of St. Petersburg.

They do that, they've got a chance to be in a new park by Opening Day 2012.

They don't, the battle continues.

Likes: Ken Griffey Jr.'s 600th. Here's to the The Kid doing it the right way. ... Longtime Mets beat writer Marty Noble, now covering the team for mlb.com, acknowledging that pitcher Wil Ledezma spells his first name oddly but concluding that "you can't blame a pitcher for giving up an extra 'L'." ... Marc Topkin, veteran Tampa Bay beat writer for the St. Petersburg Times, delivering a box of In-N-Out burgers to the Rays' radio men, Andy Freed and Dave Wills, at Angels Stadium before Tuesday's game. Inexplicably, neither of the two -- both in their fourth seasons -- had ever had In-N-Out. ... Bob Nightengale's feature on Mike Scioscia in USA Today, specifically the revelation that Scioscia proposed to his wife of 23 years, Anne, over a drive-thru dinner of In-N-Out burgers. I told Scioscia on Tuesday that that might be my favorite thing I've heard this season. "That double-double was good," Scioscia responded, grinning broadly. I think he meant it tasted even better after his then-fiance said yes, but I can't be sure. ... Tampa Bay outfielders Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton. Not only are they talented on the field, they get it off of the field. ... The latest disc from the Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation's Dark. Some terrific stuff on there.

Dislikes: Let's just say I had to fill up my car with gas today.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"He likes to drink a beer or two every now and again,
"He always had more dogs than he ever had friends
"Bob ain't light in the loafers
"He might kneel but he never bends over"

-- Drive-By Truckers, Bob

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com