Welcome to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ fire sale! Inventory is going fast, so hurry up and get in on the action! Everything must go!
Don’t be fooled though; what may have looked like a going-out-of-business sale was really just the Pirates front office finally getting down to business. It is very rare when the “selling” team on multiple trades comes out ahead, but that has been the case with almost every trade the Bucs have made.
Here’s a quick rundown of the trades that Pittsburgh has made:
- Sent Nate McClouth to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke
- Sent Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to the Washington Nationals for outfielder Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan
- Sent Eric Hinske to the New York Yankees for outfielder Eric Fryer and pitcher Casey Erickson
- Sent Adam LaRoche to the Boston Red Sox for shortstop Argenis Diaz and pitcher Hunter Strickland
- Sent Jack Wilson and Ian Snell to the Seattle Mariners for infielders Jeff Clement and Ronny Cedeno and pitchers Aaron Pribanic, Brett Lorin and Nathan Adcock
- Sent Freddie Sanchez to the San Francisco Giants for pitcher Tim Alderson
- Sent John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Chicago Cubs for infielder Josh Harrison and pitchers Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio
Phew. That’s a hectic trading season. If just listing the transactions off doesn’t quite hammer home how active the team has been, take a look at the Pirates’ lineup from June 1 against the Mets:
- Morgan, LF
- Sanchez, 2B
- McClouth, CF
- Ad. LaRoche, 1B
- Hinske, RF
- An. LaRoche, 3B
- Jaramillo, C
- Wilson, SS
- Snell, P
And the relief pitchers used included both Burnett and Gorzelanny. That’s 9 players used in one game that got traded within the next two months. The major league squad has seen almost a complete turnover. This is all the makings of the most egregious salary dump of all time. Until you look a little more closely at what GM Neal Huntington got in return for these players.
The crown jewel of the Pirates’ haul is Alderson, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. He’s a future ace, and makes the rest of their pitching prospects look that much better with less pressure on them. He can join Zach Duke, Paul Malholm, Charlie Morton and Kevin Hart/Daniel McCutchen/Brad Lincoln to form a very formidable rotation.
If Lastings Milledge ever decides he wants to pan out, then an outfield with him, Andrew McCutchen, Gorkys Hernandez, Jose Tabata and Steven Pearce could be one of the best in baseball. The infield is looking pretty solid, as well. Clement was a top ten prospect as recently as the beginning of last year. If he can cut down the strikeouts without sacrificing the power, he’d be a huge asset either behind the plate or at first base. Ronny Cedeno and Diaz are basically clones of Freddie Sanchez and Jack Wilson, but younger and cheaper. And the Pirates already had the best third base prospect around in Pedro Alvarez, yet still added another good player at the hot corner in Harrison.
The Pirates have the unfortunate appearance of giving up (which, to be fair, they are for now), but I think that this is the start of resurgence of baseball in the Steel City, and fans should be excited to see these young players in action in the next few years.
Late last night (or early this morning if you don’t like to party), everyone in the Dallas Cowboys organization finally talked Jerry Jones into releasing team cancer and wanna-be badass Terrell Owens. This morning, they also officially released Roy Williams, a defensive lineman who has been masquerading as a safety for years. Neither of these players fit into the locker room or the schemes of the what the Cowboys, and these moves were a long time coming.
Everyone knows all about the shenanigans that T.O. has pulled over the years, so there’s no point in rehashing. Let’s talk about where his next display of unnecessary drama will take place.
- Oakland Raiders – The dumping ground for players nobody else wants (hello, Randy Moss, circa 2005, and Aaron Brooks the year after). Why wouldn’t Al Davis want this attention-grabbing gem? The media horny old owner would love to attract any and all publicity in an attempt to return to relevance. I guess someone should tell him that the idea is to become relevant in terms of wins and not Google hits.
- Tennessee Titans – Jeff Fisher is a no-nonsense coach, and he needs a big play receiver (no offense, Nate Washington). He could handle T.O.’s personality, and Kerry Collins could handle the critiquing of the prima donna.
- Washington Redskins – Doubtful, but Dan Synder is like Jerry Jones-lite. He already has big money tied up in Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle-El, Devin Thomas, and Malcolm Kelly at the receiver position; he doesn’t need to add to that. Plus, he already forked over a bajillion dollars to meet his “I’m Overrated, But I’m A Big Name So I Should Get Big Money” quota for this offseason when he resigned DeAngelo Hall.
- Miami Dolphins – A bit of a wildcard, but Bill Parcells could use a receiver (Ginn and Bess played well, but neither are number one material) and he’s got the cap space to make it work. He’s handled prissy, whiny wideouts before (Keyshawn Johnson, Joey Galloway, and *gasp* Terrell Owens!), and he could do it again here. They have had a rocky relationship, but both guys clearly want to win more than anything. With the Fins so close to contending, Owens could put them over the top.
When a team is willing to take a $9 million salary cap hit just to get rid of a player, even without knowing the history of that player, you have to be concerned. Owens is clearly on the downside of a unique career. If you look at the numbers, he’s Hall of Fame material, and any team would be lucky to have him. Then you realize that you’re also getting all the extra baggage, and the only thing you can say is:
“What’s the number for Ashley Lelie’s agent?”
The Scouthing Combine is this week, and we here at Not From Bristol wanted to put together a Mock Draft to offer a basis for comparison as the offseason progresses. Anton Matye drafted for the NFC teams, and I picked for the AFC teams. We picked based on team needs and who we’ve heard the teams are showing interest in. Expect these interests to change dramatically over the next 9 weeks, and we’ll offer up some new projections along the way, too.
- 1. Detroit (0-16) Aaron Curry, OLB Wake Forest
- 2. St. Louis (2-14) Andre Smith, OT Alabama
- 3. Kansas City (2-14) Matthew Stafford, QB Georgia
- 4. Seattle (4-12) Michael Crabtree, WR Texas Tech
- 5. Cleveland (4-12) Everette Brown, DE Florida State
- 6. Cincinnati (4-11-1) Eugene Monroe, OT Virginia
- 7. Oakland (5-11) Jeremy Maclin, WR Missouri
- 8. Jacksonville (5-11) Michael Oher, OT Ole Miss
- 9. Green Bay (6-10) Brian Orakpo, DE Texas
- 10. San Francisco (7-9) Malcolm Jenkins, CB Ohio State
- 11. Buffalo (7-9) B.J. Raji, DT Boston College
- 12. Denver (8-8) Rey Maualuga, ILB USC
- 13. Washington (8-8) Jason Smith, OT Baylor
- 14. New Orleans (8-8) Brian Cushing, OLB USC
- 15. Houston (8-8) Michael Johnson, DE Georgia Tech
- 16. San Diego (8-8) Vontae Davis, CB Illinois
- 17. New York Jets (9-7) Chris Wells, RB Ohio State
- 18. Chicago (9-7) Aaron Maybin, DE Penn State
- 19. Tampa Bay (9-7) Brandon Pettigrew, TE Oklahoma State
- 20. Detroit – from Dallas (9-7) Mark Sanchez, QB USC
- 21. Philadelphia (9-6-1) Duke Robinson, OG Oklahoma
- 22. Minnesota (10-6) Alphonso Smith, CB Wake Forest
- 23. New England (11-5) James Laurinaitis, ILB Ohio State
- 24. Atlanta (11-5) Tyson Jackson, DE LSU
- 25. Miami (11-5) Alex Mack, C Cal
- 26. Baltimore (11-5) D.J. Moore, CB Vanderbilt
- 27. Indianapolis (12-4) Peria Jerry, DT Ole Miss
- 28. Philadelphia – from Carolina (12-4) William Moore, S Missouri
- 29. New York Giants (12-4) Percy Harvin, WR Florida
- 30. Tennessee (13-3) Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR Maryland
- 31. Arizona (9-7) LeSean McCoy, RB Pitt
- 32. Pittsburgh (12-4) Eben Britton, OT Arizona
- 1. Detroit (0-16) Max Unger, C Oregon
- 2. Kansas City (2-14) Clint Sintim, OLB Virginia
- 3. St. Louis (2-14) Clay Matthews, OLB USC
- 4. Cleveland (4-12) Knowshon Moreno, RB Georgia
- 5. Seattle (4-12) Darius Butler, CB Connecticut
- 6. Cincinnati (4-11-1) Larry English, DE Northern Illinois
- 7. Jacksonville (5-11) Hakeem Nicks, WR North Carolina
- 8. Oakland (5-11) William Beatty, OT Connecticut
- 9. Green Bay (6-10) Fili Moala, DT USC
- 10. Buffalo (7-9) Connor Barwin, DE Cincinnati
- 11. San Francisco (7-9) Tyrone McKenzie, OLB South Florida
- 12. Miami – from Washington (8-8) Louis Delmas, S Western Michigan
- 13. New York Giants – from New Orleans (8-8) Sean Smith, CB Utah
- 14. Houston (8-8) Patrick Chung, S Oregon
- 15. New England – from San Diego (8-8) Victor Harris, CB Virginia Tech
- 16. Denver (8-8) Ron Brace, DT Boston College
- 17. Chicago (9-7) Kenny Britt, WR Rutgers
- 18. Tampa Bay (9-7) Josh Freeman, QB Kansas State
- 19. Dallas (9-7) Mike Mickens, CB Cincinnati
- 20. New York Jets (9-7) Jairus Byrd, CB Oregon
- 21. Philadelphia (9-6-1) Alex Boone, OT Ohio State
- 22. Minnesota (10-6) Herman Johnson, OG LSU
- 23. Atlanta (11-5) Jared Cook, TE South Carolina
- 24. Miami (11-5) Phil Loadholt, OT Oklahoma
- 25. Baltimore (11-5) Robert Ayers, DE Tennessee
- 26. New England (11-5) Shonn Greene, RB Iowa
- 27. Carolina (12-4) Sen’Derrick Marks, DT Auburn
- 28. New York Giants (12-4) Paul Kruger, DE Utah
- 29. Indianapolis (12-4) Juaquin Iglesias, WR Oklahoma
- 30. Tennessee (13-3) Dominique Johnson, CB Jackson State
- 31. Arizona (9-7) Gerald McRath, OLB Southern Miss
- 32. Pittsburgh (12-4) Jonathan Luigs, C Arkansas
After the Combine is over and free agents start to find their homes, we’ll put up and adjusted draft. Until then, enjoy!
Ken Griffey, Jr. is one of the greatest players in the history of baseball. No question about it. Just not any more. If there is any question about whether or not Griffey has used any PEDs, check the stats; Junior’s been in decline for years, even when he wasn’t hurt. He had every right to sign wherever he wanted, and any team would have been lucky to have his seat-filling name on their roster. But he would have been a terrible fit for his most commonly linked suitor, the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves need a left-handed hitting complement to platoon with Matt Diaz in left field, and Griffey certainly qualified for half of that need. The only problem is the whole “left field” thing. At this point in this career, he should pretty much just change the “JR” to a “DH.” It’s the only way to get proper value out of him. Over the last 5 years, his average run value in the field is a startling NEGATIVE 21.8. (To give some perspective, the oft-maligned glove of Manny Ramirez has only been negative 12.6 runs in more games over that same time period.) Any positive contributions he would make with his bat would be completely negated by his woeful defensive play.
The free agent the Braves should be going after is Garret Anderson. His projected stat line of .277/.319/.428 is fairly similar to Griffey’s projected line of .248/.336/.434. But where Anderson really pulls away is in defense. When he was finally healthy last year, he was able to contribute 9.3 runs of value defensively. He is actually a plus defender compared to Griffey’s defensive liability.
Junior’s signing with the Mariners is a blessing in disguise for the Braves. They won’t be burdened by having to play an aging superstar; they won’t have to adjust their lineup to fit him into his usual number 3 three slot; and they can actually take the time to sign the right player for them now, Mr. Garret Anderson.
Good luck, Frank Wren!
When discussing which Major League Baseball team was the best over the course of the 1990′s, only two teams have a strong case to be included in the debate: the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. And since nobody really likes the Yankees (right?), we’ll talk about the Braves.
The Braves absolutely dominated the National League; they had a winning percentage of .600, 9 division titles (14 in a row, extending into the current decade), 5 NL Pennants and 1 World Series victory. With a pitching staff that included Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, they could stifle anyone, and only needed minimal contributions from their consistently solid offense. Javy Lopez, Fred McGriff, and David Justice paved the way, and, after being joined by Ryan Klesko and Chipper Jones, they became the premier lineup in the majors. Adding a young Andruw Jones to the mix and replacing the veteran middle infield of Jeff Blauser and Mark Lemke with Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles (ignoring the Walt Weiss and Keith Lockhart/Bret Boone years; yikes) further separated this roster from the pack. Their run, starting in 1991, was unprecedented and isn’t likely to be matched. They were immensely likeable, and were my first non-local sports team love (leading to my love of all current NL East teams, actually) (Nationals excluded, obviously). Then reality set in; nobody can be that good forever. They were lucky enough to have everything click for a very long time, and then be able to patch up leaks as they happened; but then the boat finally sank.
2004 is when the Braves really started to show that they were slipping. They followed up two consecutive 101 win seasons with 96 wins that year, their first without at least two of their big three pitchers in 17 years. This was also the first season without their stalwart backstop, Javy Lopez, who departed for the Baltimore Orioles. They paraded out a front end of the rotation that featured Russ Ortiz, John Thomson, and Jaret Wright; it’s incredible that they were able to get as much out of their staff as they did in order to win another division crown. In 2005, Tim Hudson joined a healthy John Smoltz in the rotation, but the Braves had to piecemeal the back end together, and dropped to just 90 wins. That was still good enough for tops in the division, masking the downfall for at least one more season. Then, in 2006, they were supplanted by the New York Mets for the top spot, as they fell to below .500 for the first time under manager Bobby Cox (he replaced Russ Nixon during the 1990 season). General Manager John Schuerholz and his assistant (and now current G.M.), Frank Wren, tried to keep the dream alive by acquiring veterans like Bob Wickman and Edgar Renteria, but those attempts to maintain superiority failed, capped off by giving up a glut of prospects to Texas for Mark Teixiera. This past year, Atlanta finally realized that they were not going to compete for the postseason, and traded Teix to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and a minor league pitcher, Stephen Marek.
Luckily for Braves fans, all is not lost. The front office did an incredible job of building and developing their farm system through all of their major league success. Excellent drafting, and a few recent moves have prepared this team to start a new run of success within the next couple of years. They traded away Edgar Renteria at maximum value to the Tigers in exchange for Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez. Jurrjens started last year and put up solid numbers; he can be expected to be near the front of the Braves’ rotation for at least the next decade. Hernandez has shown incredible progress in the minors, enough to have many clubs think he could be an All-Star caliber centerfielder on most rosters within two years. The Braves, however, have the luxury of Jason Heyward, one of the best prospects in all of baseball, and Jordan Schafer, a Grady Sizemore clone in the making, waiting in the wings. By the end of the 2010 season, the outfield will likely shape up as follows: Hernandez in leftfield, Schafer in Centerfield, and Heyward in rightfield. That is going to be an offensively dominant trio, with defensive range and skill to boot.
The infield isn’t quite as promising, but is still going to be a very strong unit. Brian McCann might be the best all-around catcher in the past 15 years, and is only getting better. Yunel Escobar is holding down the fort at shortstop. He burst onto the scene in 2007 with an incredible offensive showing (.326/.385/.481), and followed it up this year by being one of the best defensive middle infielders in the entire league. If he puts it all together, he can be a 20-20-.300 hitter, with Gold Glove defense. Kelly Johnson plays a very underrated second base along side Escobar, and is just 26 years old. Kotchman is a decent hitter and a great defensive firstbaseman; however, he is pretty much just a stopgap till Freddy Freeman is ready for the big leagues. Freeman is barely 19 years old, but in High-A ball, hit .316, while slugging a ridiculous .521! His walks rose from rookie league play the previous year, and his strikeout rate stayed about the same. This kid is going to be a stud. The one weak point for the Braves will be the position that has been their strength for the longest time: thirdbase. The Braves have almost no depth at all at the hot corner, and their only viable longterm options are at High-A ball or lower, meaning they are still at least 2 years or so away from the majors. Eric Campbell seems like the most likely to flourish and be given a chance in the bigs. He has been in the organization 3 years, improving in all facets of the game each year. He has tons of raw power and an increasingly good eye at the plate; think Adam Dunn, but with a little less power and solid infield defense. The next option would be Brandon Hicks, a shortstop by trade, but can certainly slide over one spot. He hasn’t done much of anything so far, but is considered to be a top prospect amongst Braves brass. The team can only hope, however, that Larry-Call-Me-Chipper can keep it up for three or four more years.
The last key to the Braves’ resurgance will be the most important. This team knows what wins; hell, they’re the ones that pretty much made the formula. Pitching has to be the focus of any successful club. As mentioned earlier, they picked up Jair Jurrjens in a trade, and gave up some medium-profile prospects (the recently acquired Marek being one of them) and one high-profile prospect (Tyler Flowers, who plays catcher and would never break through for the Braves as long as McCann is there) for Javier Vazquez, a great pitcher who may be the product of years and years of bad luck. They also have a solid starter in Jorge Campillo, who may have the best changeup in the league (that pitch moves over 9 inches!). With the signings of Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami, the staff has been rounded out for the next few years. Lowe is pretty much Greg Maddux-lite (groundball pitcher, innings eater, never hurt, great teammate), and Kawakami had one of the sickest curveballs in Asia last year. If that pitch holds up with the different size ball used in MLB, then he will be one heck of a find. This current rotation holds a lot of potential, but it also could fall apart pretty easily. Campillo has flamed out for the Braves (this is his second tour with them) and Mariners before, Vazquez could continue his bad luck (or prove that he’s just not as good as his talent would suggest), and Kawakami could be another Hideki Irabu. This current arrangement, though, is not what Braves fans should be excited about. This organization has amassed possibly the best pitching prospect depth out of any team. Tommy Hanson might be the best prospect in baseball, and he’s pretty close to major league ready. Cole Rohrbough is an incredible power lefthanded pitcher. Craig Kimball is going to be the next Jonathon Papelbon. Charlie Morton had a bit of a rough year in 2008 as a 24 year old rookie (to be expected), but he should develop into one of the better back of the rotation starters. If Tim Hudson can get healthy or if Derek Lowe stays healthy, they will have more starting pitching depth than they know what to do with. And that’s not even acknowledging that 3 of their top 10 prospects are pitchers Jeff Locke, Julio Teheran, and Kris Medlan. This pitching staff has the potential to be even better than the one that made them so dominant during the 90′s.
After a few years of missing the playoffs, and in all likelihood, a few more, this Braves team will return to prominence and start competing not just for division titles, but for World Series crowns.
48 – 20.
Let me say that again.
Forty-eight to twenty.
That is the beatdown that the Philadelphia Eagles put on the Arizona Cardinals on Thanksgiving. I guess we don’t need to go any deeper than that. They probably don’t even need to play the game. Eagles in the Super Bowl: done deal, right?
Not even close.
Philadelphia needed that game. That game was their season. They had to come together as a team that week, or they could kiss the playoffs goodbye. And it happened for them. On the other hand, Arizona had everything essentially locked up. They decided to rest their Hall of Fame running back starting pretty much in the preseason, and they simply were not prepared to play against a defense as tricky as the one Jim Johnson brings to the table.
This week is totally different. Arizona might be the hottest team left in the playoffs. They shut down two of the best running attacks out there the past two weeks (Atlanta and Carolina) and has created 9 turnovers (yes, nine; more than the vaunted Ravens defense in as many games). This offense tore it up against a staunch Panthers defense, and has finally put together a running game behind Edgerrin James to take some pressure off of Kurt Warner’s aerial assault.
The NFL playoff structure gives bye weeks to the top 2 seeds in each conference; this allows those teams an extra week to get healthy without the risk of elimination; however, it seems like those teams are at a disadvantage because they lose any momentum that they had during the regular season. The Cardinals didn’t fall into that category, but got the best of both worlds. They used their playoff security to keep themselves healthy through the last few weeks of the regular season, but were able to keep their game faces on each and every Sunday leading up to this weekend. They were even able to win last week without Anquan Boldin, one of the best wide receivers in the league (even if he is the second best on his own team).
Despite all that Arizona has going for them, that drubbing laid upon them by Philly cannot be ignored. And to be fair, the Eagles are on an impressive roll themselves. Beginning with that victory over the Cards on Thanksgiving, Philly has gone 6-1, outscoring their opponents 194-85. McNabb is playing some of the best football of his career, the defense seems to be evolving every game, and David Akers is the best kicker in the history of kickers. If Brian Westbrook and the Eagle offensive line can put together a decent running performance, then there are pretty much zero holes in this team.
With both sides pretty much evenly matched, it may come down to which quarterback has the stronger bones.
Prediction: Cardinals 34, Eagles 26.
The Pittsburgh Steelers earned their way (two close games versus the Ravens and all) to the number 2 seed, the highest left in the playoffs, thus giving them homefield advantage in this game. They are just three years removed from a Super Bowl victory and still have a bulk of that roster in tact. Big Ben has used his brief career so far to establish himself as one of the best playoff quarterbacks in the league. Willie Parker has fought through injuries to finally break out last week with a huge performance, finally giving the new Steel Curtain a viable complement on the other side of the ball. The Steelers used their bye week to get healthy and are putting everything together at just the right time.
But if the Steelers are firing on 6 cylinders, then the Ravens are burning 8 (at least the Steelers have a heated steering wheel). This team creates more opportunites for themselves than any team I can remember, their own 2001 Super Bowl-winning team included. This defense is scary good and can not only stop you from scoring, but put up points for their own team, too. Ed Reed is a monster, and when he gets an interception this Sunday (and you KNOW he will), expect it to be taken back for 6.
The key for both teams to win will be efficiency and quarterback play. The Ravens have turned the ball over once in two playoff games this year, while forcing 8; the Steelers, meanwhile, turned it over twice on downs, while only forcing two turnovers by the Chargers. It is often said that whomever wins the turnover battle will win the game, and with these two defenses opposing each other, that statement will never be more true.
When the Steelers made their magical run through the playoffs, capped off by their 5th Super Bowl win, Ben Roethlisberger was not put in a spot where he had to be a playmaker on a consistent basis. He made a few plays when he had to, and just didn’t make mistakes. Sound like anyone this year? Mr. Joe Flacco has been just that for his Ravens team. He may be a rookie, but he’s the only “rookie” ever to be making his 19th start. If he can continue his solid play, he’ll draw even more comparisons to his counterpart this Sunday, and lead his team to Tampa Bay to play in Super Bowl XLIII.
Prediction: Ravens 23, Steelers 17
You heard me right. “Just.” You only need 75% of the vote from the BBWAA to be enshrined in Coopeerstown, but it is downright criminal that the greatest thief ever didn’t get nominated on 100% of the 539 current ballots.
Check out these stats real quick:
- 1,406 stolen bases (Lou Brock is in second place with 938)
- 2,295 runs scored (Ty Cobb is right behind him in second with 2,246)
- 21st all-time in doubles (3,055)
- 873 extra base hits (64th all-time, and most of any full-time leadoff hitter)
- OBP over .400
Slick Rickey is often considered the best leadoff hitter of all time and, at the very least, has to be considered in the top 5 in that spot. To think that there are 28 baseball writers out there who don’t think that he should be in the Hall of Fame is just ridiculous. When Call Ripken gets more votes despite being one of the most overrated players ever, there’s a problem. Think about it, Cal won his MVPs in relatively down years, never hit for much power, never had enough time to put the crutches down to actually steal bases, played little-league level defense at shortstop and hurt his team by playing injured in order to keep his “streak” going. I digress. (Note: I definitely think Ripken is a great player and deserves to be in the HoF, but my point is that there’s no way he’s more worthy that Rickey.)
Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but when a truly great player doesn’t get all the respect he deserves, it just frustrates me.
Regardless of vote counts, congratulations to Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice (who finally drummed up enough sympathy to overcome his average play throughout his career) for being given baseball’s highest honor: entering the Hall of Fame. You’ll be remembered forever. By most of us.
What’s 6’10″, hasn’t changed his hair since before I was born, and just gave a 72-win team the best rotation in the National League? No, not Larry Fortensky. (I’ve never even seen him pitch.) It’s Randall David Johnson. He joins Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito to form the first trio of Cy Young winners on one roster since the Braves boasted a front end consisting of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, and just the 8th trio ever, after the previously mentioned 1993-2002 Braves, the 2001 and 1998 Red Sox, the 2000 Yankees, the 1981 and 1980 Orioles, and the 1980 Rangers.
Granted, Zito has been at best a shell of his former self, and Lincecum seems like he’s about 14, but they have talent from top to bottom. Last year’s Cy Young winner, Lincecum, has shown that he can be one of the most consistent and durable pitchers over the course of an entire season. And don’t let his tiny frame fool you, the kid can fire the ball; he frequently tops 100 mph, and stays in the mid- to high-90′s throughout the course of the game. He’s been a highly regarded prospect since being drafted 10th overall by the Giants in 2006 (he was drafted the two previous years in the 48th and 42nd rounds by the Cubs and Indians, respectively, but didn’t sign) out of the University of Washington, and has lived up to his hype by flying through the minors and into stardom in the big league.
Matt Cain will hold down the number two spot in the rotation after solid 2008. His record left something to be desired at 8-14, but he posted a career high 186 strikeouts, while maintaining a more than respectable ERA of 3.76. His inflated BABIP (batting average on balls in play against, .304) and HR/FB% (home run/fly ball percentage, 6.8%) point to last year’s performance being somewhat unlucky and actually much better than even the stats indicate. With a regression to expected peripherals and any kind of run support at all this year, 13-15 wins isn’t out of the question.
The Big Unit will fall into place as possibly the best number three starter on any team in the majors (ever?). Johnson will turn 46 this season, so some decline is a guarantee, but he showed he still had plenty of gas left in the tank last year, working his way back from injury to be extremely productive. His strikeouts have been on the way down, and his walks have risen recently, but even taking a little bit away from one of the greatest pitchers ever still leaves you with a very good player. One of the biggest factors working in Johnson’s favor is that his new ball park, AT&T Park, is a much better pitcher’s park than Chase Field in Arizona, especially for someone as good as Johnson at stifling left handed bats. And not to take anything away from a young and promising outfield in Arizona, but San Francisco boasts one of the best outfield defenses in all of baseball, with Fred Lewis in leftfield, Aaron Rowand in centerfield and Randy Winn in rightfield. That unit is probably second only to Seattle’s additions of Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez to the ageless Ichiro.
The order of the 4th and 5th starters will depend on how the front office and manager Bruce Bochy value the financial commitment to Zito versus the merit of Jonathon Sanchez, who came on strong in the second half last season and earned his place in the rotation. By now, everyone must know that Zito has been more up and down than Oprah’s weight, but you don’t win a Cy Young without talent, and Zito is no exception. Unfortunately, though, all signs point to the fact that Zito has simply become a more hittable pitcher; he has lost velocity and some control, and age is taking a toll on him. However, he still has enough ability to put up an ERA around 4, which should net him somewhere around 10-12 wins. Sanchez, though, is a stud in the making. He possesses one of the most important qualities a pitcher can have: big time strikeout ability. His numbers don’t look that great from 2008, but they are an aberration from his minor league track record, as well as a result of some bad luck (.327 BABIP, 8.4% HR/FB%) and surprisingly poor defense when he was on the mound (3.85 FIP, fielding-independent ERA, versus 5.01 ERA).
The Cubs and Diamondbacks deserve mention in the discussion of best rotations (Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren alone give them each good arguments), but I feel that not only do the Giants have the best depth at starter, but number 2 on that list is the Florida Marlins (that’s a discussion for a different day, though).
The Giants are going to be asking a lot out of several young, mostly-untested players, including 3 babies in the rotation, but I urge you to have faith. With this new found starting pitching strength, a retooled bullpen that includes the newly signed Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry, as well as top returning performers Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo, and a few key offensive signings (Edgar Renteria and Josh Phelps, namely), the Giants are primed to be a sleeper candidate to make the playoffs. And who knows, they may even win a series or two with their outstanding top three pitchers.
It’s that time of the year that everyone waits for: the release of the Baseball Hall of Fame ballots! I’m sure everyone has had their calendars marked (since they brought them out 9 days ago) for this coming Monday. (Oh, just me?) The 575 qualified voters have sent in their ballots and the whole world is waiting with bated breath for the results of the tally. There are some usual faces on the list of candidates (Jim Rice, Tommy John, Andre Dawson and Burt Blyleven), several first-time-eligible players (Rickey Henderson, Jay Bell, David Cone and Mark Grace) and one very juice-y, very controversial candidate: Mark McGwire.
There are two things that even the most casual of fans knows about McGwire: he was the first to break Roger Maris’ single-season homerun record, and he was heavily involved in the steroid investigation. If the first fact guaranteed his acceptance into the Hall, then the second seemingly had an equal and opposite effect. Luckily for McGwire, the people that vote on these things are slightly more than casual fans (except for Pedro Gomez).
For those who aren’t extreme baseball enthusiasts, I’ll rundown a quick list of Big Mac’s accomplishments (found here):
- Currently sitting #8 on the all-time home run leaderboard, with Alex Rodriguez lurking a scant 50 bombs behind him (should pass him by the AllStar break, I’m guessing).
- #9 in career Slugging Percentage, slightly higher than such lumber luminaries as Joe DiMaggio, Rogers Hornsby and Albert Belle (ha).
- #11 on the all-time OPS (On base plus Slugging) list, just above other greats like Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial.
- An On base percentage of .3942, which is only good enough for 77th all-time, but still puts him in the same range as HOFers Rod Carew and Joe Morgan.
- Chosen for 12 AllStar teams, finished in the top 10 in MVP voting five times and was awarded the Gold Glove in 1990.
- Led his team to the playoffs 6 times, won a pennant 3 times and capped off the 1989 season with a World Series victory.
The importance of home runs cannot be overstated. Obviously there is more to baseball than just jacking out longballs, but there is nothing more exciting than seeing a baseball disappear over an outfield wall. With a home run, there is one outcome and one outcome only: run(s) scored; and since this isn’t golf, that’s a good thing. So, you’d have to imagine that when someone does that at a pace more prolific than 99.9% of the people who have attempted it before him, it would only seem appropriate to honor him with induction into the HOF, right?
OBP is often considered the single most important stat in baseball. It makes sense that the more times you’re on base, the better your chance is of scoring. Pretty common sense stuff. Now even though Markie Mark’s not one the very best ever, he’s still light years ahead of the average player. Many detractors look to his meager lifetime batting average (.263) and use that as reasoning for why he shouldn’t be inducted. Granted, it is definitely a low mark, and well below what should be expected out of a HOF type player, but OBP is a much better reflection of how consistent a hitter McGwire actually was.
Compared to his peers and predecessors, and based on performance and stats alone, there is absolutely no doubt that McGwire should be in the Hall; but a couple of people have had a profound impact on McGwire’s social and historical status. George Mitchell and Jose Canseco apparently think that just because they never played baseball well (even though one of them thinks they did and still can), that nobody ever did, at least not honestly. McGwire has admitted to using andro, a legal supplement, and has not been found guilty of anything else, despite many accusations. The simple fact that he’s come under investigation has turned off baseball purists, who now refuse to allow him into the most holy of holy places, Cooperstown.
The fact remains that we don’t know exactly what happened, with McGwire or anyone, really, and never will. He didn’t break any rules and it certainly isn’t fair to “ex post facto” the rules for him in an attempt to diminish his feats. In a criminal trial, if the defendant is accused but there’s no proof, he’s not going to jail; so why do people try to do that to McGwire? I mean, there’s really no evidence that Big Mac did anything outlandish to increase his physical prowess, is there?
A lot of people during that period went through a pretty similar transformation (Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, me, etc.), so it must be totally normal. We were probably all just going through puberty at the same time. Yeah, that’s it. Puberty.
McGwire’s not likely to make the 75% cut to get voted in this year, after receiving less than 24% last year, but with 12 more years of eligibility after this, hopefully the voters can come to their senses and put this all-time great hitter where he belongs.
No, not jail. The Hall of Fame.