By Marshall Garvey
Let me start this piece with a blunt declaration: I can’t stand Yasiel Puig. Can’t stand him for anything. Not one bit. Not. At. All
Are we clear? Good.
Just about every piece written about Puig these days presents him as a fiery mixed bag of a player, one with A-class talent but a maddening lack of discipline to really become one of the elite athletes in the world (as he knows he’s capable of). Well, not this one. Yes, that aforementioned statement is true enough, but my attitude towards the Dodgers’ controversial superstar is wholly negative these days. I can’t fathom anything about him: his incessant disregard for learning the fundamentals of baseball, his arrogant showboating on the most routine plays, his refusal to adjust as a hitter, his erratic moodiness, his unaccountability….and if anything, the level of talent he has makes his inconsistency and disregard for the fundamentals all the more infuriating. If he showed even a basic, disciplined respect for the science of baseball, he’d be far and away the best player in the National League. Instead, in a year slated to be his definitive breakout, he’s hitting .266 with four homers and 18 RBIs, on top of an injury stint. Hardly the mind-blowing MVP campaign we hoped for, to say the least.
Not to mention, for all of the hype of him being a catalyst player, he’s also proven to be a liability in the playoffs. Granted, this is overshadowed by the shocking, dramatic missteps of Clayton Kershaw in those same postseason series. Don’t get me wrong, Kershaw has certainly failed in the playoffs in huge moments, and still has something to prove. But Puig is arguably worse, being thoroughly held in check in the two series against the Joker to the Dodgers’ Batman, the St. Louis Cardinals. Last October was particularly brutal, with St. Louis pitchers ringing him up a grand total of eight times before he was benched by Don Mattingly for game four at Busch Stadium.
And this is all before getting to the cornucopia of stories recently put forth for public consumption by Molly Knight. Knight’s recent book, The Best Team Money Can Buy (which covers the team’s big budget transformation over the past several years), is packed with moment after moment of Puig driving just about everyone in the Dodger organization and their mother insane. Nearly getting in a physical altercation with Zack Greinke, almost getting in a fight with Justin Turner after trying to bring his entourage on a plane strictly for wives and girlfriends, having an affair with a minor league coach’s daughter, constantly arriving late to practice, and more. Most hilarious (and fitting) is the story behind his #66 jersey number, which was selected as a shorthand of 666 by the clubhouse manager. On the subject of trading Yasiel, one anonymous Dodger player put it forthrightly: “At this point, it would be addition by subtraction.”
In a much less vitriolic, but still discernible way, Puig recently even drew a barb from the usually mild-mannered Don Mattingly. In an interview, Mattingly bluntly put the onus on Puig to adjust as a hitter. What stood out to me about this is that rarely does a manager call out their player like that. Usually, a manager’s discussion of a player’s disappointing performance amounts to some generic babble about how great he is, and how he’ll get it going again soon and whatnot. For the life of me, I can’t once recall a manager actually calling out one of their key players in the media.
Meanwhile, with the July 31 trade deadline drawing ever nearer, the Dodgers find themselves desperately in need of another ace starting pitcher. With Clayton Kershaw settling into his usual form as of late, and Zack Greinke in the midst of a Drysdale/Hershiser-esque scoreless streak, they have easily the best 1-2 punch in baseball. But literally everyone else anywhere near that level (Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Hyun-Jin Ryu) is hurt, and the revolving door of back-end starters (Brandon Beachy, Scott Baker et. al.) hardly captures the imagination. Not to mention, that once ballyhooed discount bullpen, after a dominant start to the season, is regressing pretty badly. (But hey, at least we don’t have Brian Wilson and Chris Perez, amiright?)
So, what’s this Dodger front office braintrust to do? Well, in my view, it’s a simple equation: Trade Yasiel Puig as the centerpiece of a package for another starting pitcher…and perhaps more.
Even with all of Puig’s negative attributes considered, many might respond to this by saying that he’s still a major superstar with plenty of potential yet to be realized. He is, after all, only 24, and his original breakout in the middle of 2013 showed he can do literally everything to carry a team when he’s at his best. When he gets a well-timed hit, or throws out a runner with his cannon arm, I can’t deny there’s a dynamic electricity to it.
Not to mention, the idea of trading a potent Cuban superstar outfielder under team control for an established ace to “go all in” for a championship is exactly what happened with another one of my teams last July. I’m of course referring to Billy Beane’s crazy decision to trade Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester. You don’t have to remind me of that…I’m STILL traumatized by the embarrassing collapse the A’s endured immediately thereafter, to the point where I consider the trade and its subsequent fallout one of my top three worst sports heartbreaks.
In my view, however, this is the exact opposite of that scenario. The Cespedes/Lester trade failed because Cespedes was a team leader and clubhouse glue who was at the heart of a cohesive unit that had grown together. Puig is perhaps the worst team cancer imaginable on a squad that’s veritably still seeking that pluralistic chemistry. He has a selfish attitude that enrages teammates, and an arrogant disrespect for the game’s fundamentals that’s a nightmare for coaches. And as the stories and quotes mentioned before make clear, he’s clearly not welcome company for many throughout the organization.
Most importantly, trading Puig could be just the thing the Dodgers front office needs to do to hang on to their most cherished prospects while still getting the pieces they desperately need for the second half. With Joc Pederson enjoying a potential Rookie of the Year campaign after not being traded last summer, and Corey Seager and Julio Urias now deemed untouchable, the new front office has made their commitment to shoring up the farm system loud and clear. Puig is young enough, while also being a proven star, to be the equivalent of a top prospect in a huge trade.
Finally, if history needs to be factored into this decision, then let us not forget the Dodgers have traded talented headcases before. First up is Pedro Guerrero, who was traded in the middle of the 1988 season for John Tudor. Then there’s the case of Raul Mondesi, whose profanity-laced tirade in 1999 demanding he be traded got him his wish granted later that year.
Trading Puig, meanwhile, comes in a much different era of Dodger baseball. And one with far, far higher stakes. Guerrero was dealt after having already helped the team win a World Series in 1981. Mondesi, insufferable as he was, was but one factor in the sloppy mess that was the late 90’s teams. At this moment in time, Los Angeles is clicking like an elite franchise in many regards, with a record-setting payroll and a richly stocked farm system that could make them a force to be reckoned with for the next 10 years. But they’re also chewing on a quarter-century championship drought, and need to make one last set of crucial moves to complete the roster for the do-or-die gauntlet of October.
So, to get to my final verdict: Build a package around Yasiel Puig, with two or three other prospects. The ideal target would be the Philadelphia Phillies, who are set to trade Cole Hamels as part of their belated rebuilding process. Hamels is the perfect pitcher for L.A., as he’s under contract, pitches left-handed, and has extensive postseason pedigree (including MVP in both the NLCS and World Series in 2008). Given the Dodgers’ immense bullpen regression, Philly could also throw in a reliever or two, although I’d hesitate to welcome the sight of Jonathan Papelbon in Dodger Blue.
And for another possibility (lest I sound like some goober homer in a comments section), dare I say this package could be enough to get Johnny Cueto AND Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds? After all, things are getting grim fast in the Queen City, and they need to start rebuilding immediately if they want to have any chance of competing with the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs (all of whom are established or forthcoming powerhouses) in the next five years. A young, established superstar with potential yet to be fulfilled, as well as a host of prospects, is an enticing offering for either club.
Whatever route Friedman, Zaidi and co. take, I certainly hope it involves jettisoning Yasiel Puig, all benefits and risks considered. The Wild Horse (as Vin Scully endearingly calls him) has admittedly made for some of the most electric moments at Dodger Stadium in the past 20-something years. But this horse has also made quite a mess in the stable, and it’s high time we set him free and let him roam elsewhere.
So….been awhile since I’ve done one of these, hasn’t it?
To put it mildly, plenty has happened since the last Artful Dodgers column. Not the least of which was the insane front office overhaul, sacking the hapless Ned Colletti and replacing him with a sabermetrics think tank of the brightest minds in baseball. The legendary coup of Andrew Friedman from Tampa Bay brought over the most coveted executive in the game, followed by Farhan Zaidi from Oakland and Josh Byrnes from Arizona. Before the quick assembly of that group had settled in, heads were exploded even more by the instantly legendary winter meetings. In a few days, they made a total of 10 trades, acquiring Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick and Brandon McCarthy one a single day alone. And of course, the Matt Kemp-for-Yasmani Grandal swap with San Diego that I predictably hated at first, but eventually understood over time.
All that matters, of course, is that this radical restructuring pays off in a championship, as well as continued success in the forthcoming decade. With the calendar officially flipped past April, the status of this mission is so far, so good. Very good. Hell, downright great. Unlike last year’s largely inflexible, cluttered squad, the Dodgers are playing like a deep and pluralistic unit so far. Kendrick has been swinging a potent bat, and formed a wonderful double play duo with Jimmy Rollins. The much deeper roster has seen contributions from everyone from Adrian Gonzalez to Alex Guerrero to Scott Van Slyke. Best of all is the explosive rookie sensation Joc Pederson, who’s stolen Kris Bryant’s spotlight with a powerful bat and nimble glove.
And let’s not forget the bullpen, which was an overpriced achilles heel last year thanks to the likes of Brian Wilson, Chris Perez and Brandon League. Instead, the discount and partly home-grown unit of Adam Liberatore, Yimi Garcia, Chris Hatcher, Paco Rodriguez and others has been as close to perfect as could be asked, especially with LA’s starters not going particularly deep in games thus far.
Hell, this depth is so good, they’ve been able to win soundly with Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenley Jansen and Yasiel Puig all on the DL. While I eagerly await the return of the first two (and big deadline acquisitions, most likely Cole Hamels), I’ll be honest: I’m enjoying the Dodgers much more without Puig in the equation. I don’t mean to say I’m happy he’s hurt in the slightest, but I’ve tired of his antics to the point where I find it preferable to tune him out. Don’t get me wrong, if he does mature and become a great man of the game as I hope, I’ll be his biggest defender. But watching the team play so proficiently as one, without relying on a moody superstar like him (or Hanley Ramirez), is refreshing.
And should the Dodgers slump at all, and I begin to feel sorry for myself….I can always remember this as evidence that it could have gotten much, much worse.
Yesterday, I came across a piece detailing the Tampa Bay Rays’ ongoing problems with city officials in securing a new stadium. The team has had many issues trying to stay in Tampa, and by all accounts it looks like it’s far from being resolved. Matters certainly aren’t helped by the fact that in terms of the on-field product, it’s starting to look pretty grim in the Big Guava. With Joe Maddon off to manage the Cubs, GM Andrew Friedman lured over to my Dodgers, and David Price and Ben Zobrist traded off the roster, the Rays could be headed for a last place finish this year…and maybe even the next few. Add all this up, and in my emphatic opinion, it’s time to move the Rays out of Florida ASAP.
Now, a part of me feels wrong wanting to see the team moved. For those who are knowledgeable about the team and game, and devote their love and time to the Rays in the purest way imaginable, losing a team is a heartbreak that no one should have to endure. I can certainly relate, as not only were my beloved Minnesota Twins threatened with outright contraction after only my first year as a fan, but I’m still reeling from how close my hometown Sacramento Kings came to being moved to Seattle. To say the least, I’m highly sensitive to how it feels when you might lose your favorite team for good.
The problem, however, is that when it comes to Tampa Bay Rays fans, they’re the fanbase in baseball that least deserves a team. Even with a stadium uglier than the Metrodome, they’ve been treated to everything a fan could ask for in the past few years: A trip to the World Series, a seemingly endless brigade of lovable players (David Price, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist), one of the elite managers in the game, and teams that annually compete with (and sometimes best) the Yankees and Red Sox on paper-thin budgets. And how have Tampa Bay fans thanked them? By putting up insultingly meager attendance figures every year that help keep the team in a perpetual state of financial instability. Attendance so low, that even Longoria himself publicly chastised Rays fans for it, and deservedly so.
A more important factor than the apathy of the fans, however, is the prospect of bringing back the Montreal Expos. Various rumors have hinted at the possibility of the Rays franchise being moved north of the border, with new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred saying it’s quite possible. To say I approve of this is grossly understating it. While I was never an Expos fan per se in my early years of loving baseball, I always loved the unique place they held in baseball history. While this would technically be a different franchise than the previous one, to see the curvy M adorn ballcaps once again would be a delight.
With the Expos a decade behind us, and given that they only had one playoff appearance (ruined by none other than the Dodgers), it’s easy to forget and overlook their place in baseball history at times. But when you take a look at their history, they’re a veritable compendium of baseball greats of the last quarter of the 20th century: Gary Carter, Andrew Dawson, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Vladimir Guerrero, Tim Wallach, Tim Raines, Dennis Martinez, Tony Perez, Al Oliver, Moises Alou, Rusty Staub, Jeff Reardon, John Wetteland, Larry Walker, and Orlando Cabrera. From the franchise’s inception in 1969 to their final season in 2004 before moving to Washington, they hosted a pretty sizable amount of stars from just about any specific era. Not to mention, if it wasn’t for the godforsaken 1994 strike, we’d not only likely still have the original Expos, but there might be a World Series banner or two flapping in the Quebec breeze.
Altogether, it makes perfect sense: Move the team away from a fanbase that overwhelmingly doesn’t bother to even support it, and bring it to a fanbase that had theirs taken away largely due to the bad break of the darkest hour in professional baseball history. And if you don’t think Montreal deserves to have their Expos back, then I leave this video as the last thing that can move your cruel, shriveled heart.
Welcome to our next 2015 division preview and prediction here at BBP! After addressing the NL East, a division I expect to be rife with competition despite a surefire first place pick, it’s time to turn our attention to a division I expect to be a dumpster fire: the American League Central. Despite being relatively strong the past few years, including hosting two of the last three AL pennant winners, this might be the weakest division in the game in 2015. Basically, if you’re looking for the team to win it all, you won’t find it in America’s heartland. So, with subdued expectations, let’s dive in!
1. Detroit Tigers
2014 result: 90-72. 1st Place. Lost ALDS to Baltimore Orioles, 3-0.
A relatively easy pick, albeit none too exciting. Last year’s Tigers team was probably the most discordant, lifeless division winner imaginable, barely warding off a mediocre Royals team to seal the division on the last day of the season. After which, of course, they were clubbed by the Orioles in the ALDS to officially extend their championship drought to thirty (!) years. This offseason, they traded Rick Porcello to the Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes, while Max Scherzer predictably walked for a plump contract in Washington. Cespedes will give their lineup the energy it desperately lacked in 2014, and they still have a formidable rotation with David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and the newly acquired Alfredo Simon. However, they lost a lot of pitching not only with Porcello and Scherzer’s departures, but also by trading Drew Smyly to Tampa Bay last summer. (Not to mention, the inexplicable Doug Fister trade in 2013, which is looking worse by the day.)
Moreover, some of their most pivotal players are becoming question marks. Justin Verlander (he of one of the priciest contracts in the game) has declined so significantly that few believe he’ll touch his prime form again. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, the invaluable heart of the lineup, have been plagued by recent injuries that have made even starting on opening day a question. Altogether, although Detroit will win the division, I don’t see much more. By any measure, it looks to be another exhausting, wheezy, and ultimately heartbreaking grab at that elusive championship that’ll come up short. I’ve said many times before that 2013 was their best chance at winning it all. Sadly for the tortured baseball souls of Motown, that still holds true in my eyes. With the Verlander/Cabrera contracts and an awful farm system, the Tigers are likely going to be the AL’s answer to the Phillies before you know it.
2015 prediction: 90-72. AL Central Champions.
2. Chicago White Sox
2014 result: 73-89. 4th Place.
Last year, I looked at the White Sox as a team headed for a standard rebuilding cycle, coming off a disastrous 2013 campaign. But this past offseason, they suddenly asserted themselves as a hopeful contender. They snagged ace Jeff Samardzija from the Athletics by trade, signed Adam LaRoche to power up their offense, and also inked Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke and David Robertson. This is enough to build on the foundation of Chris Sale and Jose Abreu, two of my favorite players in the game who deserve to see October action. I see the ChiSox as just a wild card team this year, but there’s a legitimate chance they can challenge an aging Tigers team for the division crown. Although, despite Sale’s commendable confidence, it doesn’t mean they’ll even smell the flagged trophy.
2015 prediction: 88-74. 2nd AL Wild Card.
3. Cleveland Indians
2014 result: 85-77. 3rd Place.
Just last year, I was absolutely thrilled by the Indians’ dramatic overhaul that took them from 68 wins in 2012 to 92 in 2013, along with a wild card spot. Their 2014 season didn’t feature a playoff trip, although they would quietly contend late into the year. While they have the reigning AL Cy Young champion in Corey Kluber, and Terry Francona ever ready at the managerial helm, I’m not quite as bullish on the Tribe this year. They’re limited financially, a problem exacerbated by the Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher contracts. With the big money of the Tigers and the ambitious moves of the White Sox, they just don’t have enough to get back in the dance in my eyes.
2015 prediction: 83-79. 3rd Place.
4. Kansas City Royals
2014 result: 89-73. 2nd Place. Lost World Series to San Francisco Giants, 4-3.
Wow….it’s been months now, and I’m still in a daze from the Royals’ miracle run in October. Even though they knocked out my beloved A’s in a cruelly heartbreaking wild card game, I still rooted for them with ease for many reasons. One of which is, to be blunt, it was their real shot at that first title since 1985, even if they probably got further than they should have. I said all throughout the 2014 playoffs they wouldn’t even be back in October in 2015, and their subsequent offseason has certainly cemented that notion. Key slugger Billy Butler left for Oakland, while the elastic defensive outfield wizard Nori Aoki went to World Series adversary San Francisco. Most importantly, James Shields was snatched up by the Padres. These departures were effectively replaced by a battery of awful signings: Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios and Edinson Volquez, all of whom add up to $48 million total. They may still have that menacing bullpen trio, but even with their youth I just don’t see them contending again this year. And let’s not lie: They still have an atrocious owner, who may now get to hide behind the afterglow of the pennant run for quite some time.
2015 prediction: 80-82. 4th Place.
5. Minnesota Twins
2014 result: 70-92. 5th Place.
The good news: The Twins finally, finally….FINALLY…..fired their hideously overrated manager Ron Gardenhire, and lost pitching coach Rick Anderson (who oversaw the worst rotations in the game for the past few years) as well. Better yet, they have one of the richest farm systems in the game, one that’s earned praise from elite baseball writers such as Grant Brisbee, Keith Law and Will Leitch. The bad news: They didn’t do enough to really overhaul the team now. Almost every move they made was painfully pedestrian. First, they hired the unproven Paul Molitor as manager, even with the far more qualified Tony Lovullo and Doug Mientkiewicz also in the running for the job. Rather than upgrade their outfield defense, they wasted $10 million on a 40-year-old Torii Hunter, who should add some pop offensively but is among the worst outfielders statistically in defense. While I admittedly liked the Ervin Santana signing more than I should, I still would have preferred taking fliers on guys like Brandon Morrow and Kris Medlen to make the rotation more ample. A decent rotation and a productive offense, as well as the (at least temporary) shot in the arm from a new manager should keep them above the 60’s range in wins. But they still have a lot of work to make the team a contender in time for when the farm system begins to harvest. And sadly, that’s awhile from now.
2015 prediction: 70-92. 5th Place.
Well, it’s about time! With Spring Training merely days away from starting, one of the most eventful offseasons I can think of will soon be drawing to a close. Thus, it’s time for the annual division previews here at BBP, which I’ll handle this year. This week, we start with the NL East, whose first and last place picks are among the easiest to make. But it’s what’s in the middle that’s a toss-up. Read on, and let us know what your picks are in the comments!
1. Washington Nationals
2014 result: 96-66. 1st place. Lost NLDS to San Francisco Giants, 3-1.
Surprise! With that beautifully structured (but not unquestionable) Max Scherzer contract, the Nationals put an exclamation point on an already great rotation and team. Of course, we’ve seen impossibly great teams on paper (remember the Phillies’ Four Aces and the upcoming dynasty in the 2011 offseason?), including…well, the Nationals themselves. They won 98 games in 2012 and looked to be on their way to a championship, three outs away from their first NLCS berth…until those damned Cardinals happened. Last year, they boasted the most complete team in the postseason, and sailed into October on Jordan Zimmerman’s season-ending no-hitter….and then those damned Giants happened. (Not to mention, one huge Matt Williams managerial brainfart, for which he could be Washington’s veritable Grady Little if they don’t win a title soon.) And while a Twins and A’s fan like me is in no position to lecture about division series heartbreaks, this is all just a reminder that “too good to be true” teams are no guarantees. The only question left: Do they trade Jordan Zimmermann? If that sounds ridiculous, keep in mind that they failed to come to a long-term deal with him, and that money basically just went to Scherzer. Plus, Zimmermann’s a free agent after 2015, so trading him now would mean the Nats could get a James Shields/Wade Davis for Wil Myers haul while still having the best rotation in the game. They’re wise to trade Zimmermann now, but with or without him, they just might be the best team in MLB this year.
2015 prediction: 97-65. NL East Champions.
2. Miami Marlins
2014 result: 77-85. 4th Place.
Of the many dramatic overhauls of the offseason, the Marlins had among the most deftly handled in how it addressed their every need. While that overhaul sadly didn’t include new uniforms (seriously, watching them is like a 9-inning Sunkist commercial), and they still have that ineffable bag of shit Jeffrey Loria as their owner, they had a brilliant offseason. Say what you will about that backloaded contract for Giancarlo Stanton: it’s imperative to build a winner around him, and these moves look to do just that. The acquisition of Dee Gordon from the Dodgers gives the Fish serious speed at the top of the lineup, although Gordon is likely to take a step back from his All-Star 2014 season. Michael Morse, who was an invaluable power bat for the Giants’ championship run, will provide strong muscle in the lineup alongside fellow outfielders Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. Also, Mat Latos came by way of trade from Cincinnati to beef up the starting rotation. Add even just a pinch of a bounceback Jose Fernandez, and the Marlins should have enough to contend for a wild card spot, whether or not they get it. And when you consider how just getting the wild card panned out for them in 1997 and 2003, that’s hardly a raw deal.
2015 prediction: 88-74. 2nd Place. 2nd NL Wild Card.
3. New York Mets
2014 result: 79-83. Tied for 2nd Place with Atlanta.
I’ll admit, I was probably a little too eager in praising the Mets’ current position as a franchise last year. While they did make some smart acquisitions heading into the 2014 season, this team is still owned by the Wilpons, who would probably be the worst sports owners from New York in a normal world where James Dolan doesn’t own even a penny of the Knicks (or Woody Johnson and the Jets). That said, they are getting away from the fallout of the Bernie Madoff scandal, and a glance at their roster this year should have even the most bitter Mets fan optimistic. Not only will Jacob deGrom try to build on his Rookie of the Year season, but Matt Harvey is finally coming back from Tommy John surgery. The rest of the potential rotation is more than up to par: Zack Wheeler, Jonathan Niese, and Bartolo Colon, with other promising young pitchers waiting in the wings. Offseason acquisition Michael Cuddyer has age and injury risk, but if he’s healthy, he’ll provide some serious muscle for the lineup. The Amazin’ Mets probably won’t fully rise from the ashes of the 2006/2007 collapse from grace for a couple more years, but a wild card entry isn’t out of the question for 2015. They certainly have a better rotation than Miami, but an inferior offense. At this moment, I’d say it’s pretty much a coin flip as to who would come out on top in a wild card race.
2015 prediction: 86-76. Third Place.
4. Atlanta Braves
2014 result: 79-83. Tied for 2nd Place with New York.
What to do with these guys? The Braves are a team that usually seem impossible to pick against, given how they seem to make the postseason like clockwork almost every year since 1991. But a majority of their offseason moves have screamed “fire sale” to me. Jason Heyward went to the Cardinals, Justin Upton will now open outfield shop for the revamped Padres, and Evan Gattis went to the Astros. But hey, at least they still have Craig Kimbrel! Altogether, it’s going to be a step back for the Braves, who have until their move out of Turner Field in 2017 to build up for a big payoff. Or, as their own official rendering of the upcoming stadium would seem to indicate, another heartbreaking playoff flameout.
2015 prediction: 75-87. 4th Place.
2014 result: 73-89. 5th Place.
This is where the game of making predictions is the most comfortable. Aside from the Astros and this blog’s beloved Twins, no team in baseball is inevitably consigned to a dead last finish like the Phillies. They traded the beating heart of the franchise, Jimmy Rollins, to the Dodgers, and some rumors indicated an early version of the deal would have included Chase Utley as well. As of this writing, they may still yet trade Cole Hamels as well. And of course, they’re still stuck with that frightening, gangrenous monster known as the Ryan Howard contract. Even the old wizard Pat Gillick acknowledged it may take 2-3 years for the Phightins to burn off the fat and fully rebuild. That said, they’re pretty fortunate to have had the run they did from 2007-2011, with that cathartic 2008 championship nestled right in the middle. Enjoy it, Phillies fans. The sound of Harry Kalas calling Brad Lidge’s nasty final slider to Eric Hinske is gonna have to keep you satiated for a long time.
2015 prediction: 69-93. 5th Place.
Another year, another class enshrined in Cooperstown. Usually, my first instinct is to bemoan those excluded and bitch for the trillionth time about how crooked the voting process is. While I still think that process needs to be dramatically overhauled (I say replace the baseball writers with former players, managers, coaches, executives, etc.), I have to admit this year’s class is flawless. Not only did Craig Biggio get in before running into perennial snub status, but having John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez in for a resplendent pitching class is a thing of beauty. I already made my case for Biggio in last year’s ballot, and I feel Johnson, Smoltz, and Martinez don’t need any further explaining or defending. Thus, my piece for 2015 will address only those who I feel were overlooked, and will hopefully get in next year.
1. Alan Trammell: Man, I’ve been struggling with this one for years. I’ve always been a fan of Trammell, both on his own and alongside Lou Whitaker to form perhaps the greatest double play combo in baseball history. Not to mention, he was one of the legendary 1984 Detroit Tigers, easily among the five best teams to ever play the game. But for some reason, I always nudged Trammell into the “really good but not quite great enough” category when it came to being in the Hall of Fame. Nowadays, I’ll admit I was dead wrong about that. If anything, he’s simply an overlooked player that should be in by any measure. Baseball Reference’s WAR generator has him as the 93rd best player of all-time, and he boasts a .285 career average, 2,365 hits, four Gold Gloves, and the 1984 World Series MVP. Those put him in the same arena as inductees Barry Larkin and Ozzie Smith. Time to make him an inductee as well.
2. Mike Mussina: Last year, when I was making my picks for my full ballot, I was cold towards Mussina. He struck me as one of those perennially great pitchers who just wasn’t quite superlative enough for a plaque in Cooperstown. (Granted, this wasn’t helped at all by playing for many bridesmaid Orioles and Yankees teams.) Not to mention, if you scrutinize his career for the preferred sexy pitching accolades (career ERA, 20-win seasons, Cy Young Awards, etc.), he doesn’t look so pristine. However, my colleague Brad was insistent that he belonged, and as I took a closer look I changed my mind. First off, Mussina was a top-tier starter who spent his whole career in the American League, at a time when PED’s and the designated hitter coupled together to make the game more explosively offense-oriented. Also, his total numbers are far from shoddy: seven Gold Gloves (one of the best defensive pitchers of his era), 270 wins, and 2,813 strikeouts. Basically, he’s just above or next to Jack Morris, without the rings. I say Moose gets in, but I’ll admit it’s a debatable matter. If I had to pick between him and Trammell, I’d throw all my weight behind Tram.
3. Mike Piazza: I already laid out a good case last year, and while I’m glad to have a pitching-heavy class for 2015. that only kicks the inevitable down the road. 2016 should be Piazza’s year to get in, no excuses.
Golden Era Ballot
Alright, this is the nitty gritty of my ballot right here. Again, the main inductee class of Biggio, Johnson, Smoltz and Martinez was a triumph. It’s with the Golden Era ballot that the HOF really laid a goose egg this year. 16 members of the committee were presented with 10 candidates, each of whom contributed something seminal to game…and not a single one was inducted. So disgraceful was their snub that even Rolling Stone did a story on it, and rightfully so. Whether or not the BBWAA get it right in a given year, the Golden Era committee should always be relied upon to rectify any snubs and give legends their due. Their failure to do so this year was disheartening, and hopefully will be a distant memory when most (if not all) of the 10 snubs this year get in in the coming years. And hopefully, unlike in Ron Santo’s case, before they pass on.
1. Tony Oliva: I’ll be honest: For quite some time, I would doubt myself when making Oliva’s HOF case. I knew that he had worthy numbers before his career was cut short by gruelling injuries in the early 70’s, but I always figured I was letting my Twins bias drive my thinking. Before that cursed injury, though, Oliva packed in a lifetime’s worth: three batting titles, a career .304 average and eight All-Star selections. Not to mention, the scenario of having great numbers but being cut short by injury applies to HOF inductee Roy Campanella, whose place I don’t dispute one bit. Thus, Oliva is in. If there was one player that should have been a no-brainer for the committee this year, it was him.
2. Maury Wills: Even as a Dodgers lunatic, I hadn’t given Wills’ numbers a perusal in some time, at least in a “should he be inducted” mindset. Man oh man, should he ever: .281 career average, 2,134 hits, 586 stolen bases, and three World Series championships. Not to mention, he’s the man who singlehandedly revived base-stealing with his 104 swipes in 1962, the same year he won NL MVP. He probably had the most complete career of anyone eligible on the Golden Era ballot, making his exclusion all the more perplexing
3. Anyone!: I realize this could dilute my analysis above, but the truth is, any of the 10 candidates could have been justifiably selected. If not for their numbers alone, at least for their personalities as well. That doesn’t sound like a cogent case for induction, but the men up for consideration this year (Luis Tiant, Jim Kaat, Gil Hodges, and Minnie Minoso also among them) were some of the best characters the sport has ever known, in addition to being among the greatest players of their time. While I seek to grow in my understanding of statistics, even the most rigorous evaluation of the game should always have room for heart and personality. When the stats are all counted up and documented, it’s the fun swagger of a player at the top of their game that sticks with you most (think Tiant smoking his stogies in victory). Or, like Kaat, a good sense of humor that endears you to fans even long after you’ve hung up the spikes. Even with just one choice, the Golden Era committee could have recognized both talent and heart. Ultimately, they chose neither.
Sorry if things have been a bit quiet around here at BBP. Needless to say, the three of us have been busy with many duties in our daily lives, and mine has been just as crowded, if not more so, than when I was in college mere months ago. I recently finished writing a book about the California Governor’s Mansion for the Sacramento Historical Society, as well as a companion e-book for my Presidents Baseball cards (both of which will be available next year). Additionally, I was promoted to lead editor of Last Token Gaming, the video game commentary website my friend Terry Randolph and I started last year. I know I juggled all of these duties throughout the year and produced plenty of articles here, but these things required even more work and time as of late and thus I had to prioritize them. And I won’t lie, the soul-crushing (and sadly typical) demise of the Dodgers and A’s in the playoffs, followed by the infinitely more important loss of Oscar Taveras, necessitated something of a break from baseball for me.
That said, I want to ensure we’ll have plenty of excellent content coming in 2015. We’ll have our Hall of Fame ballots and season previews once again, and I’ll also be adding a new Twins column in addition to the Artful Dodgers. Next up for me will be a piece on new Twins manager Paul Molitor, his coaching staff, and who I’d rather see in their place.
Thanks as always for your readership and support. 2014 was a fantastic year of baseball and for the site, and I certainly hope BrushBackPitch can be even better next year!
Hello all! First, an apology for the long layoff. With the summer of my lifetime giving way to fall, my already crowded writing schedule has only gotten bigger. In addition to wrapping up an e-book for my Presidents Baseball franchise, I’ve also taken on a second book for the Sacramento Historical Society, this one detailing the Governor’s Mansion. (If you can’t deduce what the first book is about, well, why are you bothering reading this site?) On top of that, Last Token Gaming, the video game commentary site I’ve been working on with friends for over a year now, has taken on a bigger staff and following. Even after graduation, I’ve been busy enough to still need a weekly planner to organize everything. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!
This isn’t to imply I’ve had a shortage of things to write about for BBP. We are, after all, in the midst of a surreal playoffs that featured an Orioles vs. Royals ALCS. That alone gives me carte blanche to unspool endless references to the last years either team won the World Series, 1983 and 1985 respectively. (The ultimate question in that vein for the ALCS: “Sister Christian” or “I Want to Know What Love Is”? Which year had the better power ballad?) Or, more dishearteningly, I could write a grueling eulogy for my Los Angeles Dodgers, who saw their season end in a manner so laden with deja vu that Yogi Berra would throw his hands up in a flippant, silent gesture. Seriously, what can I say beyond Clayton Kershaw getting rocked in the seventh inning twice in a series by left-handed batters named Matt, after he had dominated lefty hitters all season? And that, in true “only the goddamn Dodgers” fashion, this isn’t the first time a left-handed batter named Matt dressed in red has helped dash LA’s World Series dreams in consecutive years?
So, rather than masticate the remainder of the postseason or pathetically try to elicit sorrow for the demise of my $240 million team, I’m going to skip ahead just a hair and lay down my picks for this year’s award-winners. This won’t be an unbiased guess at who will actually win each one, but rather who I think should. Luckily, this year’s probable winners are so clear-cut and widely agreed upon for the most part, that who I think should win and who actually will should end up intersecting 100 percent.
Rookie of the Year:
Jose Abreu, AL: From the get-go of the 2014 season, this was likely going to be an easy pick no matter what. At first, you could have made a Floyd Mayweather-esque bet on Masahiro Tanaka receiving it for the Yankees, but his mostly flawless season was derailed for weeks by a partially torn UCL. Thus, the prime choice for AL Rookie of the Year is another international import: Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox. The Cuban first baseman quickly announced himself as one of the most surefire hitters in the entire game, walloping 36 home runs and 107 RBI. And that’s alongside a .317 average, proving Abreu is a genuinely resolute batter rather than just a one-note slugger. The White Sox as a whole don’t look like an emerging threat in the AL Central right now, but any South Side fan could forget their team’s shortcomings while watching Abreu’s mammoth shots leave craters in ballparks across the country. Continue reading
A tremendous event happened in Major League Baseball recently, although you might not have felt it. Hell, you could very well have not noticed or even forgotten about it. I’m of course referring to the selection of Rob Manfred as the next Commissioner of Baseball, a title that will become official in 2015.
My thoughts on this choice are … well, nonexistent. As tremendous as the announcement is, given his predecessor’s lengthy tenure, Manfred’s selection elicited no emotional response from me. No anger, no surprise, no excitement, just … nothing.
This isn’t to say Manfred is unqualified for the job. After all, his resume includes Harvard Law School, a long history of working in labor and employment affairs, outside counsel to MLB owners during the ‘94 strike and MLB chief operating officer. Yet If anything, that’s part of why his selection is as thrilling for me to write about as watching a documentary about blenders. I understand why it’s functional and necessary, but that doesn’t make it interesting.
I don’t expect MLB commissioners to be as eccentric and indelible as Rube Waddell or Lou Gehrig, but a little character or a momentous accomplishment doesn’t hurt. Stubbornly racist as he was, Kenesaw Mountain Landis instantly etched his place in baseball history not just for banning the Black Sox for life, but doing so with the steeliness he had as a federal judge. Peter Ueberroth sailed into the job after bringing the Olympics to Los Angeles in 1984, which made him Time Magazine Man of the Year and served as a pinnacle event in the patriotic epoch of the Reagan years. Continue reading
As the wise philosopher Ron Burgundy once put it: “Boy, that escalated quickly.”
In perhaps the most dizzying trade deadline ever, the American League erupted in an arms race in mere hours. First, my Oakland Athletics made a what-the-hell-but-it-makes-sense-when-you-cool-down trade with the Boston Red Sox, sending Yoenis Cespedes in exchange for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes. Lester, of course, almost guaranteed comes as just a rental for the playoffs, but given his exceptional stats this year and playoff gumption in Beantown he’s worth it. Gomes, a key part of Oakland’s youthful last-minute run to a division crown in 2012, returns with a fresh World Series ring in tow and a chance to get another by strengthening the outfield.
Of course, the immediate reaction was panic over losing Cespedes, who will be a free agent after 2015. Yes, he dazzled A’s fans with a highlight-reel glove and a bat that won back-to-back Home Run Derbies. But peel yourself away from those highlights, and the truth is that while he’s a dynamic player, he was still hitting in the .250 range, and brilliant plays don’t equal top fielding percentage. Considering how stellar Josh Reddick has been upon returning, as well as Oakland’s eye-popping run differential, they have enough depth to make up for Cespy’s absence. (Almost forgotten in this shuffle is the fact that the Twins benefited in a trade for once, acquiring lefty starter Tommy Milone for Sam Fuld, who has already made his presence felt in the reshuffled Oakland outfield.)
Only hours after that, however, came the biggest announcement of all: The Detroit Tigers, already stacked with aces, landing David Price in a three-team deal. I’m not going to even try to be neutral here: I hate, hate, hate that this deal happened the way it did, and I’ll take some space to explain just why. First, the more rational part. To put it simply, Tampa Bay didn’t come close to getting the return they needed for parting with the best pitcher in their young franchise history. Remember, the Royals had to send a package to the Rays that included Wil Myers just to get James Shields, so the crop for Price should have been even bigger. By all accounts, when the Rays were languishing in last, this was what they were rightly demanding from interested teams. My Dodgers, for example, would have likely had to deal both Joc Pederson and Corey Seager, a highly valuable outfielder and infielder who are among the best prospects in the entire game.