You don’t really want to know about my fantasy teams (well, except the name of the American League one, which I think achieves our league’s annual goal: the ideal conflation of current events and baseball – The Moammar Garciaparras). But you may yet gain some useful info from the two fairly early drafts, one for each league, which occupied much of my weekend.
Biggest news I can now share is that while in Florida, every Philly source I talked to – from the casual ones who talked a lot, to the in-the-know ones who tried to say nothing – left me with the same impression: Chase Utley is not going to play baseball this year. Supposedly they are trying rest and minor rehab now, which will tell them whether there is a remote possibility that more rest and more extensive rehab later could preclude surgery. If not, they’re going to cut him. Even if they decide they can get away without opening up the knee, that rest-and-rehab route could just as easily cost him the season.
So I guess nominating him in our auction this afternoon while there was still decent money on the table makes me a stinker?
Still, I’m not the one who paid $16 for him. Other injuries of unknown duration also did not scare a free spending NL-only league (sixth year, second auction, some real sharp fans). Mat Latos went for $20 even though the Padres are so strapped that Tim Stauffer will start on Opening Day. Brian Wilson still fetched $17 (comparison: Heath Bell, $18). Very late – after Francisco Cordero had gone for $15 and Brandon Lyon for $7, we shelled out $13 for J.J. Putz and $6 more for Brad Lidge. Both Jose Contreras and Ryan Madson were picked up as collars for Lidge (I think it’ll be Contreras) and Daniel Hernandez was an excellent no-risk flyer for Putz.
There was the usual star-sniffing inflation among the impact players. Most valuations of Hanley Ramirez place him at around $39 in an NL-only operation. He sold for $45. I reached past his likely $36 value to pay $42 for Carlos Gonzalez, and if Troy Tulowitzki’s inflation from $28 to $38 shocks you, or David Wright’s growth from $27 to $38 – you’d better sit down for these next two. Several of us must have read Matthew Berry’s note on how well Dan Uggla has hit lifetime in Atlanta, because he may have been valued at $22, but I gave up on him at $33.
And best of all was Mike Stanton of the Marlins, whom most analysts have pegged at a value of $20 or so. I think Stanton is going to bust through all ceilings this year, and so did another bidder. I won him – at $36. Before you think we’re daft, I won the league last year and the fella who was willing to pay $35 finished second.
I suspect his Florida teammate Logan Morrison will also turn heads before October, and the Pedro Alvarez I saw at third base in Florida two weeks ago had the confidence of an All-Star. What else did I pick up that you can use? Ian Desmond will lead off for the Nationals this year and Jayson Werth will inexplicably hit second. This means lovely things for Mr. Desmond. Brian McCann is saying all the right things after the Luis Salazar nightmare, when he was ready to retire when he thought he’d killed the man. But he hasn’t hit a lick since. He’s still the best, but be careful.
Lastly: on NL pitching, if you wait for it, it will come. Lincecum cost $33, Halladay $29, Kershaw $27 (the Commissioner is a Dodger fan who brings a radio with him to the games), Cain $24 (one guy named his team “Your World Champion Giants”), Cris Carpenter, Tommy Hanson and Ubaldo Jimenez $22 each. But I put together a perfectly respectable starting rotation of R.A. Dickey, Jaime Garcia, James McDonald, Javier Vazquez and Carlos Zambrano for $22 (and stashed Johan Santana and – what the heck, Strasburg – for another $3).
If you care, here are my guys and their values. All but Soriano ($15) and Carlos Lee ($14) were on my “Favorites” list – and I happily took them at what I saw as 25-30% discounts. The rest of these choices I firmly endorse (although Alex Gonzalez may be wildly overpriced at $2). SP I mentioned. Bullpen: Axford $11, Lyon $7, Romo $4, Contreras $1 (we count holds). C: Buck $3. IF: Sandoval $19, Alvarez $16, Kelly Johnson $16, Lee $14, Espinosa $3, Alex Gonzalez $2, Chris Johnson $2. OF: C. Gonzalez $42, Stanton $36, Victorino $22, Hart $19, Soriano $15, $2 Morrison. Santana and Strasburg will go on our two-man DL to be replaced by a free agent starter and another set-up man.
My American League info will be of less use to you because in this one we do not start annually from scratch. There are keepers – up to six of them – and not everybody has the same idea what they are for (I kept an underpriced Nick Swisher at $12 and five guys at a buck apiece; a dear friend of mine kept Mauer and Teixeira – at $42 apiece). But I do have some useful info, most of it pertaining to the wonders that hitting coach Kevin Seitzer appears to be working for Kansas City. Kila Ka’aihue is powdering the ball and will push Billy Butler to DH. Melky Cabrera has lost weight and regained bat speed. And the Siren’s Call is being heard again: “Alex Gordon! Al Exxxxxx Gorrrrr Dun!” Line drives are flying off his bat and witnesses say he perfected first his new swing and then his new timing mechanisms. In any mixed league you should be able to get these guys very cheap, and probably only in an AL-only league is Ka’ahuie on the radar.
Also: fear of injury just doesn’t seem to register. Kendrys Morales went for $25 in our league, even though a likelier estimate of his contribution this year is about $18. Francisco Liriano still got a $21 pricetag, and in one of the more mystifying results, David Aardsma, who a year ago went healthy at $9, went this year, injured, for $12.
My team will indicate who I expect to flower in the AL this season. The freezes were Swisher, J.P. Arencibia, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Lewis, Joe Nathan, and C.J. Wilson. More relevantly, these are the new purchases: (SP) Haren $26, G. Gonzalez $9 (most reports from Arizona agreed: Most Improved Pitcher this spring), Pineda $2, Matsuzaka $1 (I think he will do very well this year; he seems to be really listening to the new pitching coach Curt Young), Niemann $1. (RP – again, holds count): C. Perez $15, Jenks $3, Farnsworth $1. (C) Napoli $12. (IF) A. Gonzalez $38, A. Rodriguez $38, Nishioka $15 (this is a rookie of the year candidate), Hardy $5 (another bounce back year – he was described to me as “the 2007 J.J.”), C. Guillen $2, Dan Johnson $2. (OF) Crawford $40, Raburn $15, Ordonez $7, Gordon $6, Cabrera $2.
The only other insight I have from the AL is the Rays’ bullpen. It is unlikely that Joe Maddon will make Jake McGee his closer early or maybe at all – too valuable as a lefty specialist. Like dozens before him, he will give Farnsworth a try. If you don’t have to invest too much in him, you can, too. The real story of the spring has been how good the much traveled Juan Cruz has looked, though he’s more likely to wind up as the 8th inning man.
Final point: drafting has its rewards and I’m not going to call anybody who prefers it names, but if you want to be tested and challenged, once you go Auction, you’ll never go back. There is a palpable energy curve during the thing and a tremendous sense of fairness – you never get stuck with the 10th pick and thus miss on the best (and your favorite) nine players. If you didn’t get Pujols, you have nobody to blame (or commend) but yourself.
But it is essential that you price every player and stick – within reason – to individual price. It is also necessary to push players – the ones you want and the ones you don’t – up to within at least a couple of bucks of where you’ve priced them. And until you’ve nominated about 10-12 guys do not nominate a player you actually want. It is your job to get as much money off the table as possible. Are there guys in your league who are more loyal to their real-life team than the one they’re putting together? Bleed them. Make sure Aubrey Huff goes for more than he could be possibly worth, and make sure you shove those ailing stars out there as early as you can (I not only nominated Utley, I also nominated Brian Wilson). Eventually the madcap money will vanish – all at once you will look up and realize you can’t afford to pay more than $6 for anybody (and neither can anybody else) and the second half of the draft will be filled with a mix of bargains and desperation. It is essential to be able to stock 15 roster spots with $75 or less and be happy with the outcome.
In both leagues we play ESPN’s version and its auction function is pretty darn good. But a glitch seems to have developed this year that cost one owner in each league dearly – irreparably, in fact. If you let the computer literally do your bidding for you, unless you go in and set your own personalized values for each player, the program will bid conservatively – often stopping five or six bucks shy of the “official” ESPN value of a player – on some sort of computer-logic premise that it can spend your money much more efficiently later. This left our owner who couldn’t attend the auction with no fewer than 18 $1 players and $192 in unspent auction money that doesn’t even buy him a discount on ESPN The Magazine. Even last year’s second-place guy who did put in his own values still got screwed. He came home with Ryan Howard, Wright, Tulo, Lincecum, Cain, and ten $1 pitchers. So if you want the highest form of Fantasy Baseball fun, go with the auction. And if you want to survive the auction, do not do it on auto-pilot.
Besides which, why would you want to? As one of our more astute owners said today, counting holidays and his exciting film and tv career and, I assume, even his exciting dating life, this is the happiest day of his year.
Still not sold on the Yankees’ rotation and the question marks still begin at the #2 slot, but the work of first Ivan Nova and then Phil Hughes on consecutive nights in Tampa was unavoidably impressive. A year ago Nova proved himself a gutsy pitcher (he happily plunked Jose Bautista and then asked him in Spanish “what are you going to do about it?”) but one who started to have trouble when he’d come out for the fifth inning. Wednesday he again opened with an HBP then retired all the other Orioles he faced, including six of their regulars, and most importantly expended only 59 pitches over six innings. If he could repeat that kind of economy they would have to inducted him into Cooperstown this July, so anything remotely close makes him a legitimate big league starter (BTW note to NYC radio/tv: he’s “Eevan” – the man is not a Russian wrestler with a cutesy name). Hughes was not quite so dominant last night versus Tampa (facing at least eight regulars) but he looked much more like the Cy Young candidate of last year’s first half than the almost .500, almost 5.00 guy of the second half. The other headline out of the Yankee camp is Alex Rodriguez. Whatever the origin of his hip problems, for the first time in two years he looked like he could pivot with them fully, launching titanic homers on both nights, one that disappeared into the night in deep left, the other that towered out more towards center. Rodriguez also looks more agile defensively, and ranged neatly to his left last night to grab a sharply hit ball, planted confidently, and got off one of his old-fashioned rocket throws to beat the runner at the bag. Since if they hope to compete with the Red Sox and Rays, the Yankees have no margin for error, a vintage year from Rodriguez is essential, and the pitching tumblers like Hughes, Nova, A.J. Burnett, and Bartolo Colon all have to twirl perfectly or the post-season is an impossibility.
Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland is a long way from the regular season home of the Minnesota Twins – literally and metaphorically – but it was one of the topics this morning on the mind of Manager Ron Gardenhire. Gardy outlined changes to the park’s outfield that seemed to flummox his hitters last year. “We moved the trees to get rid of the shadows in the batters’ line of sight – and those shadows scared me, the batters couldn’t follow the ball. Big stink over cutting the trees down so we sold ‘em.” Gardenhire added that the ‘Batters’ Eye’ in centerfield had been changed to look more like the one in Seattle. “We got to get that out of their heads, that the park is against them somehow.” When it was suggested that merely emphasizing to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau that these significant changes had been made might itself ‘get it out of their heads,’ Gardenhire laughed and said that was probably true. “Then again, now it’ll get IN our pitchers’ heads.”
Last week, when he thought he had killed minor league manager Luis Salazar with a line drive into his own dugout, Brian McCann told friends he had no idea how he couldn’t retire, immediately. Today, the Braves announced that Salazar had lost his left eye – and in the context, that’s good news. He can probably manage again, this season.
Monday night in Fort Myers, Boston’s David Ortiz warned all of us on the Sox bench that Brett Gardner of the Yankees was notorious for fouling balls into the third base dugout and urged all of us to move away from the open spaces in the railings and netting protecting it.
This afternoon in Lakeland, Lance Berkman of the Cardinals sent his bat flying onto the screen above where Tigers manager Jim Leyland was sitting. A few innings later Berkman lost his club again and winged coach Rafael Belliard in the Tiger dugout. Next time up, Berkman jokingly handed Leyland a catcher’s mask.
So far, Berkman has the best idea, because while he was kidding around, there is no question that the dangers from balls and bats flying at too-fast-to-duck speeds have been increasing ever since the Matt Keough disaster in the 1980’s and baseball is either going to address it seriously and presently, or it is in fact going to get somebody killed. The Boston dugout was in fact a tense place Monday – the “park bench” in front of it was periodically unoccupied and each time Gardner came up we all scattered.
This transpired once just as Boston batting coach Dave Magadan and I discussed what to do about this evidently accelerating problem, and we agreed on two points. The first was to experiment with a kind of reversed version of those international soccer dugouts with the clear plastic backs that protect players from drunken fans and thrown debris while letting the spectators see what the athletes are doing. In our vague plan, the plexiglas would go not in the back but in the front, replacing the railings and netting and curving neatly back to enclose and secure the players. The thing could be dotted with oblong slits or small circular openings to reduce the claustrophobia and the likely sense of detachment it could create for the occupants. Obviously it would have protected openings at each end. It might not even need to completely overlap with the dugout roof; perhaps it could replace the dugout roof completely.
Besides the wildly improved safety, the see-through dugout would also solve one of the least well-known problems in the sport: Currently the players can’t see a thing from the dugout. A manager racing out to second base to argue with an ump is almost always doing so purely in faith. Without the railings and nettings to block them, they would all be able to watch the game in which they’re playing. Players trying to make catches would probably have a safer if no less challenging time of it, too.
The drawbacks? You’d need to keep spares, or at least spare components, because the thing would crack often. And the players would feel as if they were no longer part of the game. But the second thing on which the esteemed Mr. Magadan and I agreed: it would be seen as such a departure from tradition that everybody would protest. To which I say: Do you want tradition? Or do you want somebody killed? Because that’s your choice, ultimately.
I’ve written before about our friend The Garfoose, Dirk Hayhurst, author of The Bullpen Gospels, formerly of the Padres and Blue Jays and this year back from surgery to compete for a job in the rebuilding bullpen of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Because the book came out after Dirk established himself as a middle reliever in Toronto but before he got hurt, a lot of his fans have – to put it bluntly – never seen him pitch. To correct that, we offer a photographic record of his scoreless inning against the Jays this afternoon in Dunedin (The Rays used seven pitchers – four got lit – Hayhurst, Rob Delaney, and Brandon Gomes were the only ones who did not):
When Braves’ minor league manager Luis Salazar was hit by a line drive in the dugout two days ago, the players and media who could see what happened all thought the same thing – that the former big league outfielder was dead. Today, Atlanta General Manager Frank Wren says Salazar could be back to work, managing, this season. “The doctors have told us ‘no reason why not.'” Wren says Salazar underwent surgery the day of the nightmare, then had an operation on his eye and faces a second one, probably today. But while the ex-Padre has multiple facial fractures, as his facial swelling has receded, the extent of his good fortune has been revealed.
Within hours, Salazar was speaking and visiting with his family, including his son-in-law Franklin Gutierrez, the center fielder of the Seattle Mariners who traveled from their Arizona training camp to be at his bedside. “It’s obviously very encouraging that he’s looking to get back on the field,” Wren noted as he reflected on how the situation has improved from the initial sense of fatality. It is not all good news, however; Braves sources say – and the second operation today seems to confirm – that Salazar’s vision in his left eye is still in jeopardy.
Brian McCann played today for the first time since he hit the line drive that hit Salazar. Friends say he has been cheered by the improving news, after being so shaken initially that he doubted he could ever play again. McCann went 0-for-3 against the Yankees, left early, and will not play Saturday, but happily not for reasons related to the injury. He had already been given half of Friday and all of Saturday off by manager Fredi Gonzalez, so he could participate in a wedding (and even the rehearsal) elsewhere in Florida.
ON AN EVEN HAPPIER HEALTH NOTE:
Yogi Berra is fine after he tripped on a carpet edge while reaching for some broth at Clearwater on Thursday and landing on his derriere (and being hospitalized for a few hours to make sure that nothing was damaged besides his dignity).
The Hall-of-Famer was asked how he enjoyed the trip to the Phillies’ camp. Reply? “I didn’t like the soup.”
CLEARWATER – As the Yankees hoped that after his minor stumble on some balky carpet that Yogi Berra has that insurance, you know, the kind that pays you cash, which is just as good as money, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay met up in Clearwater in a dream match-up. Literally a dream, because you don’t need to spend looking much time at either roster to realize that despite the Phillies’ glittering rotation and the Yankees’ three Hall-of-Famers in waiting, neither of these teams is going very deep in the post-season (presuming they make it at all). This is contrary to Conventional Wisdom, which was last heard from telling you that Cliff Lee was going to the Yankees last winter, just as it had told you he was going to them last July. Lee is part of the Yankees’ most obvious problem: based on performance so far, Bartolo Colon is a) a vampire and b) their number two starter. Colon, with his ten-pitch warm-up sessions and newly refound control, has been a joyous mystery even to his new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. But comebacks like his almost always fizzle before the first of June and the Yanks have a long way to before Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and/or Dellin Betances join the rotation or buy them a veteran starter. The Yankees are also aging alarmingly. I will spare you my usual pronouncements on how moribund Derek Jeter is, but the recent pronouncement that Jorge Posada would not even be used as a temporary back-up catcher should tell you exactly how little the Yanks think he has left. The joke around here is that Cameron Diaz was feeding Alex Rodriguez popcorn in that Super Bowl luxury suite because he now gets too tired doing it himself. Jesus Montero offers a glimmer of youth but the reality is that in two at bats today, Roy Halladay made him look like he’d never been to the plate before (to be fair, Halladay did the same thing to Robby Cano). The Yanks only matchup with Boston at the back of the bullpen and if their lineup is better than Tampa’s, it isn’t much better. The Phils have an advantage the Yanks don’t – the NL East may be as bad as the AL East is good, but they have two enormous crises. I ran into my old friend Ruben Amaro in the hallway just before first pitch and he swore he felt better than he looked – and he looked exactly like a General Manager of a team with a devastating rotation and no second baseman or right fielder. Chase Utley’s injury is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside some tendinitis and it would be called “indefinite” if only Amaro was that certain. Nobody has any idea what’s next, and Utley’s absence not only puts a Wilson Valdez or Josh Barfield in the lineup, but it also deranges their batting order and perhaps places Jimmy Rollins hitting in a three-hole for which he is ill-suited. Right field may be a bigger problem still. You could make a viable platoon out of Ben Francisco (who absolutely kills lefties) and John Mayberry, Jr (he homered again today) but both hit right-handed. In news that should terrify every Philadelphian, Domonic Brown’s replacement four of the last five days has been Delwyn Young, a scat back of a utility infielder who was not good enough to stick with the Pirates. This is a team that is suddenly in deep trouble on offense – Halladay looked gorgeous for six innings today but they got him only three hits before Sabathia left) and as awe-inspiring as the Four Aces look, having Brad Lidge close for them is like owning four Maseratis and employing a staff of blind valet parkers.
Charlie Sheen is doing an impersonation of Brian Wilson.
the Beach Boy, the San Francisco Giants’ relief pitcher. The one with
the beard dyed so absurdly dark that light will not escape it. The one
who hit the late night circuit over the off-season dressed up as a kind
of SoCal/Rex Harrison version of “The Ghost” from “The Ghost and Mrs.
At the start, I want to promise I am rarely going to devote
space here to Charlie Sheen. On the other hand, I’m
technically on vacation and this rather important sidelight to an
enduring, and enduringly strange, story, has not gotten much attention.
This “Tiger’s Blood” stuff Sheen keeps spouting? That’s a line of Wilson’s.The original “Duh! Winning!” That’s some more of Wilson’s act/personality/delusion/repertoire.
Wilson-Sheen connection has gotten some national attention but not
nearly enough. Wilson visiting Sheen at his home last month received the
usual tut-tutting and ‘it’s not a problem – right at the moment’ from the Wilson and his team have insisted there was no wine, no women, only baseball (no Tiger’s Blood) - and fictional baseball at that:
could’ve asked any other closer, but Rick Vaughn asked for me,” Wilson
said. “When Rick Vaughn picks up the bullpen phone, you answer.”
the deal here, of course. All Charlie Sheen ever wanted to do was be a
major league baseball player. He has portrayed at least two of them on
film: ‘Rick Vaughn’ from “Major League,” and one of the ill-fated
corrupted players of the 1919 World Series, Happy Felsch, from John
Sayles’ “Eight Men Out.” Vaughn was the fast-throwing, fast-living
relief pitcher who entered each game to the sound of The Trogs’ ’60s hit
This unleashed the proverbial life imitating art
stuff. Soon, actual relief pitchers began to be accompanied by their own
songs. Mitch Williams of the Cubs and later Phillies became known as
“Wild Thing.” Brian Wilson’s entire ‘weird reliever’ persona owes in
some part to Sheen’s portrayal. Now, in life imitating imitated art,
Sheen is issuing online videos faster than Mubarak or Khaddafi, and
trying to act like Wilson:
Sheen went on to mumble something about Wilson delivering “fury,
vengeance, hatred and absolute world domination,” then bowed his head
in silence for the man, for some reason.
point in his life, in what in retrospect seems like an almost tender
time, Sheen got as close as he could to baseball by trying to buy up all
the great memorabilia. In 1992 he outbid several collectors (myself
included) for the baseball that went through Bill Buckner’s legs and
decided the 6th Game of the 1986 World Series. Less publicly, he amassed
an extraordinary card collection and had most of it housed in
individual plastic holders made in the form of richly-bound books. Then
there was a divorce or something and he wound up selling nearly all of
it (the “Buckner Ball” included) at a loss.
I’d like to thank him belatedly for the T206 Collins Proof card, by the way.
back to the point. There is something bizarrely baseball-related to
this Ultra Mid-Life Crisis through which Charlie Sheen, or Charlie Sheen
as Rick Vaughn, or Charlie Sheen as Brian Wilson, is passing.
not blaming Wilson or anything. I just think we need to remember that
when you grow a beard that looks like it was a prop discarded by Monty
Python’s Flying Circus, you never know what the consequences might be.
The Giants’ reliever might just want to warn people – especially Sheen –
not to try drinking Tiger’s Blood at home.
A version of this has been cross-posted at my news website, FOKNewsChannel.Com
The cry from behind the Rays’ dugout was not the most common one, but it’s not like Evan Longoria had never heard it before.
“Evan!,” the young boy bellowed. “Can I have your batting gloves?”
Longoria, out by the batting cage on McKechnie Field in Bradenton, decided to engage. “I need them to hit. What am I supposed to do when I hit?” The boy looked back, startled and without riposte. “Yes. I’m talking to you. About batting gloves. I mean, if I give them to you, what do I use? Can I use your instead?”
Now the boy was back on more familiar ground. “My batting gloves are in my bag in the car.” Longoria played peeved, but evidently was, in fact, charmed.
“Maybe I should give you everything I use. Gloves, bat, cap. I just won’t hit.”
The boy became thoughtful. “No, don’t do that.”
Seemingly the end of the exchange, and Longoria went ahead and hit. And as soon as he finished, he ambled back to the Rays’ dugout without looking at the boy. And he popped back up and slapped a bat on the dugout and, with a big smile, pushed it towards the youngster, and raced off to shag fly balls before the boy or his mother could even say thanks.
Notes from the Philadelphia-Tampa Bay exhibition in Clearwater: The Rays’ dance card wasn’t exactly full – no Longoria, Ramirez, Damon, not even Ben Zobrist. But Cliff Lee didn’t break a sweat over four innings this afternoon in Cleveland: no walks, two singles, five strikeouts (including two in his last inning)…the Rays are trying to manage expectations but if you had to name the guy who’d lead them in Saves this year, you could do worse than predicting rookie Jake McGee. McGee not only struck out Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez in consecutive at bats in the 5th, but Victorino was so fooled that he lost the bat and it helicoptered fast enough that in the on-deck circle, Ibanez hit the deck and the bat continued twenty rows into the crowd…as mentioned Manny Ramirez wasn’t in the house but the Rays are impressed with his apparent revitalization. It’s as if somebody got a wake-up call that his career will not last forever and he wants “Manny being Manny” to sound a little more positive than it has the past three seasons…one of the Phillies’ two biggest problems was underscored in the second and third innings. They collected six hits and got a wild pick-off throw into centerfield, but scored only three runs, and two of those were on solo homers by Howard and Schneider…To the left -this is not much of a picture of Rays’ catcher Nevin Ashley, back in camp for a second straight year and 0-for-2 in relief of Kelly Shoppach in his bid to make it as the back-up receiver – but that’s not the point. The point is that he married a woman named Ashley, and she decided to follow tradition and identify herself by her husband’s name. She is Ashley Ashley…An image that will disturb Cubs’ fans, even though he did start with the Phillies. They had their new AAA manager coach third base today. Fella named Ryne Sandberg: