Results tagged ‘ Baltimore Orioles ’

2013 Predictions. The World Series Winner Is….

Anybody who tells you they can accurately forecast the World Series in April is lying to you.

Bob Costas once said he was coming around to the expanded (now re-expanded) post-1994 playoff formula. “Just so long as the World Series doesn’t become ‘The MLB Finals.’” Of course it has. Of course it has actually become something a little less exalted, because you could conceivably get there after playing the artificial and utterly unfair Wild Card Play-In Game.

The Play-In Game was hurriedly designed to try to force-replicate the drama of the inadvertent Play-In-Night that ended the 2011 regular season. What could not be replicated was the fact that the 2011 games were the results of weeks of what was left of the regular season pennant race while the 2012 games featured at least two teams that had all but secured the slots weeks earlier.

You remember Robert Andino and the Dan Johnson and Evan Longoria homers from 2011. What – unless one of them happens to be your team – do you remember of either 2012 Play-In Game?

Right. A vexing invoking of The Infield Fly Rule.

If that isn’t symbolic of those two games I don’t know what is. Don’t get me wrong: I’m at peace with the wild card, even with two wild cards. I’m at peace with pitting them against each other, Gladiator Style. But the randomness of one game just erases the remaining fairness of the thing. Make it three, but throw in a little torture. Make it best-of-three, and play a day/night doubleheader in one city. If one team wins both games, they go in. If not, everybody has to travel to the other city for a night game, the next night. You retain a little of the dice roll of the compressed time frame without the strong possibility that the better team will just happen to lose the only playoff game it gets after eight months of spring training and the 247-game regular season.

I mean, there are unfair weighted variables that you aren’t going to be able to control. To my knowledge nobody’s done the research but I would suggest an unusually high percentage of playoff teams since 1997 have been the ones with the softer inter-league schedule, and inter-league has gone from a set rotating division-versus-division plan to games assigned either for maximum tv ratings or for geographical convenience.

Worse yet is the advantage teams in divisions with extremely weak clubs have for home field advantage in the first round, and especially Wild Card eligibility. The American League East contenders used to have the doormat Devil Rays to fatten up against. Now (presumably) the National League East and American League West clubs will gain immeasurably by getting 19 opportunities to beat up the Marlins and Mets, and Astros respectively. There is no such dead wood in the A.L. East and N.L. Central, for example.

So those are the caveats – and the potential fixes – for anybody trying to forecast the playoffs (not that I’m saying they should be fixed to make forecasting easier; they should be fixed because theoretically you don’t want the true best team in the game wiped out by avoidable biases).

I’ve already picked the Rays, Indians, and Athletics to win the A.L. Divisions. I’m guessing Tampa Bay will still have the best record in the league and draw the wild card winner (which I’m thinking will come one each from the East and West, and the more I look at them the more I like Baltimore again – and L.A.). In lieu of flipping a coin I’m thinking the Orioles will be the better team by then and prevail again (I know; it’s a quaint notion that the ‘better team’ would win a one-game playoff). That would set up Tampa Bay-Baltimore and Cleveland-Oakland in the ALDS. An A’s pick is an easy one; I think the Rays-Orioles would be the full seven thriller and Tampa would finally prevail. So in the ALCS two great pitching staffs meet. Tampa’s is a little greater and they get a clutch home run from – who knows? Wil Myers? – to decide Game Seven. That puts them in the World Series.

In the National I already took the Nationals (waaay out on a limb there, I know), Cardinals, and Giants. The runners-up, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Los Angeles, will all be very good teams (although the Dodgers could easily have switched managers by mid-season). I’m forecasting kaboom-style disasters in Texas and for both L.A. teams so I might as well go whole-hog and say the Dodgers don’t even get the Card. So that’d be Braves-Reds and I’m assuming the Braves can survive their second such game in two years. That’d set up Washington-Atlanta and Cards-Giants and I’m afraid the obvious is true in both cases: Washington and San Francisco pretty easily. And as much as I like the Giants’ team I have already suggested the Nationals are going to have one of those triple-digit years so while I suspect San Francisco could give them a seven-game series I just can’t pick against this amazingly deep team from DC.

The World Series: two great pitching staffs, two great managers, two dynasties that were built quickly. But the Washington bats will overwhelm even the Rays’ rotation, and you-know-who will be the star. This will be Bryce Harper’s year (one assumes the first of many) as the star of …your World Champion Washington Nationals.

2013 Previews. AL East: The Yankees Muddlers Row.

The ball was chopped slowly and to get the out the first baseman would have to pick it up barehanded in the grass corner between the foul line and the infield dirt. The pitcher would have to hustle over but as the game’s most abused cliche reminds us every 43 minutes, that’s why they have PFP in spring training. With a speedy runner it would still be close but this was the majors and he who executes best laughs last.

The fans at Yankee Stadium didn’t think twice about it when it happened in the top of the fourth yesterday. The play was difficult, but the pitcher was CC Sabathia and his hustle and athleticism have been one of the under-publicized aspects of the franchise’s success since 2009. And of course, the New York first baseman for exactly the same length of time has been Mark Teixeira and the goaltender-like whip-lash catches he makes at the bag and his other defensive wizardry obscures the fact that if that comparatively ordinary slow chopper is hit to him 500 times over a decade he’s going to pick it cleanly at least 499 times.

Except the Yankee first baseman yesterday wasn’t Teixeira, it was Kevin Youkilis. And no offense to Kevin Youkilis, but when he reached down to scoop up the Jose Iglesias chop and toss it to Sabathia for the out he got nothing but grass and air.

An inning later Jarrod Saltalamacchia shot one into the corner in left, where Brett Gardner should have made an adroit pick-up of the ball as it rattled around. Except Gardner was in center because like Teixeira, Curtis Granderson is hurt and it was Vernon Wells. And no offense to Vernon Wells, but when he waited for the straight bounce off the fence that never comes out there, it didn’t come, and he was left to play ‘go chase’ for awhile. All things considered Saltalamacchia probably would’ve gotten a double out of it anyway but there would have been a play and every tenth or twentieth time – an out.

In neither case did the Red Sox score. But those two plays alone added ten pitches or more to Sabathia’s count and send him packing after five innings down 4-to-2, which opened things for the Yankee bullpen, which may be the least recognized problem among the cascade of them that started yesterday, and soon it would 5-to-2 and then 8-to-2 and then just as in “Young Frankenstein,” it got worse – it started raining.

The effect on the offense of the subtraction of Teixeira, Granderson, Derek Jeter, and even Alex Rodriguez is obvious. What will kill the Yankees – and I mean last place kill the Yankees; this is not the collapse of 1965, that was last year in the ALCS, this is 1966 - will be its effect on the defense. Bad defense is not only its own punishment but it makes bums out of the best of the pitchers. And to re-use yet another old joke, kid, these aren’t the best of them.

And much of this mess will never show up in the box score. The Iglesias and Saltalamacchia plays were both clearly to be scored base hits. Unfortunately this Yankee team – the Muddlers’ Row of Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay, Wells, and Youkilis – has been assembled through (in the memorable phrase of the equally memorable San Francisco baseball writer Hank Schulman) dumpster-diving. And defensively they’re just bad enough to not make the plays, but just good enough to not get the errors.

It’s hard to say how this impending disaster will be received in the Bronx. The Yankees haven’t had a losing season since 1992 and they’ve either won or been in contention every year since 1993. Hal Steinbrenner was still at the University of Florida Business School then, and the Yankees could and often did draw half of what they draw these days. A front office with no memory of the Bad Old Days never mind experience with alleviating them is likely to panic and throw some babies out with the bathwater (heck, the Yankees began panicking about mild media criticism more than a year ago). And the front-running fans who have filled the place during these later glory years will not know what that they were seeing, and never fully realize the implications of the fact that their new platoon third baseman was guy who had been released by the Red Sox exactly a week ago today.

Toronto: I’m not one of those stick-in-the-muds who looked at the Dodgers last year and tut-tutted “you can’t parachute in four new guys in mid-season and expect to form a team.” I mean, for one thing I’m an entirely different kind of stick-in-the-mud. But more importantly, that conclusion ignores the reality that the Giants have won two World Series while parachuting in four guys (last year) and five guys (2010).

So my refusal to jump on the Bandwagon going doing Blue Jay Way is nothing about team chemistry or parachuting or trying to meld a team while competing or Jose Reyes’s hamstrings on turf. I just think that the laudable effort to rebuild a once-great franchise has somewhat obscured some remaining problems – like a very average bullpen, very average production out of the DH spot, and trouble at third base until Brett Lawrie returns.

Plus there’s this little scandal from last year that sneaked in under everybody’s radar. The big trade for the noble Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey? It came less than a year after Dickey became one of a handful of major league pitchers to admit to taking painkiller injections during the season (Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz were among the others). In Dickey’s case this was 2011; I’ve seen no reporting about him and the drug – Toradol – in 2012:

Dickey is among the players who believe Toradol is more effective than taking over-the-counter pain pills. He said he believed the injections helped keep him on the field to pitch 2082/3 innings last season (2011), despite his injured foot. Some doctors, though, said athletes might believe Toradol to be more effective only because of the way it is commonly administered.

The emphasis there was mine.

Giving your starting pitcher a series of anti-inflammatory pain-dulling injections all seasons long is ok because the drug, while requiring a prescription, supposedly only has a slightly greater impact than a couple of Advil (injected directly into the source of your pain). Except, oh by the way, that pesky drug insert sheet references limiting its use to five days in pill form and two days for injections, and oh by the way in England physicians are instructed to start patients on Toradol only in a hospital, and oh by the way when Clay Buchholz was in a hospital with internal bleeding last June he said he thought his use of the drug contributed to his crisis and the fact that doctors had to transfuse him with three or four pints of blood.

Dickey is hardly deserving of being the only one with a finger pointed at him. My understanding is there isn’t a rotation in the majors that doesn’t have at least one regular Toradol, and that some of them may be in new uniforms this year in part because of their teams’ fears that the painkiller could mask necessary pain, the kind that warns you of impending injury. For as with any drug that dulls pain, or covers up muscular damage or exhaustion, or which neutralizes tiredness, the possibility is increased of sudden serious injury. You don’t know you’re hurting and you push it to far – and something snaps.

In short, if a Toradol scandal, or a Prescription Drug scandal, breaks in baseball this year the guys on the record as (past) users are few and far between. And only one of them is a defending Cy Young Winner.

Almost as an aside I also have doubts about the efficacy of Toronto’s rotation. Dickey went from 8-13 in 2011 to 20-6 last year. His strikeouts soared from 134 to 230 in only 25 more innings. His offensive support went up 8/10ths of a run. I don’t know if any of that is sustainable or repeatable this year – especially without the joy of facing pitchers every ninth batter. Tell me how much you’re willing to rely on Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, to say nothing of Ricky Romero, currently of the Dunedin Blue Jays.

Boston: The gift of Jackie Bradley being ready as much as a year early – and it is a gift, his at bats are those of a 10-year veteran who draws 100 walks every year – may hide some dubious free agent signings. When your key acquisition does so poorly on his physical that you (and he) agree to cut the deal from three years to one, that’s a problem. When you are hoping that Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, and Ryan Dempster all had ‘blips’ last year, that’s a lot of high-odds wagering.

The Red Sox probably did themselves a favor by sacrificing the stability that was Adrian Gonzalez in order to offload the franchise-sinking contracts of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. But as has been noted elsewhere, they were left with a lot of contract room and not that many people to spend it on. Instead of a Josh Hamilton they went for “Clubhouse Guys” – which is great for long road trips, flights, bus rides in traffic, rain delays, etc. – but rarely seems to be the corrective folks assume insomuch as the last time I checked the game was still played out on the field and very rarely in the clubhouse.

Bradley, of course, is the real deal (though I’ve never seen a player whose Dad didn’t reach the majors use the “junior” on his uni – his reads “BRADLEY JR.”). Will Middlebrooks is legit too. If Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia stay healthy that’s four of nine positions that will excel offensively and defensively. But with David Ortiz hurt and presumably waning there is no longer a feared hitter in this line-up and given the depth of this division that’s a serious impediment to contention.

Baltimore: As mentioned in the AL Central preview the Orioles could’ve easily offed the Yankees in the ALDS last year even though they were relying on two outfielders – Lew Ford and Nate McLouth – who had been released earlier in the same season (Ford, by a team in an independent league). The O’s were reshaped by two guys who were largely viewed as having been bypassed by the proverbial parade, Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette, and featured the contributions of only a couple of homegrown guys (Markakis, Machado, Wieters, Jim Johnson).

What becomes of the Orioles when the revivified farm system begins to contribute? Dylan Bundy was arguably the game’s top pitching prospect, until this spring when he was bypassed by his teammate Kevin Gausman. Will they step into the rotation or be used out of the bullpen a la David Price? Could WBC-tested infielder Jonathan Schoop help out? Or outfielder L.J. Hoes? Could any American League team add more key parts from its own farm system as 2013 rolls along?

Tampa Bay: Well, yeah, actually.

Even while trading off Wade Davis and James Shields, the Rays still have a complete back-up rotation (Jeff Niemann in the bullpen, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Alex Colome in the minors) to say nothing of a Cy Young Winner (David Price) and two possible future candidates (Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore) at the front of Plan A.

And if the primary bounty in the Shields trade, Wil Myers, is not summoned into the Tampa line-up it will only be because of injury, or because the traditional small-ball line-up is producing satisfactorily and there’s no need to squeeze out James Loney or the platooners at second or DH.

The key Tampa weakness would seem to be behind the plate. They kept Jose Molina intact enough to appear in 102 games last year and one wonders if that can be done again, or if Jose Lobaton is a satisfactory alternative. There isn’t a catching prospect in the system and despite the sense that the Rays hit the bullseye with every one of their very few economic darts, the minors are thin generally in terms of position players (2009 was a bad draft, and every year that passes makes the 2008 selection of Tim Beckham as the overall number one pick instead of some kid named Posey look that much sillier). But the arms keep appearing, the down-market free agent signings keep producing (you realize that Loney could out-hit his predecessor Carlos Pena by a hundred points and still not hit .300?), and the veterans get transformed either into more draft choices (or guys like Wil Myers. Good grief, the team with the thinnest tightrope in the sport was somehow able to trade for Wil Myers). Marc Topkin has a superb and concise explanation of how the Rays keep the machine turning here and I offer the usual disclaimer here that I went to college with the future Mrs. Stuart Sternberg and their oldest son was an intern for me one summer.

The Division: I know this is viewed as a three, four, or even five team race. I just don’t see anybody seriously challenging the Rays, especially when Myers comes up. I’m not certain on whether the Orioles’ Tampa-like structuring and youth flood can overcome the value of Toronto’s mass additions in the race for second place; either way it’ll be close. The Red Sox are not likely to compete but also not likely to be challenged by the Yankees who – even in the disaster of last place – will still be the division’s lead story.

Tomorrow we’ll finish it up with the Tarot Card reading that those one-game wild cards make trying to predict the playoffs six months in advance.

2012 Previews: A.L. East

AMID all the curiosity and nostalgia about the sudden unretirement of Andy Pettitte, there rested one question that is absolutely fundamental to understanding the 2012 American League Eastern Division race.

Why?

I heard people ask Pettitte about how it happened, when it happened, why he wanted it to happen, how his arm was, how his legs were, how his head was. I heard questions about when Brian Cashman called him and how often and how much he was offered and how much he eventually signed for and why it took him so long and when he’ll be ready.

What I did not hear was a question about why – in the wake of trading the best hitting prospect they’ve produced since Robinson Cano for a starting pitcher, and in the wake of signing a free agent starting pitcher, and with a training camp full of young starting pitcher prospects – why did the Yankees feel they needed Pettitte?

Even at the point when Cashman traded Jesus Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda (and then incongruously compared Montero to Miguel Cabrera), the Yankees had a surfeit of starting pitchers. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes were all back (and Bartolo Colon could’ve been). Manuel Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Hector Noesi were awaiting opportunities. And then Pineda was added. And then Kuroda. And then Pettitte.

I understand no team divides its 162 starts evenly among five men and if you go through a year with only two rotational changes it’s been a blessing from above. But to add so much is to suggest not that you’re worried about injury or attrition, but about the quality of what you already have. I don’t think the Yankees trust Nova, I think they feel Hughes’ moment is passed, I presume they have no faith that the moment will arrive for Banuelos and Betances. And after his flaccid spring, I’m sure they’re wondering if the Pineda thing was a disaster too.

It was.

Jesus Montero probably can’t catch a lick and the Yankees didn’t have first base open for him to move to. But a player like him, with that kind of high ball opposite field power, is far more scarce than a Michael Pineda at his best, let alone a Michael Pineda who didn’t gain velocity in the off-season, only weight. The Yankees seem deliberately intent on ignoring the reality that they are aging dangerously on offense. I realize that part of the solution to that is to free up the DH spot that Montero would’ve filled, by a rotation of the wheezing Alex Rodriguez, the unpredictable Nick Swisher, the aging Derek Jeter, and the calcified Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez. But it would seem those guys, and the offense, would’ve benefited a lot more from taking days off and letting the kid get 600 plate appearances and 30 homers.

And while my theory of Cashman getting as much pitching protection as he can speaks well to his preparedness for the ever-growing chance of injury or unreliability among his hurlers, there is no similar cushion being built for the line-up. This is a dreadful bench, from Francisco Cervelli (no power), to Eduardo Nunez (no glove), to Jones (no future). And there’s nobody in the farm system to fill the deficiencies before Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams arise during the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign. There was a guy but they traded him for a starting pitcher so good that they had to talk a 39-year old out of retirement to replace him. Lord help the Yankees if Curtis Granderson hits like he did last September, or if Rodriguez (“he’s in great shape; oh yeah, he was in great shape last year before he broke”) or Teixeira or Russell Martin get hurt. Or Cano. No Cano and they might not be even a factor in the pennant race.

That’s why I’m picking TAMPA BAY in this division, and handily. This is still a popgun offense, although I giggle every time I read somebody rip them for bringing back Carlos Pena to replace folk hero Casey Kotchman. Casey Kotchman had 560 plate appearances last year in Tampa and drove in 48 runs. A first baseman almost has to try to achieve a statistic that pathetic. In any event, Andrew Friedman has upgraded the offense from anemic to serene, improving by small measure at first, at DH, and at short (where Jeff Keppinger is bound to supplant the .193/.223 boys, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac). Desmond Jennings is clearly blossoming into a star, and if B.J. Upton can hit merely .275, he will finally become one as well.

And the Rays have the best pitching staff in baseball. Even if Matt Moore is hyped and James Shields returns to earth and David Price keeps underachieving, they can pull Wade Davis back from the bullpen, and bring up Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and half a dozen other guys from Durham. If the magic spell that made Kyle Farnsworth a top closer suddenly snaps, they have Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta and Jake McGee and J.P. Howell to give it a try. The Rays probably have not just the best staff, 1-through-14 in baseball; they may have the best staff, 1-through-28. Who knows: if everything doesn’t go wrong maybe they dangle some of those prospects at mid-season and get some hitting?

The problem in BOSTON last year was pitchers drinking before the games were over. The problem in Boston this year could be fans drinking before they begin. Outside of Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury there isn’t a player on that 25-man roster about whom there is not one huge question. How soon will Kevin Youkilis’ crazy grip finally irreparably damage his hand? Can Carl Crawford actually face a pennant race? Is Buchholz healthy? Or Lester? Or Beckett?

Most importantly, to paraphrase long-ago skipper Joe M. Morgan, “who is running this nine?” New manager Bobby Valentine, showing my earlier criticisms of him may have been extreme and unfair, wanted Jose Iglesias at shortstop and hard-hitting, rapidly-improving Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate (Lavarnway being the only Red Sox player who didn’t panic down the stretch last year). He was overruled – and he certainly wasn’t overruled by newbie GM Ben Cherington. Years ago Terry Francona, John Farrell, and Theo Epstein came to the realization that Daniel Bard didn’t have the emotional chops to be a starting pitcher, and was best served firing gas out of the pen. They’re all gone, Bard was shoved into the rotation, is flailing just as the former bosses knew he would, and now presumably staggers back to the bullpen as broken goods behind the physically sketchy Andrew Bailey (Mark Melancon might close for them yet).

It’s a mess. It’s a mess that could almost accidentally come together in triumph and bolt into the pennant race, but – and heaven help me I’m agreeing with Curt Schilling – it looks like it is going bad quicker than he and I expected it to.  Ah well, maybe they can hire Francona back at some point and he can sift through the ashes and rebuild The Olde Towne Team with an eye towards 2014.

The question in TORONTO is: could it be going good quicker than anybody expects it to? Seven spots in the Jays’ lineup don’t particularly startle you, until you reach the conclusion that the guys occupying them could all, realistically, hit 20 homers apiece this year. This does not include Jose Bautista, or the first full year of The Brett Lawrie, who might become Canada’s first true homegrown baseball hero since The Larry Walker. The Blue Jays might be good for 250 home runs – Adam Lind could easily jump from one of the “other seven” to All-Star status – and the only defensive liability of the bunch, catcher J.P. Arencibia, could soon be supplanted by uber-prospect Travis D’Arnaud.

The Jays will hit and field. Their bullpen – fresh-armed Sergio Santos, protected by the underappreciated Coco Cordero, joining the incumbent Casey Janssen – with Darren Oliver actually finding a team he hasn’t previously played for – is newly solid. The questions are all among the starters. Only Ricky Romero has a resume, but during Toronto’s remarkable spring in dreary Dunedin (I know, I know, spring training stats, but they are 22-4 as I write this), Henderson Alvarez, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow, and even Deck McGuire and Kyle Drabek have looked sharp. Dustin McGowan is, in a tradition as old as time itself, hurt again – but perhaps only for a few weeks. If there’s one thing John Farrell knows it’s how to translate pitching potential into success. Just slight success out of the rotation and the Jays could vault into contention.

As to BALTIMORE they seem to be planning to use Wilson Betemit and Nick Johnson as part-time Designated Hitters. End Communication.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST FORECAST:

Faint heart never won fair predicting contests. I’m convinced about the winner, and taking a flier on the runners-up. It’s possible one of the Wild Cards comes out of this division but I’m not convinced any more. The Yankees and the Red Sox are not locks, and they are so not locks that I will assume New York will finally suffer the kind of position-player calamity that accelerates its decrepitude. TAMPA BAY is your champion, TORONTO second, NEW YORK third (close), BOSTON fourth, and BALTIMORE should’ve been relegated already.

NEXT TIME…I don’t know, I haven’t written it yet.

2011 Previews: AL East

Did pretty good last year: picked five of the eight post-season teams, including the Rangers and Giants. So, a little late, let’s get started on the 2011 forecasts with the American League and the East:

BALTIMORE: The Orioles have a lot going for them, not the least of which is information I couldn’t have known until tonight. Brian Matusz’s injury forces their hand on young lefty Zach Britton, who drew the most oohs-and-aahs in Florida as he mastered veterans like they were platoon guys in the Eastern League. For the Orioles to be anything more than a Cinderella team, Britton, Jake Arrieta, and Brad Bergesen will have to form a “Baby Birds” rotation as effective as the Milt Pappas/Jack Fisher crowd of 50 years ago – but less likely things have happened. The O’s have a confused but deep bullpen, and a powerful line-up that also presents an airtight infield defense if Derrick Lee and Brian Roberts can stay healthy. J.J. Hardy was described in Florida as “re-born” and Vladi Guerrero is still hitting anything that doesn’t hit the mascot. It’s also Buck Showalter’s Honeymoon Year – his second season in each job (1993 Yankees, 1999 Diamondbacks, 2004 Rangers) has seen a playoff contender grow out of almost nowhere.

BOSTON: I need to tell you about this? The Red Sox added two ex-closers to the bullpen, have a line-up with six potential All-Stars in it, and Mike Cameron on the bench? And that in my night in their dugout in Fort Myers last month, the focus of the stars was cheering everything that the then-struggling Jarrod Saltalamacchia did? There is just so much depth that unlike last year the team could contend even with a star – or maybe two – falling to injury. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are also tremendous teammates, not merely tremendous talents. Buster Olney said it best, in mime. He put one hand by his belt to indicate the other 29 teams. He put the other at his neck: “The Red Sox are here.”

NEW YORK: The aforementioned Mr. Olney tracked the end of the Yankee dynasty to Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, but this kind of overlooked the fact that they made the post-season in eight of the next nine years, reached the Series twice, and one once. This is the year the whole dynasty ends. Alex Rodriguez is healthy again and poised for an epic campaign, and there is no reason to doubt Cano or Teixeira. But otherwise I’d rather have Baltimore’s lineup. Or Toronto’s. The treatment of Jorge Posada (he can’t even be the back-up catcher? Not even the emergency back-up catcher?) and the reliance on such late-round fantasy fodder as Russell Martin, Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and maybe Kevin Millwood is just startling. What? Juan Acevedo and Scott Erickson weren’t available? There is always the chance that Derek Jeter is right and everybody else is wrong about his deterioration at bat and in the field. On consecutive at bats in the second inning on Opening Day, a Miguel Cabrera screamer cleared Jeter by at least ten feet yet he jumped anyway as if unable to judge its height; then, a pretty ordinary liner by Victor Martinez nearly took his glove off. It seemed prophetic. I cannot see this team in the post-season, and none of its prospect-saviors: Banuelos, Betances, Brackman, or Montero, are ready yet.

TAMPA BAY: One of the explanations I heard for Austin Jackson’s blossoming in Detroit last year was that they put Johnny Damon’s locker next to his. This year he’s supposedly tutoring the gifted but so-far underachieving B.J. Upton. You’ve already heard the story of Manny Ramirez – hearing either the call of the clock or of the diminished paycheck – volunteering for spring training road trips and extra work in left. You know that Dan Johnson can produce the same kind of power/low batting average at first that Carlos Pena did. You have noticed the Rays’ rotation is as young and as deep as anybody’s this side of Philly (and might have improved with Matt Garza clearing space for Jeremy Hellickson). But Tampa is being written off because Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey have to fabricate a whole new bullpen. The readily forgotten reality is that they had pretty much done the same thing in 2010, with just as unlikely a cast. The key men: the closer Rafael Soriano (Atlanta), the 8th-inning guy Joaquin Benoit (hurt in the minors), and the lefty specialist Randy Choate (minors) had all been elsewhere in ’09. They are not likely to have the wire-to-wire reliability of a Soriano, but there is no reason why Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta shouldn’t hold the fort until Jake McGee or Brandon Gomes is ready. The Rays are not in Boston’s class – who is? – but they are Wild Card-worthy.

TORONTO: Like Baltimore, rookie manager John Farrell has an airtight batting order with 20-homer power at every spot in the line-up, and a rotation and bullpen that could be heaven or hell. I prefer Baltimore’s starters to Toronto’s, but Farrell’s unique background of college head coaching, major league talent development, and major league pitching coaching, might enable him to get more out of the Jays’ mix of what I think is an overrated Ricky Romero and a cast of dozens. It is simply tough to imagine a team hitting as many home runs as the Jays will and still finishing last.

THE FORECAST: I don’t think the top two spots are at issue. Boston wins, the Rays probably take the wild card. The question becomes whether the Yankee collapse, and the Oriole and Jay growth spurts, happen rapidly enough to unleash Steinbrennarmageddon in the Bronx: the Yankees finishing last. I suspect we will see them occupy the basement long enough for the kind of good old-fashioned accusation firestorm and managerial firing speculation that used to make 161st Street the Bronx Zoo. But I do not think both sets of birds will fly with equal success. I may have Toronto and Baltimore switched here, but I see it: 1. Boston, 2. Tampa Bay, 3. Baltimore, 4. New York, 5. Toronto (and the last three, very close indeed).

 

 

Performance Enhancing Drugs – In 1894?

What’s fun about turning over baseball’s rocks is that it often turns out that beneath them there are…other rocks.

The rediscovery here of photographs of the preparations of the New York Giants before the final game of the 1894 Temple Cup inside the pages of The Illustrated American magazine led the Hall of Fame’s Senior Curator Tom Shieber to an unexpected and startling conclusion: as they swept the Orioles in the closest thing that era had to the World Series, two members of the Giants thought they were using PED’s:

Two of the Giants
made the telling plays in the Temple Cup games, just as they did two weeks ago
in Chicago. …  “You wish to know why these two particular men, and
how they did it? This is the solution.” The speaker held between his
finger and thumb a diminutive three-cornered blue phial. He continued:
“May be, you all do not know that R—- … is a pretty good doctor.
… When we got to Washington he asked W—- and myself to go with him one morning
to call on a doctor who is supposed to be thoroughly up in Isopathy. The visit
was most interesting, and when we left, R—- and W—- had promised to test the
virtue of the elixir contained in these little bottles. The opportunity
occurred in Chicago September 18th. The score was 1 to 1, each team having
tallied in the sixth. R—- was now up, but before taking the bat I saw him pass
something to his mouth and then look up for quite two minutes. His eyes
brightened and the veins across his temples and the arteries down his neck
knotted like cords as he stood at the plate. … R—- met the ball … and he put
his 230 pounds in the lunge he made; … the ball was bound for the outer world,
and would not have stopped if the fence had been twice as high. Three runs were
tallied, and, as it proved, they were just about the number needed…They used
the Washington physician’s elixir in every Temple Cup game, and I tell you that
is the secret of the Giants holding that trophy to-day. R—- and W—- will both
tell you so.”


Shieber goes on to source what the miracle “Isopathy” elixir was supposed to do (provide accelerated heartbeats and thus an instantaneous surge of strength), what it was supposed to be made of (mashed up ox brains), what it actually was (nitroglycerine), and who apparently used it (Amos Rusie and John Montgomery Ward).

A cardiac specialist friend of mine says it must’ve been 100% placebo, or, maybe even pure luck that it didn’t kill either of the 1894 Giants. Patients given nitroglycerine for heart-related chest pain are urged to lie down immediately because blood pressure drops.

Still, psychology tells us that placebos often work – and in the 1880′s and 1890′s when “glandular extracts” from animals were supposedly the cutting age of medicine, this might’ve been more true than at other times. Ironically, while Rusie and Ward were very-forward thinking in terms of supplements, they should’ve looked backwards. In 1889, future Hall of Famer Pud Galvin openly enrolled in “medical experiments” in Pittsburgh testing the efficacy of testosterone drawn from monkeys.

A good moment to pause for illustrations:1895Temple.jpg

That’s the cover of the scorecard from Game Four of the 1895 Series, supposedly the one owned by Orioles’ right fielder Wee Willie Keeler. One thing you’ll notice right away, that helped doom the Series. Baltimore finished first in the regular seasons of 1894 and 1895, but were upended in the Temple Cup by the second-place Giants in ’94 and the second-place Cleveland Spiders in ’95. Yet the Orioles, and their fans, still considered themselves the NL champions – and put it on the front cover of the scorecard for the series that was supposed to determine the champions!
This would be the only game the O’s would win in either the ’94 or the ’95 Series (they would win in ’96 and ’97). Here’s the scorecard itself:1895TempleScorecard.jpg
The hero for Baltimore was their third starter – the equivalent of a fifth starter today – Duke Esper. He threw a no-hitter for four and ended up with a five-hit shutout, winning 5-0 while the faithful Orioles fans pelted the Spiders with projectiles ranging from rocks to eggs. There were no fewer than seven Hall of Famers in this game, including the O’s first four hitters (John McGraw, Keeler, Hughie Jennings, and Joe Kelley, plus catcher Wilbert Robinson, Cleveland left fielder Jesse Burkett, and home plate umpire Tim Keefe). An eighth, Cy Young, had one of his few days off. There were five games in the 1895 Temple Cup, and Young pitched and won three of them!
Much of the program is devoted to very formal, very professional photographs of the Baltimore players. Most pictures of the great McGraw show him as the aged, even pudgy manager of the Giants. He’s only 21 or 22 here…1895TempleMcGraw.jpg

More On Jeter And 1894

It would appear that the Derek Jeter mess is down to one escape route.

Jeter should take the Yankees’ last offer, adding only one demand to a deal that will already overpay him by 50% or more. To save both his tattered reputation and the equally-sullied one of the Yanks, he should agree to the three years at $15,000,000 per and append to it a deal for an undisclosed figure that keeps him in the employ of the team in some non-playing capacity for ten years or twenty or whatever number they choose to pull out of thin air. Presumably a clause giving him an out in 2014 if he still wants to play (Japan?) could be worked in and boasted about by both sides.
Add one hug, ignore the reality that the Yankees should’ve spent the winter seeking not to mollify Jeter but to replace him, and everybody’s happy – until Jeter hits .238 in 2011.
The urgency of settlement has never been more pronounced than tonight. It’s pretty bad when three or four of your four theoretical alternatives to being vastly overpaid in New York disappear on the same day: The Dodgers sign Juan Uribe to play second, the Giants are about to sign Miguel Tejada to play short, the Rays have just put Jason Bartlett on the block to make room for Reid Brignac and Cardinals trade for Ryan Theriot (conceivably leaving the other middle infield spot still open unless the Skip Schumaker fan club prevails) – oh and Troy Tulowitzki just set the real bar for what a superb shortstop is worth (as opposed to what he was worth).
So that leaves Baltimore (Japan?)
Bad day to be Derek Jeter. He and agent Casey Close were said to have met with the Yankees today, were said to have been a little more flexible when they did so, and Jeter supposedly says he and Close will meet again tomorrow. I think, perhaps, they should.
MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE TEMPLE CUP SCOREBOARD:
I am charmingly chastised by Jenny Ambrose of 

TempleTiernan.jpg

the Hall of Fame that the publication from which those first-ever Temple Cup photos were taken and posted here (that’s a detail of Giants’ rightfielder Mike Tiernan, warning up before Game Four at the Polo Grounds in New York, a thousand yards from Yankee Stadium, in October, 1894), “The Illustrated American,” lasted not from 1887 to around 1898, but from exactly February 22, 1890 through February 17, 1899. The magazine met an ignominious end. There may or may not have been a fire at its headquarters, but there was a bankruptcy of some sort. From the “Business Troubles” listing in the April 16, 1898 edition of The New York Times:

Deputy Sheriff Maguire yesterday sold out the office furniture, type, and plant of The Illustrated American at 209 and 213 East Twenty-third Street, for about $1,100.
Never mess with an archivist.
Jenny’s Cooperstown colleague Bill Francis tells us a little something about the events after the decisive game of the 1894 Temple Cup, in which the homestanding Giants swept the Baltimore Orioles 16-3. Again from The Times (October 9, 1894), hours after those photos were snapped:
…the victors and the vanquished saw “Dr. Syntax” at the Broadway Theatre, and afterward recounted some of the pleasant experiences of last season, over foaming bumpers of Nick Engel’s beer. In a few days the players will start for their respective homes, and the baseball cranks’ occupation will be lost until gentle Spring starts again.
You just don’t hear a lot these days about ballplayers reliving the season “over foaming bumpers of beer.”

This Just In…From 1894

You might not like the Wild Card, and you might not like the World Series extending into November, and you might promise you will not like this expanded version of the playoffs Bud Selig is hinting at. But your displeasure will be nothing compared to the most ill-fated of all of baseball’s post-season formats: The Temple Cup.

On the other hand, as of this blog post, you finally have some photographs of action from The Temple Cup.
The Temple Cup was an attempt to make the best of a monopoly. 19th Century Baseball is largely and arrogantly ignored by even the game’s historians, but nearly everything we have today was either established or contemplated then. The two-league system was up on its feet by 1882 and the World Series (literally called “The World’s Championship Series”) was  established by 1886 (and a championship trophy, “The Dauvray Cup,” was established a year later). There was also a powerful players’ union by 1890 which would have overtaken the game’s power structure had it not been betrayed by the businessmen with which it necessarily had to partner to form its own player-run league that season.
The 1890 season destroyed the still solidifying rivalry between the National League and the American Association. Most of the players of the established leagues jumped to the union-backed Players League, and even in a time of franchise fluidity and player relocation, it was too much confusion and too much betrayed loyalty and simply too much baseball for the fans to stand. The NL, AA, and probably the PL lost money, and the balance of power was so deranged that the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, who as American Association Champions had lost the 1889 World Series to the NL Champion New York Giants, themselves jumped to the NL in 1890. They won the league crown, while the AA’s Louisville Cyclones – virtually untouched by the player raids because their players were thought to be so bad - went from worst to first in the Association. 
5,600 Kentucky fans showed up to see Game One of that natural Brooklyn-Louisville rivalry on display in the 1890 World Series. But the crowd for the next game was half that. By the first game in Brooklyn just 1,050 showed up. As the weather and baseball both worsened, Game Six drew just 600, Game Seven only 300. And even though the Series was tied at three games apiece with one draw, the teams called the thing off – it was that bad.
The Players League went out of business that winter, and as its talent returned home the American Association and National League squabbled (that’s why the Pirates are called the Pirates; they grabbed second baseman Lou Bierbauer when the Philadelphia Athletics failed to put in a claim for him). Within a year the weaker AA was dead, and all that was left was the NL, with four of the stronger AA franchises tacked on. The twelve-team, no-division league was so unwieldy that seven of the teams finished at least 32 games out of first.
All of which brings us back to the Temple Cup. The National League monopoly had to come up with something to fill the void of the World Series, which had died with the two-league system when the American Association folded. In 1892 they tried a split season, matching the first-half winners from Boston against the second-half victors from Cleveland. It was just as dull a prospect as it would be when the owners returned to it 99 years later after the Strike of 1981, and it was abandoned. 
There was no post-season play at all in 1893, and that didn’t work either. That’s the exiting owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chase Temple (in a neat tie-in, one of the owners who signed away Lou Bierbauer from the A’s) offered a 30-inch tall, $800 trophy to the winners of some kind of post-season championship (a team would only get it if it won three seasons in a row). But what kind of post-season championship? Naturally, the first-place finisher versus the runner-up.
Hoo boy.
They actually thought this would work, that the fans of twelve cities, having watched a 154-game season decide who was best, would accept forcing that team to then play a best-of-seven against the club they just beat. No Divisional Play, no splitting up into Six-Team Leagues or Conferences. Winner Versus Runner-Up! That the concept was inherently flawed was underscored by the fact that at its outset, the Temple Cup was designed as a challenge. As Jerry Lansche wrote in The Forgotten Championships:

The team that won the pennant would play the team that finished second in a best-of-seven series. If the first-place team declined to play, the second-place and third-place teams would compete. If the second-place team declined to play, the pennant winner would play the third-place team. If the…well, you get the idea.
I do not think it coincidental that until last week I had never before seen a photograph from any of the only four Temple Cups that were played before the idea was abandoned in the winter of 1897. Only once did the Regular Season Champs seem to take it seriously. None of the Series went longer than five games. Gate receipts for the first Cup, in 1894, were supposed to be split 65/35 but the members of the pennant winning Baltimore Orioles and runner-up New York Giants secretly agreed to go halfies on the money.
How could that possibly go wrong?
And finally we get to the point of this post. I’m not saying these are the first photographs ever discovered of The Temple Cup. I’m just saying these are the first I’ve ever seen, and that there are none in the Noah’s Ark that is the Hall of Fame Photo Archive. 
Behold! The late highlights, just 116 years after the fact!
This is from a weekly magazine called “The Illustrated American” which was published from 1887 or so until, apparently, the day headquarters in Brooklyn burned down in 1898. There is no accompanying article, and as you can see from the scans, the photographic/printing process is understandably crude (it’s 1894!). They called them “halftone photo-mechanicals” and reproducing them usually creates that herringbone effect.
Still, they are extraordinary (and possibly unique) looks into what might have become baseball’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup. Let’s look at the shots one at a time and discover that the publishers fudged, more than once.
TemplePreGame.jpg
Well, they’re a long way away from their positions if they are in fact waiting for umpire Tim Hurst’s call of “Game.” These are the 1894 New York Giants lined up in right field at the Polo Grounds before the decisive game of their sweep of the Orioles. The guy holding the flag in the middle is back-up catcher Parke Wilson, and standing to his left (our right) is the unmistakable mustache of should-be Hall of Famer, centerfielder George Van Haltren. The fellow in the striped jacket could easily be Hall of Fame pitcher Amos Rusie. Certainly the man next to him in the dark sweater
with the big glove is catcher Duke Farrell, and, to his left, in the other sweater, is Game Four starting pitcher Jouett Meekin. At the far right of the picture, seemingly just ambling up to the line, is no less a figure than Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward. Ward is not only the Giants’ second baseman and manager, but the organizer of that first players’ union that precipitated the end of the game as they knew it and made the Temple Cup necessary.
As Ward begat the Players League and Chase Temple offered up The Temple Cup, Mrs. John Ward had a hand in this, too. As the actress Helen Dauvray, she had been such a fan that the Dauvray Cup for the Winners of the World’s Championship Series from 1887 through 1890 – manufactured by Tiffany’s – had been her idea.
Between Meekin and Ward, if you think you see a horse, I don’t think you’re wrong. Keep reading. And those are three small engines perched outside the stadium. The 8th Avenue Elevated Line not only ran directly from downtown Manhattan to the Polo Grounds on 155th Street, but the precursor to the city’s subway system had a storage yard behind leftfield. The yards would still be there in the 1940′s, and the “El Train” until the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958.
TempleFarrell.jpg
Yeah, well, maybe.

I’m thinking Duke Farrell is actually acknowledging the photographer shouting at him. And he wasn’t the only one. That’s Van Haltren again at the far left, in his quilted pants (useful both for sliding and for warmth – it is October 8, 1894, after all). A little further back is, I believe, left fielder Eddie Burke. Farrell would later become the first coach for the Yankees (1909). At the far right, still holding his flag, is backup receiver Parke Wilson. And there’s the El Train in the background, along with the confirmation of the horse. This was not necessarily some precursor to the Phillies’ on-field mounted police brigade during the 9th Inning of their World Series win in 1980; for a small fee, season ticket holders could park their Broughams and other horse-drawn affairs in the outfield. 
TempleMeekin.jpg
George Jouett Meekin is not bowing, certainly not to the “rooters.”
But he took quite a few bows that season. After three mediocre years with Louisville and Washington (29-51), Meekin flourished in his first season in New York (33-9, 41 complete games, and this while striking out 137 and walking 176 in his 418 innings of work). Meekin was one of the new generation of fireballers who had been the impetus for the last great change in baseball just a year earlier – when the pitcher was moved back from a “box” fifty feet from the plate, to a mound located sixty feet, six inches away (his teammate Rusie, who won 36 games that year, and a fellow in Cleveland named Denton “Cyrus” or “Cyclone” or just plain “Cy” Young were the others). 
Relying on a side-arm delivery and absolutely no curveball, Jouett would twice again win 20 games, then get flipped to Boston in the middle of the 1899 pennant race in a controversial and some say smelly move by the Giants to try to secure Boston the crown. Though he’d give up two in the first to the Orioles today, he finished up with a five-hit victory, his second of the Series.
TempleTiernan.jpg
Oh come on! 
I have no doubt that this wonder of photo-mechanical reproduction fooled some of the readers of a general interest magazine in 1894, but you and I have seen quite a few more game-action shots and this isn’t one of them. Firstly, Giants’ right fielder Mike Tiernan does not appear to be exerting himself very much. Secondly, it’s doubtful that the shutter speeds of the day would have caught very much of him if he had been, say, running before his “great decisive throw.”
Also the game ended 16-3 New York, and the boxscore tells us none of the Giants’ outfielders got an assist that day. Tiernan also contributed only one hit and one putout to the New York cause (our friends Farrell, Meekin, and Van Haltren had three each). But Tiernan is surely worth being singled out by the photographer. In the days when almost no ballplayer lasted, Tiernan roamed that corner of the Polo Grounds for twelve and a half years until an injury abruptly ended his career in July of 1899. He had 1,838 career hits, batted .311 and slugged .462, stole 449 bases, and in that deadball era, he not only hit 105 homers but five times managed double digits in single seasons. And considering he was one of just 24 players to get 5,000 At Bats in National League play before 1900, I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.
Note, by the way, the ads behind “Silent Mike”: for the newspaper “The New York American,” The Pennsylvania Railroad, and “White’s Yucatan Gum.” In a time-travel short story by the late Jack Finney, the hero arrives in a just-slightly altered New York of 1962 where the top-selling auto brand is the Stutz, there was a President Coopernagel, the Giants never moved to San Francisco, and the most popular gum is…Yucatan.
TempleWilson.jpg
To borrow my friend Gary Cohen’s phrase: “And the ballgame is over!”

Obviously it isn’t. The other Giants are still warming up behind the pennant and the shadows are all the same as in the “pre-game” shots. 18 hits and 16 runs by the Giants and they sweep the Temple Cup and you missed getting a single shot of the entire game? I’m not even convinced that’s Parke Murphy holding the flag. Looks more like the pitcher, Meekin. And there is that same horse, just to the right of the flag.
Why do I keep mentioning the horse? Again, from Lansche’s The Forgotten Championships:
During the seventh inning, two horses escaped from the grasp of their owners behind the ropes in center field, delaying the game several minutes before they were caught.
And today, we get worked up about a loose squirrel on the field.
TempleVictory.jpgOf course, they would have had to have taken their farewell tour before the game.

Okay, I’ll stop being so picky. These are photos of the long-forgotten Temple Cup, and its long-forgotten winners, the ’94 Giants. Some of the player ID’s are clear now: the thin guy just to the left of flag-bearer Parke Wilson appears to be Mike Tiernan. On the other side, with the ‘stache, is George Van Haltren. Not sure who’s next, but the four furthest right are Amos Rusie (I believe), Duke Farrell, Jouett Meekin, and – his stride here confirms it – Johnny Ward. Somewhere in that group is one more Hall of Famer, Giants’ third baseman George Stacey Davis. It’s too bad the Orioles didn’t wander over to the “Illustrated American” photographer. John McGraw was the third baseman on that team, and among his teammates, Dan Brouthers, Hughie Jennings, Wee Willie Keeler, Joe Kelley and Wilbert Robinson all went to Cooperstown (as did non-playing manager Ned Hanlon).
In fact, if you’d attended Game Three the day before, you would have seen exactly 18 Orioles and Giants on the field, and with Rusie pitching for New York, fully half of them were to be Hall of Famers.
Of course, with these photos – you sort of did go to that game, didn’t you?
Ironically the Hall of Fame doesn’t have any Temple Cup photos, but stored in its refrigerated archives, just behind a beer vendor’s case from Arlington Stadium from the 1970′s, is…
IMG_0951.jpg
IMG_0954.jpg
…the Temple Cup. Complete with guy who broke it (not really – it’s supposed to do that).
And if you think anything has really changed from the baseball of 1894 and the Temple Cup, consider a detail from one of the magazine photos, with a detail of a shot I took after Game Six of the 2009 World Series, which took place literally the other side of the Harlem River, no more than a thousand yards from Game Four of the 1894 Temple Cup. Mr. Jouett Meekin on the left; Mr. Joba Chamberlain on the right.
TempleWilsonDetail.jpg

IMG_1402.JPG

What Price Jeter?

Let’s put aside for a second the premise that Derek Jeter believes he should be baseball’s second-highest paid player after a season in which he batted .241 against right handed pitchers. Let’s not address what it must look like in that higher plane of consciousness in which a team should pay a man $25 million a year through his 42nd birthday not because he is performing at that a supreme level of production, but out of loyalty and recognition of past greatness, and because he deserves to make nearly as much as Alex Rodriguez does.

Let’s start with reality. If the Yankees actually have offered him three years at $15 million – is there any team prepared to outbid them? The first part of that question is obviously simpler: for how many teams would Jeter be an upgrade at shortstop – or even second base – and have any marquee value?
It’s best to begin inside the division. The Red Sox are out; it would look pretty funny to see Jeter in a Boston uniform and Theo Epstein would delight in the gigantic nose-thumbing it would constitute. But the Sox believe themselves overstocked up the middle as it is with Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro, and are trying to unload Scutaro as it is (one can almost see them offering Scutaro to the Yankees as a Jeter replacement). Tampa Bay might think Jeter a better second base option than Sean Rodriguez, but they’re seeking to trim payroll, not engorge it. Toronto is set with Escobar and Hill. On the other hand, the Orioles don’t really have a shortstop despite Robert Andino’s flashes of adequacy last September.
Could any of the other big market teams be interested? At first blush you could envision a scenario in which the Mets actually do unload Jose Reyes and grab Jeter (or grab him to play second). But don’t be fooled if the first half of this shuffle takes place. Reyes would be moved to lighten the payroll and there are serious doubts about whether ownership will sign even the most economical of free agents this winter. The only real bidding war the Yankees might face for Jeter would be over before it got back to the dealer. 
In Los Angeles, Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis had weak seasons in 2010, but the Angels love them both. Owner Arte Moreno may be enough of a Yankee emulator at heart to have named his ballpark “Angel Stadium” (and not “Angels Stadium”) but he’s probably not enough of one to spend the money on Jeter when he could spend it on Adrian Beltre and/or Carl Crawford. Surely Jeter would be an improvement for the Dodgers at second base, but as at CitiField, ownership questions remain the deciding factor in the ever-deepening Chavez Ravine. 
In Chicago, the numbers have yet to explain the Cubs’ interest in Blake DeWitt but jettisoning him to pay Jeter to play second seems unlikely. As we move into the high-end middle markets, the Rockies have just cleared the way for Eric Young, Jr., at second. The Tigers would probably be happy to add Jeter to replace the Will Rhymes/Scott Sizemore uncertainty at second, but not at these prices. The Giants need a shortstop, but the field of free agents includes two incumbents from their own club in Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe. The Reds are in a similar situation with Orlando Cabrera testing the waters. The Cardinals are inexplicably satisfied with their middle infield mish-mosh of Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene, Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker but Jeter would be an upgrade on any of them.
So now we begin to move down market. The Astros like what Jeff Keppinger did for them last year and have just traded for Clint Barmes. Jeter would clearly be an improvement here. The same for Oakland and shortstop Cliff Pennington and second baseman Mark Ellis. The Padres likewise have unappealing options in Everth Cabrera and David Eckstein. The Indians are not sold on second baseman Jason Donald, but the Pirates probably would not think Jeter enough of an improvement to demote cheap shortstop Ronny Cedeno. And in Seattle, Jack Wilson can’t hit but the Mariners rightly fell in love with his glove. Perhaps these non-spending teams could all get together and offer Jeter one large contract and share him at a rate of 27 games each.
The Jeter market, then, is Baltimore, San Francisco and maybe St. Louis.
That’s the market at $15,000,001 a year. 
The market at $25,000,000 is in Jeter’s imagination. Or in the year 2000.

2010 Forecasts: AL East

Having careened through the NL (Rockies beating the Braves in the NLCS, after the Rockies had beaten the Reds, and the Braves the wild-card Giants), we begin three nights’ worth of AL divisional previews, in the East:

Wow does
BALTIMORE not have pitching. Surely they could
have pitching by 2011, but right now
there is nothing on which to rely beyond Kevin Millwood, and no team relying on
Kevin Millwood has made the post-season since 2002 (and what is the excitement over
a pitcher who has produced exactly three winning seasons since that long-ago
last playoff appearance?). There are also worries offensively. Adam Jones was a
superstar at the All-Star break, but flatlined soon after, and any team relying
on Garrett Atkins clearly has not seen a National League game since 2006.

Here is
the unasked question in BOSTON: would the Red Sox rather have David Ortiz at DH
this year… or Luke Scott? Where, production-wise, will Not-So-Big-Papi fall in
2010? I think he’s behind Guerrero, Kubel, Lind, Matsui, Scott, and maybe
others. If the demise of the beast continues, the Red Sox are suddenly
presenting a very pedestrian line-up, one that might be the second weakest in
the division. Of course, Theo Epstein might have made this determination
already, which would explain the willingness to fill the big openings with the
great gloves of Beltre, Cameron, and Scutaro, rather than slightly bigger bats
that couldn’t have changed the overall new dynamic – the Red Sox are a pitching
and defense outfit. Mind you, as those outfits go, they’re among the best in
recent years. The rotation is deep enough to survive Matsuzaka on the DL, the
bullpen robust enough to survive if that soggy finish by Papelbon in the ALDS
was more than a one-game thing, and the cadre of young cameo pitchers has been
refreshed with the rapid maturation of Casey Kelly. But no matter how the Old
Towne Team fairs in 2010, keep the Ortiz thought in the back of your mind. What
if the second half of ’09 was the aberration, not the first half? Will the Sox
have to bench him? And if so, could the twists and turns of fate find them
suddenly grateful that they had been unable to trade Mike Lowell?

Oh is this
a conflict of interest. This will be the 39th season my family has
had season tickets in NEW YORK, and I’m not convinced the Yankees will be
hitting me up for playoff ducats this fall. Things I do not expect to see
repeated from 2009: 1) A.J. Burnett’s reliability and perhaps even his stamina;
2) Joe Girardi’s ability to survive without a reliable fifth starter (if Phil
Hughes really can pull it off in this, his fourth attempt, he might become the
fourth starter if my instincts on Burnett are correct); 3) Nick Swisher’s
offensive performance (his average and his RBI totals have never
increased two years in a row); 4)
Derek Jeter’s renaissance (as the Baseball Prospectus
folks note, 36-year old shortstops
deteriorate quickly); 5) Jorge Posada’s prospects of getting 433 plate
appearances (which begs the question: if you were hoping to DH Posada on
occasion, why did you sign as your primary DH, a guy who cannot play the
outfield, and can barely play first base?). As I have written here before, I am
not buying the premise that what in essence was a trade of Melky Cabrera,
Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, for a full-time Brett Gardner plus Curtis
Granderson and Nick Johnson was necessarily an upgrade – even if Javier Vazquez (9
career post-season innings; 11 career post-season earned runs) was thrown in,
in the bargain. Anybody wanna buy some of my tickets?

In TAMPA
BAY, I’m betting 2009 was the fluke and not 2008. What does one not like about
this team? Is rightfield confused? Stick Ben Zobrist there and let Sean
Rodriguez have a shot at second. That doesn’t work? Wait for mid-season and the
promotion of Desmond Jennings. You don’t like Crawford and Upton? Bartlett and
Longoria? Pena? The law firm of Shoppach and Navarro? The Rays seem to summon a
fully-grown starter from the minors each year – Price in ’08, Niemann in ’09,
Wade Davis in ’10. I do not think Rafael Soriano is the world’s greatest
reliever, but his acquisition is an acknowledgment that championship teams do
not muddle through with closers who pitched in All-Star Games prior to 2001.
What is the most remarkable fact about this extremely talented and balanced
team can be summed up by the caveat I have to offer in praising them. Shortly
after they were ransomed from Vince Naimoli, I discovered to my shock that a
college pal of mine had, for all these years, been married to the man who had just
done the ransoming.
A
few innings later, Stu and Lisa Sternberg and I sat in their seats at Yankee
Stadium and he was earnestly asking how I thought he could convince the players
to accept a salary cap so the Rays could contend. I told him I wasn’t sure, but
he wouldn’t have to worry about it any earlier than our next lifetimes. So what
you are seeing in Tampa is, in fact, Plan “B” – and it may be the greatest Plan
“B” in baseball history. 

Did you
know TORONTO is a small market team? Here is something the writers apparently
promised not to tell: the Jays got almost nothing for Roy Halladay. Sorry. When
the reward was Travis D’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor, it was only a
pair of pants being pressed. When the Jays inexplicably swapped Taylor to
Oakland for the lump-like Brett Wallace, it became the full trip to the
cleaners. One of the oldest rules of talent evaluation is: if a prospect has
been traded twice in four months, he may not be quite the prospect you think he
is (one of the older rules is: if one of your starting middle infielders has a
weight clause in his contract, you only have one
starting middle infielder). On top of
which, when you consider the Jays paid $6 million in salary offset for the
privilege of giving Doc away, this trade has to be called what it was: a salary
dump in which ownership was admitting it had no interest in competing. Jays
fans are left to cheer three very exciting hitters in Aaron Hill, Adam Lind,
and Travis Snider; to try to get the correct spellings and pronunciations of the
guys in their rotation (“excuse me, are you Brett Cecil, or Cecil Brett?”);
and, since there really won’t be much else to do under the roof this summer,
buy and read injured reliever Dirk Hayhurst’s marvelous book The Bull…
oh, sorry, did I already mention it?

PREDICTIONS:
Tampa Bay steps back into the forefront in an exciting race with the
well-managed but decreasingly potent Red Sox, and bests Boston by a game or
two. The Yankees contend – possibly even dominate – into June or July before the
rotation, and/or Posada, and/or Jeter, blow up, and they fade to a distant
third. The Jays and Orioles compete only to be less like The Washington
Generals.

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