Results tagged ‘ Justin Masterson ’

2010 Forecasts: AL Central

Having picked Tampa Bay to upend the Yankees in the East, we move to the AL Central.

I’m less
confident about assessing CHICAGO than I am about any other team in the majors.
Here is a team with the terrific burgeoning talent of Gordon Beckham and Carlos
Quentin – yet its success will depend much more on virtual castoffs like Andruw
Jones, Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, and Mark Teahen. Here, if Jake Peavy rebounds,
is a four-man rotation as good as any in the game, but a bullpen where only one
guy (Matt Thornton)
does not
start
the season as a question mark (how could you possibly get as many ex-studs in
one place as Kenny Williams has in Scott Linebrink, J.J. Putz, and
Tony Pena?). The White Sox could
easily win the division, but I would hesitate to bet on it.

Everybody
scratches their head at the quick demise in CLEVELAND – except I appear to be
the only one who’s doing the scratching in surprise that everybody else is so
confused. What do you suppose happens
to a team that is just one game from going to the World
Series, and then fire-sales Cy Young Award winners in consecutive season – and also
gets rid of their
catcher (who just happens to be the second-best offensive weapon at his
position in the game)? While the Indians may see some pay-off from these deals
this year (LaPorta at first, Masterson pitching, and, at least for the moment,
Marson catching), there is no reason to assume that the Indians have simply
corrected a temporary two-year blip. It is plausible that returns to form from
Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore, and Travis Hafner could propel this team to the
flag, but it is just as plausible that the bullpen will again be its undoing.
Remember, this is a team that has not had a reliable closer since Joe Borowski
in ’07 (and this requires you to believe that Joe Borowski was a reliable
closer). There is the one wildest of wild cards: the chance that the Kerry Wood
injury is the ultimate blessing in disguise – that it shelves Wood and his
not-so-awe-inspiring 20 saves of a year ago and forces Chris Perez to live up
to his talent. Of course as Winston Churchill answered that cliché 65 years ago,
“if it is a blessing in disguise, it’s very effectively
disguised.”

What if
Dontrelle Willis really is back? What if Miguel Cabrera’s career flashed before
his eyes over the winter? What if Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson are actual
major leaguers? If Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski come up trumps with those
four names, DETROIT should walk away with the division, because the rotation
seems outstanding, and the Tigers may have created its best bullpen (mostly by
default, and even though they’re about to find out what the Yankees did late
last year: Phil Coke can’t really get good lefties out). There are reasons to
suspect Johnny Damon will not be the kind of all-purpose threat he’d developed
into in the Bronx; 17 of his 24 homers in 2009 were hit at Yankee Stadium. It’s
possible Ryan Raburn or Wilkin Ramirez might have to be rushed into the
line-up. Then again it’s possible Alex Avila may force himself into it, behind
the plate.

When the
A’s still played there KANSAS CITY was the club on whom the Yankees palmed off
the guys they didn’t want any more. Funny that this year’s Royals start Chris
Getz and Scott Podsednik, and have Josh Fields on the
bench and Brian Anderson in the convert-to-pitching Skinner Box. The excuse that the Royals are the quintessential victim of the small market/big
market divide is nonsense: according to the Forbes figure filberts, the Royals
profit about ten million a year, gain at least thirty million more from revenue
sharing, and the franchise is worth three times what David Glass paid for it a
decade ago. So the free agents brought in to surround the American League’s
best starter, second or third best closer, fifth or sixth best first baseman,
and third or fourth best DH – are Rick Ankiel and Jason Kendall? It’s pitiable:
with a little investment from management the Royals could contend in this
division.

Manager
Ron Gardenhire of MINNESOTA knows 447 times more about baseball than I do. But
there is one fact that has been irrefutable since Tony LaRussa began to use
relievers on schedule, rather than when needed: Bullpen By Committee Does Not
Work. Gardy steered out of the skid just in time last night, designating Jon Rauch as his closer after weeks of saying he’d try the committee route. 
Do not be fooled by
reminiscences of the “Nasty Boys” – the 1990 Reds had 50 saves, 31 by Randy
Myers, 11 by Rob Dibble, 4 by Rick Mahler, 2 by Tim Layana, and 2 by Norm
Charlton. The Reds would trade Myers within a year and Charlton within two.
Minnesota’s committee could have been Jeff Reardon, Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado, and
Al Worthington, and it still wouldn’t have worked. There are reasons to fear this team might not be competitive -
the tremendous home field advantage that was the Metrodome is gone (although
depending on how the wind current works – see “Yankee Stadium, 2009″ – it could
turn Joe Mauer into a 50-homer man). The new double-play combo is also symbolic
of some serious problems. It is made up of two very nice men named J.J. Hardy
(who was run out of Milwaukee even before the ascent of Alcides Escobar), and
Orlando Hudson (who has been run out of Arizona and Los Angeles and who somehow
lost his job to Ronnie Belliard in the middle of the pennant race last
year).
It is also
the direct result of what must be viewed as two disastrous trades (Jason
Bartlett and Matt Garza to Tampa for Delmon Young, and Johan Santana to the
Mets for Carlos Gomez – now swapped for Hardy – and nothing of even impending
value). Nothing would please me more than to see the Team They Tried To
Contract rear up and fulfill its potential. I don’t think they have the front
office personnel to pull it off.

PREDICTIONS:
I like Detroit to get more lemons out of the slot machine of chance that is
this division, than I do Chicago. Thus, the Tigers, close, over the White Sox.
Minnesota and Cleveland will spar for third place and whether the Twins get it
will largely depend on how Target Field “plays” as a new home. Kansas City is
last again, which offends me, because there is as little excuse for this
perpetual state of suspended animation as there would be in Cincinnati or
Milwaukee or maybe even Denver and Tampa.

 

Recommended Prospects, Recommended Reading (Updated)

Funny that with all the big names moving before the deadline, the number of primo prospects was actually pretty low. I was particularly unimpressed with what the Indians got for Cliff Lee (and Ben Francisco) although I am only about ten percent insufficiently skeptical to address the Lee deal as I did the McLouth one – that the trading team was selling a guy, if not at peak value, then at the last moment he would be seriously overvalued, and were doing well to get anything hopeful back.

Having said that, if you still consider Justin Masterson a prospect and not a full-fledged major leaguer, he was clearly the most gifted of all the players given up for “the names.” A year from now, when Brad Penny and John Smoltz and who knows who else are Red Sox memories, Boston would not have parted with him, and not just because of his pitching gifts. The Sox are astounded by his quiet leadership, an almost unheard-of quality for a pitcher. He doesn’t rant, he doesn’t yell, he doesn’t slap his glove against his thigh, and nothing bleeds from his sock. He just inspires his teammates to feel more secure about their talents and accomplishments, and their prospects for winning the game. Terry Francona will miss him, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of his life.
And ironically, given how they are howling in Pittsburgh over the exiling of McLouth, then Jack Wilson, then Freddie Sanchez, the head-and-shoulders pick for the top pure-prospect traded against the deadline was the guy the Bucs got for Sanchez, pitcher Tim Alderson. Harkening back to the Johan Santana/Yankees post here, the rule of thumb is that half of all pitching prospects fail. That would ordinarily discourage the ever-discouraged Pirate faithful. However, Alderson and Charlie Morton are both front-of-rotation, ace-of-staff prospects. If one makes it and the other turns merely into a righty Jarrod Washburn, they’ve done awfully well – and this assumes that very little else from the McLouth or Wilson trades bears great fruit, which is not necessarily a correct assumption.
One more deadline note. The amazement at the Adam LaRoche/Casey Kotchman trade itself amazes me. The Red Sox made a similar acquisition in 2004, a glove-first, low-power starting first baseman, about whom everyone said “where they gonna play him?” His name was Doug Mientkiewicz and the point was, his window as a starting player was pretty much over, as is Kotchman’s. He will never hit enough. So you keep the defensive whiz as your back-up and pay for it by spending the middling slugger with the middling glove. The only complication this time is that the Boston backup on those days when Victor Martinez is playing first, is a fellow named Youkilis, and he’s no slouch.
BRIEF UPDATE NOT WORTHY OF ITS OWN POST

The Rangers sent Frank Francisco out on rehab to AAA. To Frisco of the Texas League. Making him Frank Francisco of Frisco.
Nearly as good as Johnny Podres of the Padres, Jim York of New York, or Ted Cox of the Red Sox.
READ – IN FACT, YOU’RE DOING IT NOW!

Three books to endorse with high praise and the caveat that I’m mentioned in one, and two of them are written by friends. I write as a guy who was once the country’s only nationally-published reviewer of baseball books (who once gave the second edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia a panning for some awful typos) so finding three I like at one time is quite a feat.
First there’s Marty Appel’s Munson: The Life And Death Of A Yankee Captain. When a book reveals details of a man’s life to his own family, it’s a pretty good book. I am duly impressed both with the research effort and the clarity of Marty’s work, and the attempt to recreate that sad day 30 years ago tomorrow when Munson’s death shocked baseball. It is not happy reading, but it is worthwhile reading.
I think Ron Darling may have written (let’s broaden it out to all of them who didn’t go to Yale; even co-written) the best book by a pitcher since Kirby Higbe’s HIgh And Inside. Ron’s is called The Complete Game and it takes a novel approach: a pitch-by-pitch, thought-by-thought recitation of key innings of key games, nearly all of them his own, throughout his long span in college and major league ball. Apart from taking you inside an entire team’s thinking as the pitches succeed each other, Ronnie also underscores what is to me the most underrated skill among elite athletes: Memory. Nearly all of the microscopic detail (what he was thinking between the third and fourth pitches, to the third hitter, in the fifth inning, of his thirteenth start, etc) was pulled from his recall and simply verified in the record books. He rolls the details out the way Gordie Howe once rolled out each shot he took in a Detroit Red Wings-New York Rangers game, 27 years after he played it. A great read, and very well written.
Almost not at all written is the third suggestion: Chris Epting’s The Early Polo Grounds. This is 181 pre-1925 photos taken at the legendary home of The New York Giants and it borders on time travel, even if the captions aren’t always complete (a date of an October, 1910, photo is disputed by the author because the Giants didn’t play in that year’s World Series; he seems not to have known that in those days the Giants and Yankees regularly played post-season series for the “Championship of New York”). Having just spent hours in the photo vaults of Cooperstown looking at all the photos of the fabled ballpark, I can say that this collection rivals that part of the Hall’s from the 20th Century – plus, they won’t arrest you if you try to take it home.


FAREWELL TO THE BARD OF ORANGE PARK

The highlights that Sunday night on the WWL showed everything except what the home plate umpire described as the “most impressive thing I’ve seen all spring.” Justin Masterson looked sharp, Jonathan Papelbon struck out the side (amid two rocketing singles), and they even showed Junichi Tazawa getting in and out of james with four strikeouts in two innings.
Not even a quick cutaway of Daniel Bard, who merely dropped a small universe of 100 MPH heaters on three of the Tampa Bay Rays least equipped to handle them. And though it was Morgan Ensberg, Ray Sadler, and Elliott Johnson swinging through what they couldn’t catch up to, it was awe-inspiring, largely for the additional reason that the Red Sox youngster who struck out 107 men in 78 innings in the minors last year appeared to be generating his speed with a motion just slightly more involved than a guy long-tossing on the side.
I have not seen this in a long time. It harkens back to the days of Brien Taylor, the ill-fated Yankees’ prospect who regularly topped 100 with no more motion than you throwing something at a nearby trash can. Sunday night, the Red Sox managed to resist the temptation to keep such a weapon at the big league level; commendable restraint considering the early March effort against the lesser Rays was just the start – he ended the spring with 9-1/3 scoreless and twelve strikeouts.
If his long-term value isn’t readily apparent (and long-term could mean after the summer solstice), add in this factor: after that one inning, Tim Tschida, working the plate, said that obviously the speed was the most impressive thing he’d seen thus far this spring, but that would almost nobody else could tell was that Bard had been painting the corners with his lasers. Moving the damn thing around, inside high, inside low, outside low, outside high. 
I only managed to see eleven games in Florida and Arizona, and I witnessed not just the aforementioned triple play, and other adventures I will recount here before opening day (Craig Monroe? Four homers in five at bats?). But The Bard — and we better use the article — remained the most stunning sight.
POLITICS-FREE

Thanks to all for the comments and the welcomes and the flaming go-to-Hades. This blog is about baseball and not politics; I won’t touch the latter here unless it unavoidably pertains to something between the foul lines, so write all you want about left-versus-right – I hope you find it entertaining to yourself, I won’t be reading it. As elsewhere here, abuse won’t be tolerated and the fine folks at MLB.Com will ultimately decide if we have to start approving comments. Doesn’t matter to me; I come here under the banner of the greater good: Baseball.
TRIVIA
Love trivia. But only if it means something. Here’s one I didn’t know about until 96 hours ago. What happened to the lights from the Giants’ last New York home, the Polo Grounds? The hint is: they’re still in service, today, in this country.
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