Results tagged ‘ Ronnie Belliard ’

False Spring In New York

Pitchers and Catchers report, New York temperatures clear 40 degrees, and somebody issues a forecast that references “55″ by the end of the week and it’s not the age of the latest pitcher the Yankees invited to camp.

These should all be good signs for baseball here in Big Town, and once again optimism balloons like CC Sabathia before his gallant off-season knee-saving conditioning program. And I’m not buying a word of it. In fact, 2011 is shaping up as one of those rare seasons in which neither of the local teams seriously contend, perhaps a year like 1967.
That was my first true season of baseball awareness, inspired by the events of a birthday party for a neighbor named Wolfgang (Wolf wasn’t originally from around here) at which each of us was given a pack of baseball cards and everybody else’s contained the bonus “miniature poster” and mine didn’t and I vowed to get one and I was hooked. This minor childhood trauma is recounted because my vague memory is that Wolf’s birthday was May 10th, which the record books will show you was the last 1967 day in which either the Mets or the Yankees were at .500 or better. Between them the ’67 New York clubs lost 191 games and had the 17th and 20th worst records in all of baseball in a time when all of baseball consisted of 20 teams.
I didn’t see it at the time. I was eight. But clearly, the missing “miniature poster” was a sign of things to come during that awful season.
It’s not going to be that bad, but I continue to get the impression that not one correspondent or fan or executive of either of the teams has any idea exactly how bad it is going to be. The telltale sign is the Mets and Yankees both ended 2010 in decided spirals, yet if the Yankees had not spent gaudy money on the largely unnecessary Rafael Soriano, identifying this city’s biggest off-season acquisition would require an argument over the relative merits of Russell Martin, Ronny Paulino, and Brad Emaus.
The Mets are bleeding at second base, dependent in the outfield on the comebacks of two mega-contract free agents who might not have been good ideas when they were healthy, and absolutely without hope if their closer doesn’t put both his problems with the law and his fastball behind him. The Yankees are facing a superstar’s existential crisis at shortstop, and a far greater drama behind the plate than anybody’s letting on. And barring the kind of luck you only find in Fantasy Leagues, neither team has the starting pitching to expect to compete in their divisions.
I don’t have to fully regurgitate my stance on Derek Jeter. I am as sentimental as any baseball fan, ever. But I get far more choked up about a team making the post-season every year than I do about whether one player performed for 17 seasons with one team or “only” 15. As near as I can figure it, instead of cutting the cord now (or at least keeping their obligations to a minimum), the Yankees have designed some sort of plan by which Jeter will be permitted to deteriorate further at shortstop this year and next, and then be moved to the outfield where he will squeeze out Nick Swisher while producing a quarter of Swisher’s offensive value. 
I get it. Everybody loves Jeter. I’d like to point out the Yankees released Babe Ruth, fired Yogi Berra, trashed Tino Martinez, demoted Bernie Williams, and traded Elston Howard to the Red Sox. Not every great player stays that way until he’s 40 and gets to go out on his own terms. The Yankees’ decision on Jeter will not only cost them playoff appearances, but it will still end in tears, and an even messier conclusion in which Jeter hits .217 and is benched or released or put on waivers or all of the above.
Something also has to give in this odd mish-mosh at Catcher. Jesus Montero is supposedly ready, despite wildly varying reports on his ability to hit or catch anything that isn’t straight down the middle. If there wasn’t already uncertainty about the youngster, it would have been supplied by the acquisition of Russell Martin, who clearly still has the capacity in him for a strong comeback. And then there is Jorge Posada, supposedly still a vibrant presence at bat if not behind the plate, and ready to slide in to the DH role much of the time. Where ever the truth lies here, there are still three guys going into two positions, along with some thought that the DH spot will be used as a parking place for Alex Rodriguez and an At Bats opportunity for Andruw Jones, Ronnie Belliard, and Eric Chavez.
By the by, did you know that Chavez – the new utility cornerman and presumptive emergency middle infielder – has played twelve years in the major leagues and has spent exactly 28 and two-thirds innings playing anywhere except third base? Not games – innings. 

I am also probably belaboring a point I’ve made here before about the Yankees’ starting rotation: They don’t have one. While Sabathia is, simply, one of the best free agent signings in the history of the sport, the questions that follow him do not begin with “who replaces Andy Pettitte?” or “what about A.J. Burnett?” They start with the presumed number two, Phil Hughes, who was a flaccid 7-6, 4.90 after the All-Star Break and was eviscerated twice in the ALCS by Texas. Assuming Hughes enters 2011 as an established front-line major league starter is itself a leap. Then comes the nightmarish implications of the Burnett mystery. Then come the Ivan Novas, Sergio Mitres, and the veritable Old-Timers’ Day grouping that greets new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Freddy Garcia? Mark Prior? Bartolo Colon? No wonder Kevin Millwood is generating enthusiasm by comparison. Why not Scott Sanderson? Dave LaPoint? Kevin Mmahat?
This team is going to compete with the Red Sox and Rays? This team is going to compete with the Blue Jays who off-loaded the Vernon Wells contract. This team is going to compete with the Orioles in their Buck Showalter Honeymoon Year.
And still the Yankees are in better shape than the Mets. From the middle of last summer onwards, what passed for buzz inside CitiField was some sort of vague sense of doom. It had to do with the jailed Ponzi Schemer Bernie Madoff, but no other details emerged. It didn’t seem to make much sense; the Wilpon family had insisted it had not suffered greatly at the hands of the ultimate financial snake oil salesman, and all evidence backed up their assertion. Now it becomes clear that the owners were in trouble not because Madoff had stolen their money, but because he hadn’t. They are the defendants in an extraordinary billion-dollar suit that claims they knowingly pocketed the profits from a kind of privatized Enron disaster. While the action is headed to mediation by former New York Governor (and former Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand) Mario Cuomo, it has already paralyzed the team’s finances and threatens to continue to do so for an indefinite period.
Which explains why the Mets, when still vaguely competitive last June and July, added no payroll. Which explains why the bullets were not bitten on the statues that replaced Luis Castillo and Ollie Perez. Which explains why, when another bat was needed, the Mets could reach only for Mike Hessman. Which explains why men named Wilpon did not take the fall in October.
Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran are enigmas. Jose Reyes is at the critical step, forwards to greatness or backwards towards underachievement. Ike Davis and Josh Thole are dedicated and gifted players who may not bring enough power to their respective positions. The second baseman could be a Rule V draftee. There isn’t one starting pitcher who isn’t weighed down with a huge question mark (Mike Pelfrey’s head, Jon Niese’s endurance, Johan Santana’s shoulder, Dillon Gee’s inexperience, the overall health of Chri
sses Young and Capuano, and the likelihood that R.A. Dickey actually found himself last season at the age of 35). And the bullpen? You don’t want to know about the bullpen.
So as winter today loosened its grip just slightly after a mean-spirited winter, I am thinking not about the warm spring breezes in the Bronx and Queens. I am thinking again about Wolfgang’s birthday party and the prospect that this year, every New York fan’s pack of cards will be missing something he was counting on getting.

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.

 

2010 Forecasts: NL West


Here’s a
silly little question for ARIZONA about Edwin Jackson. If he’s good enough for
you to have given up on Max Scherzer, why is he pitching for his third team in
as many seasons? And why was the other guy you got in the trade a starter who
won his first major league start on September 1, 2007 – and hasn’t pitched well
since? Ian Kennedy’s rep in New York was as a guy who didn’t seem to want the
ball, and even if that was wildly untrue, there has to be some reason he went
from untouchable to throw-in in two years. On these two starters the
Diamondbacks’ season depends; they will get another acey season out of Dan
Haren and might even get a comeback from Brandon Webb, but if both
Jackson and Kennedy don’t produce,
there is nothing (Billy Buckner, Brian Augenstein, Rodrigo Lopez) for A.J.
Hinch to fall back on, and a truly potent line-up will have wasted a lot of
slugging.

COLORADO’s
line-up is so productive that it has come to this: if Todd Helton suddenly
decided to return to football (at age 37, for some reason) and they had to move
Brad Hawpe back to first base and go with some kind of Seth Smith/Ryan
Spilborghs combo, there would probably be no noticeable fall-off. There is no
reason to suspect that Jorge De La Rosa’s 2009, nor Jason Hammel’s second-half,
were flukes, and thus the Rockies offer rotational depth behind Jimenez and
Cook, and they have enough in the bullpen to back-fill for an injured Huston
Street without mentioning the dreaded words “Manny Corpas.” Franklin Morales
might just steal the job from him if Street is gone too long. This is a
well-rounded, deep team, and Troy Tulowitzki, batting clean-up, may reassert
himself this year on the path to being one of the league’s top ten hitters.

In LOS
ANGELES or anywhere else, I would trust Joe Torre with my wallet or my vote or
my house keys. But I think he’s in for a dreadful year. If anybody can get a
Number One starter kind of season out of Vicente Padilla, it’d be Joe; I’d
still bet it’s likelier that Padilla will achieve that rarest of feats – pitch
the opener and
wind
up being unconditionally released in the same season. My memory of Padilla is
him taking a no-hitter into the middle innings at Shea Stadium, and
sportswriters from two cities, in two languages, rooting against him because he
was surly in both English and Spanish. More over, what’s the message to Chad
Billingsley? Clayton Kershaw? What’s the message to Dodger fans that your fifth
starter battle involved both perpetual retreads named Ortiz? A great bullpen
cannot stay such if it has to start getting ready in the fifth inning, every
day. And the line-up is hardly as good as it looks. The Dodgers cannot get a full
season out of Ronnie Belliard, haven’t gotten one out of Blake DeWitt. They may
have burned out Russell Martin. And Manny Being Just Manny (No PEDs) is a just
slightly better offensive force than, say, Mark DeRosa. The McCourt Divorce may
be a lot more interesting than the 2010 Dodgers, and a lot less painful to
watch.

SAN DIEGO
might catch lightning in a bottle, if Mat Latos and Kyle Blanks and Nick
Hundley get off to explosive starts and there is no need to unload Heath Bell
and Adrian Gonzalez. If not, you’re looking at Aaron Cunningham and Chase
Headley as the three and four hitters, and Mike Adams or Luke Gregerson
closing. Watch, hope; rent, don’t buy.

I don’t
much like SAN FRANCISCO’s outfield (maybe they should have given John Bowker’s
spring training resurgence more attention), and their third best all-around
player might spend most of the season backing up Bengie Molina, but that’s some
pitching staff Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti have to play with. After Lincecum,
Cain, Sanchez, and Zito, I think Todd Wellemeyer is a stop-gap and Kevin
Pucetas (or maybe Madison Bumgarner – and who ever went faster from prospect to suspect?) will eventually claim the fifth spot. The
bullpen has gone from wobbly to outstanding in two years (Dan Runzler might eventually make Brian Wilson expendable; more likely he’ll just make he and Jeremy Affeldt the top pair of left-handed set-up men in the league). I’d be happier if they’d invested in an
actual outfielder instead of Aubrey Huff, put DeRosa at third, and Sandoval at
first. But if Colorado falters, this is the West’s best bet.

PREDICTIONS:
Colorado in a runaway, unless the Giants put everything together early. The
Dodgers finish third, just ahead of the Diamondbacks – unless the Padres blossom early as mentioned above and
don’t trade everybody, in which case the three teams will place within a few games of each other.

TOMORROW NIGHT: The National League Central.

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