Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cold winter, hot stove

It's been a long, cold winter with no end in sight. So let's fire up the hot stove and see what we've got cooking this baseball offseason.

For the Cubs, I'm still scratching my head over the Marlon Byrd acquisition. I suppose he'd make a good fourth outfielder. But from what I can tell the Cubs are bringing him in to bat fifth. Last I checked, Byrd has played 8 seasons in the bigs, only one of which where he started 140+ games, and his career OBP/SLG is .340/.422 (mediocre). My thought here is that you bring in Byrd to bat fifth if you're trying to be the Texas Rangers. However, if you're trying to win the World Series, you figure out a different strategy.

The Tigers trading away Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson was a big deal. Much of the media talked about how great it was for the Yanks to pick up Granderson. But don't underestimate the D-Backs' acquisition of Jackson.

Even without the Tigers firesale, I liked the White Sox's chances in the division this year. With John Danks, Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, and Gavin Floyd at the top of the rotation, the Sox should be decent in starting pitching. With J.J. Putz now in the mix, their bullpen might be good too. Plus adding Juan Pierre in the leadoff spot is promising. If the Sox can stay healthy, they can compete with the Twins again.

The Cards signed Matt Holliday to a big fat contract. I don't know. It seems to me that $120 million is a little much for a guy who can't catch the ball under pressure. (Okay, I'm kidding. Or am I? Let's talk again next October.)

Cincy made a splash in the media by signing Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman. However, if Chapman were so good, why didn't the Yanks, Red Sox, or Mets sign him? Answer: He's not that good, and the Reds probably just wasted $30 million.

The young Marlins will be a team to watch this year. It looks like their biggest offseason move was to keep Josh Johnson, and there's nothing wrong with that. (Jayson Stark has an interesting take on Johnson's signing as it might relate to labor rules down the road. Okay, actually it was kind of a boring article, but I thought some parts were interesting.)

I was at first surprised by the Phils trade for the Jays' Roy Halladay. Although, after looking at the money and how Cliff Lee's contract is up at season's end, it did make business sense.

The Mariners were also part of that blockbuster Halladay deal, picking up Cliff Lee along the way. In fact, back in December I started to notice that the Mariners were part of several trades. Furthermore, for the most part I agreed with the Mariners' moves, including the Felix Hernandez extension, Chone Figgins signing, taking a flyer on Milton Bradley (who has .400/.500 potential) and dumping Adrian Beltre, to name but a few.

So who is the Mariners GM? His name is Jack Zduriencik (pronounced "zur-EN-sik"), and he has righted the Mariner ship since taking over in October 2008. He also was the first non-GM to win MLB Executive of the Year back in 2007. His excellent scouting was crucial to building the Milwaukee Brewers into a competitive club.

I'll keep a close eye on Zduriencik's future moves with the Mariners. If they're anything like his previous moves, it should be fun to watch.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Just for laughs

Admittedly, I've been following the Leno-Conan drama over the past week or so. In some ways I'm reminded of the Greek story of Oedipus where the parents were warned that their son will grow up to kill his father and marry his mother. Upon hearing this the parents take drastic measures to prevent it from coming true, but in the end their own actions help fulfill the prophecy. 

As of this writing, the conventional wisdom is that Jay Leno will get 'The Tonight Show' back at 11:35 ET and Conan O'Brien will leave to do his own show on Fox. But a lot can change--and quickly--in the TV business. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about great comedians and recalled of an old baseball sketch by Abbott and Costello. I'm sure most of you have seen this before, but it might be worth another look:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Trivia: Cap Call by the Hall

So Cubs fans around here are happy that Andre "The Hawk" Dawson has finally been elected to the Hall of Fame. But it still hasn't been decided as to whether Dawson's plaque will have a Cubs hat or an Expos hat.

In the past, the Hall of Fame had traditionally deferred to the players' wishes regarding which hat a player was depicted in for his plaque. However, there was a policy change in 2001. Now the Hall of Fame does not consult the player in the matter.

As it turns out, 2003 was the first year an MLB player who had played for multiple teams was forced by the Hall of Fame to wear a hat other than his first choice for the plaque. Can you name this player who wanted to go into the Hall as a Met, but ended up going in donning the cap of another team?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Big Unit Shuts Down

So Randy Johnson is calling it a career. And wow, what a career he had. I remember back in '95 when he was on that exciting Mariners team--with Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Edgar Martinez--that made it past the Yankees in the playoffs. I also recall his dominant 2001 season that helped me win my first fantasy baseball championship. There were more than a few times that season when I was working the 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift in a UIUC computer lab and would check his real-time game stats on the west coast; it was usually good news for me.

Both Johnson and Curt Schilling took their games to a whole new level in those 2001 playoffs, capping it off with a Game 7 World Series victory over those same dreaded Yanks. If memory serves me correctly, Johnson pitched Game 6, got the win, and afterward was asked if he'd be available on no rest for Game 7. He said he would be, and I believed him.

Schilling started Game 7 and did well, but after pitching to a 1-0 lead heading into the 7th, he finally surrendered the lead to the Yanks in the 8th. As a fan, I was distressed, and I could see that Schilling was beyond distressed. His team had battled the defending champs for so long and so hard, only to see it all slip away. When Arizona's manager Bob Brenly went to the mound to take the ball from Schilling, I'll never forget him patting Schill on the back and saying, "You're my hero." At that moment I thought to myself, "Curt Schilling's his hero? He just blew the World Series! My hero would be Randy Johnson. He's a better pitcher, plus he was awesome for my fantasy team." (Side note: All these years later I still ponder Brenly's words to Schilling on that pressure-packed World Series Game 7 mound. In hindsight, I think there's a lesson in leadership there, both in what he said and how he said it.)

The call to the pen was made for Miguel Batista. He got one out, and then they brought in Johnson who got the final four outs for Arizona. Johnson picked up his third 'W' of the series as the D-Backs unexpectedly rallied for two against Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th for a thrilling 3-2 victory. Johnson and Schilling were named co-MVPs of that World Series.

With Randy Johnson, I'll always think of dominance: 300K seasons, 5 Cy Youngs, a perfect game, carrying teams into the postseason. I'll remember the All-Star Game when Larry Walker jokingly turned his batting helmet around and batted right handed, an admission to how frightening it can be for a lefty to go up against the Big Unit. I'll also remember his 20K game against the Reds and how he battled through back injuries to finally reach and surpass 300 career wins.

But what I'll probably remember most about Randy Johnson is what he accomplished with one pitch in spring training:

Thanks for the memories, Randy.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Trivia: Hits of the Decade

With the calendar turning to 2010, we've closed out another decade. Tim Kurkjian has selected his All-Decade team for the 2000s, and for right field he picked Ichiro Suzuki. Here's part of what he wrote about Ichiro: "He had the most hits in the decade (2,030), which he did in nine years, not 10. He became the first player in major league history to record 200 hits in nine straight years."

Pretty impressive.

For some historical perspective, Lou Boudreau was the hits leader of the 1940s, Richie Ashburn in the 50s, Roberto Clemente in the 60s, Pete Rose in the 70s, and Robin Yount in the 80s. That list of five men includes the all-time hits king and four Hall of Famers. Ichiro is also likely to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. But my question to you is this: Which MLB player had the most hits in the 1990s?