Monthly archives: November 2007
2007 Photo Outtakes: The Curse of Yorvit
According to my calculations, after today's Mets trade of Lastings Milledge (I can finally say those words on this blog again!) to the Washington Nationals for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider, Yorvit Torrealba's career is now worth $377 million dollars. How do I figure? Watch, and learn, my friends:
After the 2003 season, the San Francisco Giants could have given Yorvit Torrealba their starting catcher job. Sure, he was not (and still isn't) anybody's idea of an all-star catcher, but he was cheap and capable of doing a decent job. Giants' General Manager Bryan Sabean obviously didn't see it that way. This has led to a series of disastrous decisions that will probably leave the Giants as the worst team in baseball in 2008.
First, Sabean traded Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for A.J. Pierzynski. Pierzynski was hated by all and left as a free agent after one year. The next year, the Giants again could have handed the job to Torrealba, but instead decided to give a three-year contract to Mike Matheny. Matheny's career ended with concussion problems, so the Giants subsequently signed Bengie Molina to a three year-contract.
Eventually, Torrealba was traded to Seattle for Randy Winn (who was given an expensive three-year contract), and guess what? The Mariners decided Torrealba was not good enough to catch for them, so they went out and signed Kenji Johjima to a three-year contract. Then they traded Torrealba to Colorado, who actually let him be their catcher, and what do you know--the Rockies won the pennant last year.
Back to the Giants: because they didn't have Nathan, the Giants lacked a closer, so they went out and signed Armando Benitez to, you guessed it, a three-year contract. Because they didn't have enough talented starting pitchers like Liriano and Bonser, the Giants went out and gave a three-year contract to Matt Morris (shown below--he signed with the Giants partly because his friend Matheny was here) and and a (gasp!) seven-year deal to Barry Zito.
So let's add things up. Because the Giants did not trust Yorvit Torrealba to be their catcher back in 2004, they have committed to the following contracts:
...all while missing out on the value of these performances:
Nathan: $17M (actual contract)
Meanwhile, the Mets almost signed Torrealba last week, but backed off at the last minute. A fatal mistake: the Mets panicked about their catching situation, and made a bad trade. Milledge has an expected MORP value of $64M through 2011, while the combination of Church and Schneider only adds us to $40M. So the Mets, for lack of faith in Torrealba, make a Giants-like decision and immediately lose $24M in performance value. And maybe that's just the beginning...knowing the fate that befall those who spurn Torrealba, perhaps this is only the beginning of a cascade of Mets' mistakes.
Add in the $16M the Mariners spent on Johjima instead of Torrealba, and you get: $227M + $122M + $16M + $24M = $389M. Subtract out $5M Torrealba has made thus far, and the $7M contract he just signed for the next two years with the Rockies, and we get...
$377 million dollars lost from the Curse of Yorvit!
Dan O'Dowd is a wise, wise man.
2007 Photo Outtakes: I Don't Want To Know
The Tampa Bay Rays announced yesterday that they have rid themselves of Brendan Harris (pictured above, center) . I'm sure they have their reasons.
2007 Photo Outtakes: A Country for Old Men
When I turned 40, I wanted to do some sort of meaning-of-life essay like Jon just did, but I ended up spending my whole 40th birthday zonked out on drugs instead. Perhaps Life sent me some sort of birthday message, but my foggy brain was utterly incapable of reading it.
One day, you're young, healthy, carefree. Your future lies ahead, anything is possible. Maybe you have some success. You're a 20-game winner like Dave Stewart, Mike Norris, Vida Blue or Mudcat Grant. You feel like the Monarch of Monarchs. "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
And then one day, a little piece of you starts to crumble, and then another. Your time starts to run out. Your dreams become more modest. Your accomplishments become what they are, instead of what they might be.
Had history unraveled in some other fashion, we could be talking about Stewart, Norris, Blue and Grant as Hall-of-Famers. Jon Weisman could be Charlie Kaufman, Josh Wilker could be Mark Harris, Mark Donohue could be Declan MacManus, the Toaster could be Facebook, and all our literary aspirations could be fulfilled:
It hasn't happened that way, yet. Maybe the big 4-0 was supposed to knock that word--yet--out of my head, but in my birthday fog, I never got the message. Perhaps when I hit 42, I'll finally understand Life, the Universe, and Everything. I'll finally realize that I'm not special. I'll figure out that I, like all the other non-Mozarts in the world, need to find true meaning in just gathering together, leaning against our canes and our walkers and each other, to honor our modest successes, and absolve each other for all our mediocrities.
In Memory of Joe Kennedy
You never know the meaning of a moment. On June 17, 2007, with two outs and Aaron Miles on first base in the top of the fifth inning of a baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Oakland Athletics, Cardinals catcher Gary Bennett grounded out to the A's second baseman Mark Ellis to end a scoreless inning.
At the time, I gave no value to this moment, and let it slip from my memory nearly immediately: an unextraordinary event in the middle of an unextraordinary day in the middle of an unextraordinary year. As it turns out, however, this was the last pitch I ever saw Joe Kennedy throw. Ten days after this ground out, my daughter was born, and by the time I returned to attending A's games again a month later, Joe Kennedy had been pulled from the A's starting rotation, and then claimed on waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks. And now, five months after that 4-3 groundout, Joe Kennedy is dead.
The news is shocking. I don't know how to deal with it really, just as I didn't really know how to deal with Cory Lidle's death last year. But my thoughts keep turning back to a blog entry I read this morning by the actor Stephen Fry on the topic of fame:
Fame exists as memories in the minds of others, not as a quality inherent in those endowed with fame. All I really know about Joe Kennedy is his modest amounts of fame, and the events he is modestly famous for: he played baseball for my favorite team during the last three seasons.
I have, in my mind, strong feelings and opinions about his famous feats. I never quite understood, for example, why the A's yanked Kennedy from the rotation in July. Here are the earned run totals Kennedy allowed in his sixteen 2007 starts: 1,1,1,1,1,3,1,3,7,1,2,4,3,5,2,4. The last start was only 2/3 of an inning, but besides that game and the 7-run game against Baltimore in the middle, none of those starts were disastrous, and most of them were pretty good. The fact that he was 2-7 in those sixteen starts wasn't really his fault. Obviously, the last half of those stats don't look as good as the first half, but when you allow 2 or fewer runs in eight of sixteen MLB starts, you probably deserve to have (a) a winning record instead of a losing one, and (b) a job.
But none of those things are really qualities of Joe Kennedy. Joe Kennedy, I presume, had Thanksgiving dinner with his wife and child and other friends and family last night, in some place where he was not a famous baseball player, but had crossed that continent to become a human being who was kind or patient or dim-witted or funny or lazy or whatever true qualities made Joe Kennedy be Joe Kennedy. I, as a distant observer, know nothing of those qualities. I have not personally lost them.
And yet, like those who did know him, I feel compelled to mourn. What am I mourning, exactly? Perhaps an idea: we may live in the present and point towards the future, but we all, like Joe Kennedy, could find ourselves at any moment in a moment where all our moments and the qualities we fill them with are behind us. As long as we are alive, our qualities exist within us. When we go, our qualities last only as long as our fame: as memories in the minds of the people we touch. I mourn to keep Joe Kennedy alive, just a little bit longer, in hopes that others, someday, may do the same for me.
2007 Photo Outtakes: Torii Hunter Turns Angelic
You better have a drink of water. We're going to be here awhile. For the second time this week, the new Angels GM, Tony Reagins, has made a move that (a) nobody rumored or predicted, and (b) cries out, "I'm just getting started here!" After signing Torii Hunter yesterday, the Angels are now awash in starting pitchers and outfielders. You have to figure that Reagins will use that excess to bring in a power-hitting left-side infielder, such as Miguel Cabrera or Miguel Tejada. Although, since Reagins seems to like surprising us, perhaps it will be another totally unexpected name, instead.
Whether the Garland-for-Orlando Cabrera trade improved the Angels is highly debatable, but it's pretty obvious that Hunter improves the Angels, at least in the short term. He makes them slightly better defensively, and slightly better offensively. Whether that slight improvement is worth $18M/year, and whether that improvement holds up for five years, is another question.
That's not a question A's fans need to worry about. For A's fans, the question is, does this move make it more likely the Angels will win the division in 2008, and thus make it a better decision for the A's to hold a fire sale and rebuild? I think the answer to that is yes, slightly. If we were 50-50 on that decision beforehand, perhaps we're 51-49 now.
But the moves to follow also affect the A's decision. If Reagins' next move actually makes the Angels worse instead of better, perhaps we flip back to 49-51. Or if Miguel Cabrera and Johan Santana get traded for prospects the A's have targeted for Haren and Blanton, that reduces the pool of talent that would make the fire sale worth it. There are a few more moves to come before all this gets sorted out. So have your drink of water, stuff yourselves with turkey, savor some delicious pie, and enjoy the show.
2007 Photo Outtakes: Either/Or
Holiday season is upon us. Here in the Land O' Athletics, we are apparently going to celebrate either Thanksgiving (we are grateful for what we have!) or Christmas (time to shop for shiny new presents!), but not both. Brown, or green? Buster Olney today blogs thusly (insider only):
Gentlemen, start your wish lists. Stores open early Friday morning for your shopping convenience. May your holidays, however you decide to celebrate them, be healthy and productive.
2007 Photo Outtakes: The Marco Effect
While we ponder for a moment the concept of an Angels GM who actually makes a trade, and consider the likelihood that this trade is a precursor to another Angels trade, and wonder what all this means for the future of the AL West, we'll pause to remember a happy moment that came courtesy our old departed friend, Marco Scutaro.
A's Trade Scutaro to Toronto
Without a doubt, the highlight of the 2007 season for the A's came on April 15, when Marco Scutaro hit a two-strike, two-out, walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth off Mariano Rivera. Playing primarily as a backup utility infielder his whole career, he nonetheless has managed eight career walk-off hits. Those timely hits, combined with his six RBI in the 2006 ALDS, has given Scutaro a solid reputation as a clutch hitter.
Today, A's GM Billy Beane traded Scutaro to the Toronto Blue Jays for two minor-league pitchers. This alone probably shouldn't be taken as a signal that Beane has decided to blow the team up and rebuild. Scutaro (.693 OPS in 2007) is arbitration eligible, and Donnie Murphy (.731 OPS) emerged last season as a cheaper version of Scutaro, someone who can play multiple infield positions and provide some tolerable offense along with it.
In return, the A's receive two unheralded A-ball pitchers, Graham Godfrey and Kristian Bell. Both were low round draft picks who had some middling success this year. Neither one strikes out a lot of batters. Godfrey (3.98 ERA, 6.02 K/9) has a "a low nineties fastball, a slider and a change-up" according to Batter's Box. Bell, oddly, had matching mediocre earned run and strikeout rates this year, (5.33 ERA, 5.33 K/9). This is especially odd considering that Bell is apparently capable of throwing lightning bolts at will.
2007 Photo Outtakes: He's No Angel
With Barry Bonds bearing on a bout behind bars, and Alex Rodriguez resurrecting his Bronx-based business cards, the Anaheim Angeles are once again going to struggle to supplement their Guerrero-only offense.
With those two players now likely to remain out of the AL West next year, there are basically no acquisitions the Angels could make that would make me feel like they were locks to win the division next year. The rumor mill has Miguel Cabrera and Dan Uggla possibly heading to Anaheim in exchange for Howie Kendrick and Nick Adenhart, but that idea does not scare me. Cabrera and Uggla would give the Angels some sorely missing power, but they would also turn a good infield defense into a bad one.
All of which is to say, the price of Dan Haren and Joe Blanton just went up a little higher. There's more incentive now to stay the course, to see if the A's can stay healthy for once, and if they can, to find out if what they have is good enough to beat the Angels. Unless we hear some bad news about the rehabs of Eric Chavez or Travis Buck or Justin Duchscherer, I think Billy Beane is now more likely to tinker with the team than to blow it up.
2007 Photo Outtakes: Buy Me Some Red Ropes and Cracker Jack
The song "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" is turning 100 years old next year. Can I tell you one of my biggest pet peeves? I hate the fact that nobody ever sings the words "root, root, root for the home team" anymore. Nowadays we root, root, root for the "Giants" or "Dodgers" or "Cardinals" or "Pirates" or "Angels" or "Cubbies". Or even more annoyingly, we root, root, root for a team name that doesn't even scan properly, like "Mariners" or "Indians" or "A's" .
This matters. When everybody in every city roots for the "home team", it tells us something. Your home team may be different from mine, but in the end, all across America, we're all doing the exact same thing. We all have our separate homes, but our homes are united in something bigger than ourselves.
When we change the words to explicitly spell out our own provincial preferences, this message gets lost. We prioritize our division over our unity. I'm sick enough of this type of crap in politics, where issues get polarized and people get mislabeled for the sake of party victory all the time, all without considering the effect it has on the country as a whole. The attitude is, if you're not a Republican/Democrat/Red Sox fan/Yankee fan like us, we can just assume you're stupid/evil/spoiled/whiny, so who cares about you, anyway?
It makes me sad. If this continues, in a decade or so, there will be a whole generation of fans who will have grown up never having heard the original words in the third-most-sung song in America.
If anyone in MLB is reading this: please, do the right thing. Don't change the words. Honor the composer's intentions. Honor the role baseball plays in bringing America together. Fix your 7th-inning-stretch scoreboards. Bring back the "home team".
2007 Photo Outtakes: Bing Crosby Breaks Down Bobby Crosby
Whatever happened to that 23-year-old shortstop who hit .308/.390/.544 in AAA Sacramento once upon a time?
I thought a kingdom was in sight
2007 Photo Outtakes: Anthem
Scott Long emailed me today and challenged me to match his ARod/Neil Diamond post with something similar about Eric Chavez. Sorry Scott, but Chavez is simply not the kind of player who inspires anyone to burst into song. He's a good, if somewhat overpaid, player who lacks any sort of clutch magic in his bat that drives men to the muses. Did you know he hit his very first walk-off homer this year? He's no ARod or Big Papi or even Marco Scutaro in that regard.
However, I will note that on Friday afternoon, I was working quietly alone in my office when suddenly I heard someone belting out the National Anthem, seemingly right below my window. "How odd," I thought. I got up and looked out below, but could find neither Christian de Neuvillette nor Cyrano de Bergerac serenading me.
I didn't realize until later that the sound which through yonder window broke was to my West, and my Romeo was about half a mile away at Encinal High School, before the big game against cross-town rival Alameda High. (The hosts won, 25-8.)
I suppose it's a true test of patriotism, if not self-discipline, to find yourself all alone somewhere and the national anthem starts playing. Do you stand up to honor America?
I guess I passed that test, even if it was more out of curiosity than patriotism. On the other hand, I once found myself sitting on a toilet when a pretty large earthquake hit. For all I knew at the time, my life was in peril, but I remained utterly frozen on my seat. Perhaps I needed a device that would play the Star-Spangled Banner in my bathroom in the event of ground shaking, to ensure maximum motivation to get up.
(Hmm...is that last paragraph a good example of the kinds of creative output that Eric Chavez inspires? Go ahead and make a musical out of that story, Andrew Lloyd Webber!)
Fellow Alamedan Natasha Miller, the singer in the above photo, gave one of the better anthems I've heard. If we can't line up the obvious choices--Neil Diamond or Englebert Humperdink or Tony Orlando and Dawn--she would be a fine choice to provide the recording for this all-important life-saving device.
2007 Photo Outtakes: Land of Confusion
2007 Photo Outtakes: A's File Papers To Fly South
I'm sure you will all want to immediately download the development application document, and turn directly to page 69, where you can, at long last, get that detailed map you have been so anxiously awaiting of the existing sewer lines in the ballpark area.
The process moves forward now with a 12-to-18 month debate over how to mitigate the impact on all the displaced ninja turtles.
Outtakes 2007: Jeters and ARods
The GM meetings are going on right now. How is Billy Beane approaching this offseason? My thoughts about 2008 always boil down to this: the following five-man rotation, if healthy, is probably the best rotation in baseball:
With a rotation like that, your rivals could have two Derek Jeters and three ARods, and you could still compete with them.
But if your rotation is mostly this:
You better hope your rivals don't have too many Jeters and ARods, because you're not going to win 95 games.
Right now, there's only one superstar slugger in the AL West, and that's Vladimir Guerrero. None of the four teams have particularly imposing lineups. Pitching and defense win this division. So maybe you take a chance and see how well Rotation A can hold up in 2008. If it holds up for at least half the season, you still might be able to win the division, even if you need to resort to Rotation B for the other half.
But suppose the Angels sign ARod and Barry Bonds? Now, you pretty much need Rotation A to hold up the whole year, don't you? And how likely is that? With Rotation B, the Angels can match you pitcher for pitcher, and their lineup blows yours out of the water. In which case, it's probably best to just blow up this team and rebuild, because the Angels will win the division in 2008.
Of course, Billy Beane understands this:
2007 Outtakes: Nutshell
I was looking for a photograph to represent the A's 2007 season in a nutshell. I settled on this one. Partly because, in a nutshell, there was something not quite right about the A's in 2007, and these guys look like they're doing what you would do if there was something not quite right with your nutshell. And partly because we can use these two players, Dallas Braden and Bobby Crosby, to represent both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Oakland Athletics organization.
One of the things the A's under Billy Beane have been exceptionally good at has been finding good pitching. Contrary to their stats-only Moneyball-based reputation, the A's formula for finding pitching is based on a combination of stats and scouting. The A's look for pitchers with good stats who are also good athletes. Before Beane took over, the A's consistently failed for decades to draft and develop good pitching. Pick after pick flopped, including the much-hyped Todd Van Poppel. Beane turned this around, using Van Poppel as a example of what to avoid: the big body with the big arm who lacks any evidence of success. Beane started drafting pitchers with good stats combined with good athleticism. Neither Tim Hudson nor Rich Harden nor Huston Street nor Chad Gaudin are particularly tall fellows, but they all exhibit great body control. Justin Duchscherer and Barry Zito were both fairly tall, but didn't throw particularly hard. But they all got outs, nonetheless.
Dallas Braden was a 24th-round draft pick of the A's in the 2004 draft, a soft-tossing lefty the A's decided to take a chance on. Shortly after he was drafted, Braden started messing around with a screwball. The screwball befuddled minor league hitters, and he quickly climbed the ladder. But he had some elbow troubles in 2006, so in 2007, the A's asked him to throw his changeup, which was also considered quite good, instead of the screwball, to keep his arm healthy.
Finding Dallas Braden is an example of what the A's do right. What happened to him in 2007 is an example of what the A's have done wrong. Braden got hurt, so they asked him to change his repertoire. Then a bunch of other pitchers got hurt. So the 23-year-old Braden got called up to the major leagues, before he had much of a chance to learn how to win with this new repertoire. He was basically asked to perform an experiment at the major league level. It didn't go so well: he went 1-8 with a 6.72 ERA in 72 2/3 innings.
Still, there were signs of success. The first time through the order, batters hit .250/.327/.364 off him. The second time through: .274/.335/.425. Third time: .500/.518/.870. So we learned something: either Braden should be a reliever, or he needs more time in the minors to learn how to get batters out multiple times per game, and/or he needs to go back to throwing his screwball to get major league hitters out consistently, potential elbow problems be damned.
None of which is so unusual in the development of a young pitcher. But preferably, you'd like to see that development take place in the minors, not in the majors. Braden still might turn out to be a good pitcher, but he still has some learning to do, and at age 23, he still has time to do it. But the injuries to Harden and Esteban Loaiza in the rotation, as well as to Duchscherer, Street and Kiko Calero in the pen caused a cascade of player moves throughout the organization that pushed players like Braden into roles they were not quite ready for.
* * *
Nobody, except perhaps Rich Harden, symbolizes the A's injury frustrations more than Bobby Crosby. He won the rookie of the year in 2004, and made some strides at the plate in 2005. But he's lost a large chunk of each of the past three seasons, and has been regressing horribly at the plate. Whether Crosby's development has been hurt by all the injuries, or he just was not all that good to begin with, is hard to tell. But .226/.278/.341 is hard to live with.
Still, Crosby also represents another traditional strength of the A's under Billy Beane: good defense. Look at these numbers comparing the AVG/OBP/SLG against the A's when Crosby has been healthy compared to his large absences:
When Crosby has been the everyday SS, the opponents' batting average has been about .024 lower than when he's been missing. Now, obviously, that's not all Crosby's doing, but clearly he's a very good defensive shortstop.
But the bigger problem here is that there really isn't any good alternative to Crosby in the system. And that's because it seems the A's have a systemic weakness at drafting and developing talent in the middle of the diamond. Going into next season, the two positions where the A's could clearly use some improvement are at shortstop and centerfield. But the A's have nobody in the minor leagues who you can turn to and say, "that's the guy who is clearly going to own SS/2B/CF someday." In fact, since the A's made Rick Monday the first-ever draft pick back in 1965, I could only find ten players the A's drafted who spent any good length of time (3+ years) as a regular MLB player at 2B, SS or CF:
1965 Rick Monday CF
Basically, the A's haven't drafted an all-star quality player up the middle of the diamond in over thirty years. Of course, Miguel Tejada came along in there, but he wasn't a draft pick.
Why this lack of draft success? Perhaps it's just bad luck, but 30 years is an awful long streak of bad luck for three key positions. There are a lot of exciting young players at 2B and SS and CF in baseball these days, but the A's have exactly zero of them. At this point, the burden of proof is on the A's management to go out and find a good player at one, if not all, of these positions.
Perhaps those three positions are the three positions where scouts matter more than stats, where athleticism matters more toward future results than past production, and so the A's, with their stats-heavy focus, either miss in their evaluation of these players, or find them too risky to be worth investing in.
Maybe the A's simply know what they're good at (finding pitching, corner players), and not good at (finding 2B/SS/CF) and figure they can trade what they have for what they're missing later. That's fine, too, as long as you can find that trade. Show us what you got, Billy Beane. Let the hot stove begin...
Photo Outtakes 2007: Reflection
You look down, you see up. You look backward, you see forward. But if you reflect on 2007, can you see anything clearly about 2008? The 2007 Oakland Athletics, with all the injuries, are more like a funhouse mirror than a calm pool of rainwater. The results are distorted. After years of relying on great defense, they suddenly turned into one of the worst defensive teams in baseball. Their much-maligned offense actually scored the third-most runs in the AL on the road. The offense just seemed bad overall, because the Oakland Coliseum itself has evolved into the most difficult place to score in the American League, moving farther below the average ballpark in run-scoring than Coors Field is above it.
So as we begin today to reflect back on the 2007 season, through a series of photo outtakes, we do so knowing full well that what we saw was distorted by where and when we saw it. It was an odd year.
STOP CASTING POROSITY! An Oakland Athletics blog.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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