Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 18, 2001
BASEBALL: Random Notes Column

Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website.

This week: a series of random thoughts on recent events; the "notes" in Baseball Weekly contained a number of gems recently, and the trade wires were hot:

THE WELLS TRADE
I was appalled at the idea that the Mets would trade Glendon Rusch (let alone a package with Rusch in it) for David Wells. Wells' statistical profile (consistent workload, great control record and K/BB ratio) suggests a guy who puts little stress on his arm and will be around awhile, but the reality is that a guy his age (38) who's that out of shape is not a good bet to last much longer, particularly given how many hits he gave up and how badly he flamed out in the second half. It's an arguable point who was the better pitcher last year - Rusch had awful run support, while Wells pitched with lots of big leads, and while Rusch had a better ERA that was in an easier park and league - but Rusch is clearly a better bet for 2001. Never mind that Rusch is 13 years younger and makes a fraction of Wells' salary.

This is mostly a gut feeling - although Rusch's great K/BB ratio (157 to 44) backs it up - but he seems primed for a breakthrough season in '01. Rusch struggled after a hot start last year, but he appeared to be learning as the season went on, trying out new approaches to left-handed hitters in particular, and in the postseason he was deadly, repeatedly getting out of man-on-third-less-than-two-out jams he was brought into. His development reminded me of David Cone in 1987; I can still remember Cone, a rookie the Mets got from Kansas City for not much more than they gave up for Rusch, using his curveball to strike out Dale Murphy in one jam in April of that year and then strike out Jack Clark with the bases loaded in a key game later that week. The next year Cone was 20-3 with a 2.22 ERA.

The White Sox, though, had different needs than the Mets; they have a better offense but no Al Leiter. Mike Sirotka is a good pitcher, maybe better than Wells and certainly younger and cheaper, but he's injury-prone and not the workhouse of Wells' caliber; with a staff in shambles and no postseason experience, someone like Wells looks a whole lot better. The White Sox needed a rotation anchor, and Wells can certainly provide ballast. Plus, they’ll love Da Boomer in Chicago.

The Jays, of course, get rid of a whining headache (Wells can be a pain when he’s unhappy) and a fat salary and bring in a pitcher who’s 8 years younger. A good deal all around.

Note: Another team that could have used Wells or Pat Hentgen or Kevin Appier (neither of whom I’m all that enthused about for their new teams) is the Phillies. Philadelphia has a number of talented young pitchers (Bruce Chen, Randy Wolf) but nobody able to soak up 230 innings and keep on ticking.

THE JOHNNY DAMON TRADE
I’ll skip some of the detail on this one, since guys like Neyer and Rany Jazayerli (Royals fans both) have picked it over extensively. The A’s got a good deal; while Ben Grieve may turn out to be a better hitter given his youth and power potential, the A’s have been long on accumulating great batting lines and short on complete ballplayers. Damon gives them more of what they don’t have at the cost of what they already have, and the A’s need to shore up a defense that surrendered a ridiculous number of unearned runs last season. With a young pitching staff, the improved outfield defense could be a big factor. Plus they got Steamboat Corey Lidle, who looked OK for the Mets and might be a sleeper fifth starter.

The Royals are either stupid or got screwed, depending on whether you think Damon would have fetched a higher price elsewhere; clearly they're a better team with Damon. While their bullpen the last two years was the worst in baseball history by several standards, Hernandez may be a shorter-term fix than they think, given 76 hits and 9 homers in 73.1 innings last year. They still have no starting pitching. They claimed that the A-ball shortstop was the key to the deal, but that’s just what M. Donald Grant said when he traded Tom Seaver (“the Dan Norman trade.”) GMs do that because the guy at the bar who thinks they otherwise gave Damon away doesn’t know anything about the A-ball shortstop and will forget about him in two years.

For Tampa, this was Christmas in January; when you are looking to dump an expensive 36-year old relief pitcher, how often does somebody offer a 25-year-old power hitter in return? Grieve becomes the first good young player in franchise history. You know they weren’t the ones to think of this deal; Allard Baird told Billy Beane he wanted Hernandez for Damon, and the Rays got a gift.

Another thing that caught my attention (I think it was on ESPN) was a “fantasy analysis” of this deal focusing on Damon and Grieve. Duh! Damon and Grieve are bit players in this deal from a Roto perspective, and neither one will really change his roto profile much; the only difference is the domino effect of giving Dermal Brown a job and taking away Vinny Castilla’s (he’ll move soon anyway). The BIG Rotisserie issue is that the KC bullpen finally settles down – you can forget about Lance Carter, Orber Moreno and Jaime Bluma – while Tampa’s opens up to competition between Esteban Yan, Albie Lopez, Jesus Colome and Doug Creek (don’t count out Creek).

THE MELUSKEY/AUSMUS TRADE
Roger Cedeno will be a huge addition to the Tigers -- a slap hitter with great speed is much more valuable in a big ballpark where he can drop hits between the outfielders, cover lots of ground in the outfield and manufacture runs (unlike Enron, where they get shipped in bulk).

THE ROYCE CLAYTON TRADE
Maybe I didn’t see him enough this year, but why move Jose Valentin off shortstop to be a utility man? Valentin’s a good SS, and had great range factors. His problem was errors, but bad hands are bad hands at any position (it’s not like he’s Jose Offerman, whose big problem at short was throwing errors). Plus they might wind up benching Chris Singleton, who’s an amazing centerfielder and really no worse a hitter than Royce Clayton. They may live to regret dealing Myette.

THE TRADING BLOCK
Who should be on the block? Delino DeShields (who’s still a useful player – the Yankees don’t really have a second baseman, and they’re not the only ones – but has no position in Baltimore). And Troy Percival. The Angels have plenty of good relievers – if Hasegawa can’t close maybe Mike Fyhrie or Lou Pote could – and Percival is in serious decline. Sell!

REGGIE SANDERS
Baseball Weekly notes that Sanders hopes to avoid injury this season because he has put on 25 pounds of muscle working out since last season and says he is in the best shape of his career. Now, first of all, this ain't Allen Iverson bulking up to survive daily beatings; Sanders usually pulls things, and adding mass doesn't cure that.

But I also have a question: how does a 33 year old man gain 25 pounds of muscle in three months? I lifted weights 5-6 days a week when I was in college . . . now, I'm no professional athlete, but I got a real education in how hard it is for a 19-year-old to add muscle; it's a whole lot harder past 30 . . . or it should be . . .

RACISM?
No, just stupidity. What else explains rehashing the managerial careers of two of the least successful managers in recent history, Bob Boone and his ex-teammate Larry Bowa? Boone isn’t just a Gene Mauch disciple; he’s a Mauch missionary. In an Earl Weaver world. Bowa, as Bill James once remarked, “lacks character like Dracula lacks a suntan.” I don't get it.

CHRIS CARPENTER
It's much easier to find pitchers capable of relieving well than starting well, and wherever possible a team should use its best pitchers to throw the most innings. It's also important, however, to give up once it's clear that you've assigned a man to a job he can't do, and find out what he can. In my humble opinion, it's time for the Blue Jays to cut bait and turn Chris Carpenter into a reliever. It's not easy, since he had good ERAs in 1998 and 1999 and big things have been predicted for him, but it's time.

Look at the facts. Carpenter got off to a good start in 1999 and then imploded. In 2000, coming off surgery, he was hit on his pitching elbow in his last start of the postseason and had to be carried off the field. He stumbled out of the gate, getting clocked for a 7.31 ERA, 10 walks and 6 homers to only 6 K in losing his first three starts. After that he righted the ship, running off a 6-2 record and a 3.86 ERA in his next 11 starts through June 14. He was pitching well, allowing less than a hit an inning, averaging a gopher ball every 11 innings, and striking out 5 and a half men per 9 innings. But there was a downside: he averaged almost 107 pitches per start in this period, often topping 120; he was working very hard for a guy with a surgically repaired elbow.

Something must have given out, because over the next 10 starts Carpenter pitched about as badly as anyone in the game's history has ever pitched: 99 baserunners and 12 home runs in 38.2 innings, resulting in a 1-5 record and a 13.27 ERA. Combined with Roy Halladay's ERA hovering over 11.50, the Jays were getting pounded out of too many games too early to stay in the race. Carpenter was exiled to the pen.

It didn't happen immediately upon going there, but on August 7, something clicked. Carpenter struck out over 7 men per 9 innings the rest of the way, alternating between the bullpen and the rotation, and had a good 3-2 record and 3.92 ERA in his last ten outings.

Cut up in four slices, Carpenter's season presents an almost unfathomable contrast: one pitcher who rivals any non-Pedro starter in the league, with a 9-4 record, a 3.88 ERA, a K/BB ratio nearly 2-to-1 and a good 1.326 baserunners/inning ratio in 21 appearances; another who goes 1-8 with an 11.52 ERA, more walks than strikeouts, 2.3 baserunners per inning and a homer every three innings. Yeah, a lot of pitchers can be broken down to look like Jekyll and Hyde like this, but I find it impossible to believe that the "good" Chris Carpenter could possibly pitch so badly if he was healthy.

The pitch-count crowd may argue that all he needs is a 95-pitch limit or some such, but it's very hard to enforce those limits on a thin staff. Even with a solid closer, the Jays can always use a good reliever more than a starter who spends half his season making the batting practice pitcher look good. Time to make the move.

THE GOING RATE
Seattle reportedly offered Mike Cameron and Brett Tomko for Phil Nevin but balked at including Antonio Perez. Since when is the going rate for Phil Nevin the same as for Ken Griffey?

HE’S BACK
Dan Plesac is back in Toronto, thus leaving the Diamondbacks officially nothing to show for Tony Batista.

THE POOR GET RICHER?
According to Baseball Weekly, the Mariners' new TV deal makes them the majors' sixth richest revenue stream. Don't be shocked to see Seattle become a player in free agent signings or salary dump deals in the coming years.

Personally, I thought a few years ago that the Mariners were missing a good business opportunity. The situation: you've got a contending team with three hugely marketable stars (Johnson, Griffey, Rodriguez), two of them young, plus other talented players who could be fan favorites if they got more exposure. You've got a new stadium on the way, with the city screaming about cost overruns. The idea: Bill Gates, who was in desperate need of good PR at the time, should have bought the M's (not a huge ticket item for him), re-signed the three stars, eaten the cost overruns at Safeco and strong-armed MSNBC into giving the Mariners a TBS-Braves deal for nightly national basic cable telecasts.

The benefits: Gates would have won himself some serious good press (to say nothing of a new challenge for his competitive juices) by making a firm commitment to keeping the team's stars in the town they started in and by getting taxpayers off the hook for Safeco. I'm no tax lawyer, but if the Mariners really had no legal exposure for the cost overruns there may have been a way to structure a gratuitous assumption of the city's debts as a charitable tax deduction.

Long-term, a national cable deal would give the M's a serious financial advantage, as the Braves have despite not being in a NY or LA size market. There is no West Coast team on TV every night, and with that star-studded team and two guys maybe chasing home run records they could have built a big regional following. And MSNBC may have finally found a voice in focusing on political yelling matches, but at the time it was a station with access to a lot of homes but not much in the way of distinctive programming. 10 p.m. EST baseball would have been a plus. Thus, it's unlikely that either Gates or the station would have found this a bad financial deal in the long run.

Anyway, the moment has passed, and the Pacific Northwest is NOT a small market. Don't cry for the Mariners.

Meanwhile, the Expos have lost their number one sponsor (Labatt's, which had planned to buy naming rights to the now-dead new ballpark) and with it $1.4 million in annual revenue. Most of the small-market teams still have enough revenue to compete periodically, but there's just not enough money there to support baseball in Montreal. They have to either move or be put out of business.

TOE NASH
The Toe Nash story is a great American tall tale, and I would love to see Nash become a star in the majors. But we should be cautious about hype, particularly from a Tampa Bay organization that has been long on publicity stunts and short on successful talent evaluation. Remember Jim Morris, the 38-year-old schoolteacher who supposedly had the best left arm short of Randy Johnson? What did he last, two weeks with the Rays? Brian Daubach or Troy O'Leary would look like Babe Ruth in a bayou beer league; heck, Daubach had 80 extra base hits in a season in AAA. I wish Nash (and Morris) the best, but don't get too excited just yet.

HALL OF FAME POSTMORTEM
I've about beaten this topic to death, but just a few points after the votes are in:

--1. I picked eight players . . . the writers picked two. I can't be too hard on them for being stingy; heck, Joe DiMaggio didn't get in on the first ballot. Better too few than too many.

--2. Gary Carter, with almost two-thirds of the vote, is now nearly inevitable. I've yet to hear a writer explain why he doesn't belong; the best I've heard is USAToday's Rod Beaton say Carter "doesn't feel like" a Hall of Famer. Deep. Rice, Sutter and Gossage all gained votes as well; the writers are taking their time with the closers, which is prudent. Rob Neyer ran Rice's career home-road split, and got me thinking yet again about whether he belongs . . . until next year . . .

--3. I was appalled that Lou Whitaker didn't get enough votes to stay on the ballot. I defy any writer who voted against him - or anybody else, for that matter - to name ten players who had better careers at second base. And no cheating with active players the jury's still out on or guys like Carew who spent half their careers at an easier position. Five are easy (Hornsby, Morgan, Collins, Lajoie, and Gehringer), and Jackie Robinson would be a clear sixth if they had let him start his career before age 28; he was better than Whitaker so we'll count him. But after that . . .

Evers, Lazzeri and Doerr had much shorter careers, and Doerr and Sandberg played in hitters' havens. Fox, Schoendeinst and Mazeroski weren't even close as hitters. Lazzeri and Billy Herman played in far higher scoring eras, and Herman's offensive numbers still don't stack up, while neither Lazzeri nor Doerr could match Whitaker defensively. Frankie Frisch had marginally higher career SLG and OBP (.432 and .369) than Whitaker (.426 and .363) in careers of about the same length, but Frisch's numbers are a little less impressive because scoring was higher in the twenties and thirties; they would also seem to have been comparable defensive players. The evidence outside their respective batting lines (championships, contemporary opinion, etc.) all points to Frisch by a nose (he won an MVP award and was traded straight up for Rogers Hornsby once, after all), but it's hard to argue that the difference there is huge.

That leaves three spots to fill (two if we overlook Sandberg's park and on base percentage) - with who? Bid McPhee? The other candidates haven't been enshrined either -- Bobby Grich, Joe Gordon, Davey Lopes, Larry Doyle, etc. Bring it on!

ANSWER TO LAST WEEK’S TRIVIA QUESTION
When Bert Blyleven broke Robin Roberts’ record of allowing 46 homers in one season in 1986, Jay Bell hit the record-breaker.

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