Front office talk
Everybody talks about how the Cincinnati Reds have torn their team apart with trades, but nobody says the same thing about the Pittsburgh Pirates for some reason. The Pirates, in case you don't remember, have traded away Brian Giles, Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez, Jeff Suppan, Scott Sauerbeck and Mike Williams. They also tried to trade Jason Kendall.
However, despite all of the players they have gotten rid of in order to rebuild their ballclub, the Pirates still have a player who certainly could have helped a number of teams in playoff battles.
Matt Stairs went 2-for-4 with his 17th home run of the season last night, and is now hitting .297/.385/.574 (.960) in 102 games (249 at-bats). Stairs has obviously not played enough to qualify for the batting title, but if he had, that .960 OPS would put him 11th in the entire major leagues.
The main reason Stairs hasn't played enough to qualify for the batting title is that he doesn't hit lefties very well and simply shouldn't be playing against them. To their credit, the Pirates have not used him against lefties very much. Stairs has just 24 at-bats against southpaws this year, in which time he has hit .208/.296/.458 (.754). That's not a very big sample, but from 2000-2002, Stairs hit .192/.279/.333 (.612) in 156 at-bats against lefties.
However, Stairs can certainly hit right-handers. In 225 at-bats this season, Stairs is hitting .307/.395/.587 (.982) against righties. That is a lot higher than what he did from 2000-2002, when he hit .246/.356/.463 (.819), but Stairs clearly still has the ability to hit well against righties.
The Pirates were not (and are not) going to do anything this season with or without Stairs and, at age 35, he is obviously not in their plans for the future. Why the didn't trade him for whatever they could get (even if it's just a marginal prospect) is beyond me.
You cannot possibly tell me that there was no team even remotely interested in a player who can bash right-handed pitching and only costs $900,000. Heck, just looking at last night's box scores, I can point out a team that definitely could use Stairs.
Maybe they didn't know it before, but after managing just four hits, two walks and no runs against Jorge Sosa, the Mariners must realize that they are at least one bat short of having a good offense.
The area in which the Mariners are especially deficient is hitting right-handed pitching. Want to guess how many Seattle players -- counting everybody, no matter how few at-bats they've had -- have an OPS against right-handed pitchers higher than Stairs' .982?
The answer is just one. Jamie Moyer is 1-for-2, which works out to hitting .500/.500/.500 (1.000), against righties this year.
Only Bret Boone, who is hitting .309/.367/.578 (.945) against righties, has an OPS above .860 among all the Mariners with at least 10 at-bats against right-handers this season.
I know Stairs isn't as good in the outfield as Randy Winn, but Winn is hitting just .267/.322/.366 (.688) against right-handers this season. I'll do the math for you and point out that Stairs' OPS against righties is 294 points higher than that.
I know Pat Gillick hates making trades (although he did get lucky with Rey Sanchez. I don't know how a player hits .207/.240/.236 in 174 at-bats with one team and then .348/.390/.384 in 112 at-bats with another team), but he should have traded for Stairs. It probably wouldn't have cost him much, and it could have really helped the Mariners. Even if Seattle didn't use him against righties every day, Stairs would have given them a potent pinch-hitter against a right-hander.
I don't know which team is to blame for Stairs not being traded -- Seattle for not offering anything or Pittsburgh for not accepting the offer -- so I'll blame both of them. It may not seem like a big deal, but it really could have helped both teams. The Pirates would have gotten a player they might be able to use down the road and the Mariners would have gotten a player who might have helped get them into the playoffs.
At any rate, I'm glad the trade didn't happen for two reasons. One, it gave me something to write about today. Two, the Mariners are now half a game behind the Red Sox in the wild card race, and they do not scare me at all.
While I'm bashing teams for moves they didn't make, I thought I'd check in on an earlier trade and bash a team for a move it did make. When the Red Sox traded Shea Hillenbrand to the Diamondbacks for Byung-Hyun Kim, there were two distinct camps.
Sabremetrically inclined baseball fans thought it was an absolute steal for the Red Sox, and other fans wondered why Boston would get rid of a cheap, young, .300-hitting third baseman.
Well, after hitting .303/.335/.443 (778) in 185 at-bats for the Red Sox, Hillenbrand has hit .261/.291/.474 (.764) with the Diamondbacks. That is pretty bad, especially that OBP, but it's not a complete and utter black hole for a third baseman.
There's a bit of a problem, though. If you look at his player page on ESPN.com closely, you'll notice that Hillenbrand is no longer listed as a third baseman. He's listed as a first baseman. After playing 29 games at third and 28 games at first with Boston, Hillenbrand has played 25 games at third and 41 games first for Arizona.
Hillenbrand's "production" this season has been simply awful for a first baseman. In Arizona's organization alone, I'm sure there are two or three players who could provide adequate defense at first base and hit better than Hillenbrand has. There is simply no good reason to ever use Hillenbrand as a first baseman.
Arizona got rid of a good, young pitcher for a bad, not-quite-as-young hitter. It was and still is an awful deal.
Now, Kim hasn't been as lights out as Red Sox fans had hoped he would be, but he does have a 3.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 62 strikeouts (7.86 K/9IP) and 17 walks (2.15 BB/9IP) in 71 innings. And he's 3.5 years younger than Hillenbrand.
The biggest reason trading Hillenbrand has been good for the Red Sox, however, is that they haven't been able to use him at first base like they were doing occassionally when he was on the team. It also doesn't hurt that they haven't been able to use him at third base. With Hillenbrand in Arizona, the Red Sox have three players who have been able to play pretty much every day, instead of one of them having to sit to make room for an unproductive hitter.
In case you're not aware, those three players are David Ortiz, Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar. Ortiz is hitting .293/.375/.602 (.977) with 35 doubles, 25 home runs and 84 RBI in 107 games. Mueller is hitting .319/.394/.543 (.936) with 41 doubles, 17 home runs, 73 runs and 74 RBI in 126 games. Millar is hitting .279/.355/.482 (.837) with 27 doubles, 22 home runs, 78 runs and 85 RBI in 128 games.
The Red Sox are currently scoring 6.05 runs per game (841 runs in 139 games) which puts them on pace for 980 runs. They still have a shot at scoring 1,000 runs, which they almost certainly would not have if they had kept Hillenbrand. More important, they still have a (good) shot at making the playoffs, which they also might not have had they kept Hillenbrand.
While I'm doling out congratulations to Boston's front office, I want to congratulate Kansas City's front office and ownership for not trading Carlos Beltran, who makes $6 million this year and will make a lot more next year.
After going 3-for-3 with a walk and three steals yesterday, Beltran is now hitting .306/.394/.514 (.907) with eight triples, 21 homers, 82 runs, 86 RBI and 33 steals in 36 attempts (91.7-percent success rate). In addition to being one of the best offensive centerfielders in baseball at the moment, he may also be the best base-stealer in baseball history.
In his career, Beltran has stolen 142 bases and been thrown out 19 times. Among all players with at least 200 stolen-base attempts (a group which does not yet include Beltran), I believe Tim Raines has the record with an 84.7-percent success rate (808 steals, 146 times caught stealing). Beltran's success rate for his career is currently at 88.2-percent, which is simply amazing.
The Royals may not win the AL Central (they are currently in third place, 1.5 games back) and they may not even finish with a winning record (they are currently 71-67), but they have certainly revived fan interest in their team. Last night, the Royals drew 20,385 fans to the ballpark, which isn't bad for a Thursday. So far this season, the Royals have drawn more than 20,000 fans to their home ballpark 37 times. In all of last season, the Royals had more than 20,000 fans at a home game just 21 times.
That is a tremendous improvement, and Beltran is a big part of the reason for it. The Royals may still trade Beltran in the offseason, but waiting until the offseason and allowing the team to try and make the playoffs will engender some good will with the fans.
Finally, I have some football-related stuff to talk about.
First, as I mentioned the other day, I am writing a weekly fantasy football column for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Here is the link to my first-ever column in a major daily newspaper:
Fantasy football: You're not the only owner looking for RB
I'm not technically a columnist because I don't get my headshot in the paper and the column doesn't get put in the "columnists" section on the website, but I get to use the first person and give my opinion, so that's all that really matters.
Also, Seth Stohs, who writes the blog Seth Speaks, which I have added to my list of links to the right, asked me if I would make picks for every NFL game this year, which he would post on his web site. I happily agreed, so myself and eight other people will be trying to correctly pick as many games as possible. Here's the link to see how we all picked this week.
Not only am I interested in beating everybody else Seth asked, I also want to see how I stack up against ESPN's expert football game pickers. I'll let you guys know how I do each week.