Friday, October 31, 2003

It's not that we don't want you, it's just...

So, nobody claimed Manny Ramirez and he will remain with the Red Sox for the time being. Boston now has two options: keep him or trade him. Unlike some people, I don't think there will be any problems if the Red Sox decide to keep Ramirez.

He's still a great hitter, he's just not worth that much money for that many years. Also, it sounds like he and his agent initiated the idea of trying to get Ramirez out of Boston, so they shouldn't be offended that the Red Sox put him on waivers. Jeff Moorad even said that he was pleased that the Red Sox were trying to facilitate Manny's desire to play for the Yankees.

Plus, Manny has always been a headcase and he's often been reported to be unhappy and he's still always hit well. If he remains with Boston for next season, I won't expect him to perform any differently than he has during his first three years with the team.

That said, the Red Sox are still trying to gain more financial flexibility and they would probably still like to rid themselves of Manny's contract. That can now only be done via trade and only if the Red Sox pay part of Manny's contract. The quality of the player(s) the Red Sox get in return would depend on how much of the contract they're willing to eat.

I said several times during the World Series that I thought the Red Sox might undergo a massive overhaul this off-season and placing Ramirez on waivers has done nothing to convince me otherwise. I think they will try to trade him, but they're not going to take on somebody else's bloated contract.

This story isn't over yet and it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the next two or three months. I'll try to give my opinion this weekend on what trades we could potentially see.

Happy Halloween

I'm going to push my post about the Managers of the Year back to next week because I want to wait until later today to write about Manny Ramirez when we know more about what's happening. In the meantime, there are some excellent pieces you should read if you've got some free time.

First, Alex Belth has another of his patented interviews up. This time he's picking the brain of Pat Jordan, author of, among other things, "A False Spring." As Alex's interviews usually are, this is an excellent read. If I were in charge of a sports department right now, the first thing I would do would be to try and hire Alex as a feature-type columnist.

Also, Zach Everson makes an interesting argument that the Yankees are more cursed than the Red Sox. If you're of the opinion that there's more to life than baseball games and jewelry (like, say, 26 rings), then there's quite a bit of truth to what Zach has to say.

And if you haven't been checking Wait 'Til Next Year for Bryan Smith's organizational meetings, then you're missing out. Basically, Bryan is writing about what each team needs to do this off-season, but he's inviting a fellow blogger to discuss each team with him. Today's organizational meeting is about the San Francisco Giants with the help of The Southpaw's Matthew Durham.

On Wednesday, Bryan asked Alex Belth and Larry Mahnken about the New York Yankees. On Thursday, Bryan gave his own opinions on the Yankees.

And the first organizational meeting was on Monday, when Bryan discussed the Atlanta Braves with No Pepper's Brad Dowdy.

And finally, here's the link to my fantasy football column for this week:

Fantasy football: Unmask your best players

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Ramirez to Tampa Bay?

Before I start, I would like to make sure everybody knows that I have absolutely no insider information here. However, it just occurred to me that the Devil Rays could seriously be interested in obtaining the services of Ramirez.

They have already made it clear that they plan to go after Gary Sheffield, who is more attractive as a Tampa native, but the problem Tampa Bay has with signing free agents is that the team is not really good. Free agents, being free, can decide to go to whatever team interests them most, and that usually is not a team that has never even won 70 games.

Players on waivers, however, have no such choice. If the Devil Rays claim Ramirez, he has two choices. The first is to play for Tampa Bay, even though that means probably playing for a losing team. The second, I believe, is refusing the claim and becoming a free agent, even though that means that he has no shot at making as much money as he is currently making.

The Devil Rays, if they're smart, know that Ramirez knows he would be unable to sign a deal anywhere close to what he's currently making. They might know he's not worth what he's making, but they may be willing to overpay in order to obtain the services of such a quality player.

If he refuses their claim, it's no skin of their back and they go about their business of trying to convince Sheffield to become a Devil Ray. If Ramirez agrees to play for Tampa Bay, then he would become the anchor of what really could be a good offense next year.

As I said, I have no idea whether or not Tampa Bay is really considering claiming Ramirez, but I think it would be an intriguing idea for them as he would easily become the best player the team has ever had.

By the way, the Yankees apparently are not interested in Ramirez.

Throw your stars in the air and waive 'em like you just don't care

I know I promised that I'd have my Manager of the Year picks up today, but I didn't expect the Red Sox to place Manny Ramirez on irrevocable waivers. So, I've been reading about that occurance all morning. If you haven't read much about it and you're interested, there's information all over the place.

I think the most detailed story I've seen about how all of this will work is this one from the Boston Herald. Sean McAdam also has a very good story up at the Providence Journal. didn't put the news on its site until this morning, but they already have responses up from both Rob Neyer and Peter Gammons.

Neyer thinks the Yankees are the only team that could take Ramirez and he doesn't think they will. Gammons, as he usually does, provides some insider information. Apparently the Red Sox offered to release Ramriez from his contract and he declined.

For fan reaction, you can head on over to Bambino's Curse and see what Edward Cosette has to say about it.

For lots and lots and lots of discussion about this, head on over to Baseball Primer, where there are no fewer than four discussions taking place. Here are the links to the three discussions happening at Clutch Hits and the one at Sox Therapy:

First Clutch Hits post

Second Clutch Hits post

Clutch Hits post on Neyer's column

Sox Therapy post

The first of those Clutch Hits posts links to a super-long discussion over at Sons of Sam Horn.

Over at Boston Dirt Dogs, they've already started minting new Theo Epstein money in appreciation of this move.

As for what I think about it, let me just say that I think several teams will consider claiming Ramirez. I'm going to reserve my judgement on what the whole thing means until we actually know where Ramirez is going to be. One thing is for sure though, this is going to be one exciting offseason and it just got started with a big bang.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Comeback Players of the Year

Well, I've procrastinated long enough. It's time to give out the awards that I promised to give out so long ago. I'll start today with my top three choices for Comeback Player of the Year in each league. Let's start with the American League. One thing I'd like to note about my choices is that I give more consideration to players coming back from injuries than I do to players who are just coming back from crappy seasons.

3. Pat Hentgen, SP, BAL

Coming into this year, Hentgen's last above average season came in 1997 with the Toronto Blue Jays, when he went 15-10 with a 3.68 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 160 strikeouts (5.45 K/9IP), 71 walks (2.42 BB/9IP) and 31 homers allowed (1.06 HR/9IP) in 264 innings. It wasn't a great season, but it was a great deal better than the three seasons that would follow it. During his final two seasons in Toronto and his only season in St. Louis, Hentgen went 38-35 with a 4.89 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 330 strikeouts (5.20 K/9IP), 223 walks (3.51 BB/9IP) and 84 homers allowed (1.32 HR/9IP) in 571 innings.

Coming back from three ugly seasons like those would have been bad enough, but then things got worse after Hentgen signed with Baltimore. After pitching just 62.1 innings for the Orioles in 2001 (with a nice 3.47 ERA), Hentgen needed Tommy John Surgery. He came back at the end of last season and pitched 22 innings with a crappy 7.77 ERA (sorry for the pun). So, nobody was expecting too much of Hentgen coming into this season at 34 years of age with a bad injury in his recent history and three years of poor performance in his slightly less recent history.

Well, Hentgen responded with just the fifth above average season of his career. He only went 7-8, but he had a 4.09 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 100 strikeouts (5.60 K/9IP), 58 walks (3.25 BB/9IP) and 25 homers allowed (1.40 HR/9IP) in 160.2 innings. It's not a Cy Young-caliber season and it's not even a performance that's good enough to earn him the Comeback Player of the Year award, but it's good enough for third in the AL in that category, so he's got that going for him.

2. Gil Meche, SP, SEA

Heading into the 1999 season, Meche was one of Seattle's best pitching prospects. Just 20 years old, he had pitched 149 innings for Class A Wisconsin the year before with a 3.44 ERA, 168 strikeouts (10.15 K/9IP) and 63 walks (3.81 BB/9IP). In 1999, he shot through Class AA (59 innings) and Class AAA (31 innings) to pitch 85.2 innings for the Mariners in the big leagues. He posted a 4.73 ERA and then pitched 85.2 innings in the majors again the following year, lowering his ERA to 3.78. Then, injuries derailed him.

Meche missed the entire 2001 season with an arm injury and he pitched just 65 innings last year, posting a 6.51 ERA for Class AA San Antonio. Still young enough to turn things around, however, Meche earned the fifth spot in Seattle's rotation this season and it looked like he just might parlay that spot into a spot on the All-Star team.

Meche posted a 2.53 ERA in April and had a 10-5 record with a 3.61 ERA in 112.1 innings at the All-Star break. He slumped badly in the second half of the season, probably because he was pitching more than he ever had in his career, but he finished the season with a solid 15-13 record with a 4.59 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 130 strikeouts (6.28 K/9IP), 63 walks (3.04 BB/9IP) and 30 homers allowed (1.45 HR/9IP) in 186.1 innings. It wasn't a great season, but it was pretty darn good for somebody who had only pitched 65 innings the previous two seasons combined.

1. Dmitri Young, OF, DET

After the 2001 season, the Detroit Tigers traded for the perennial .300 hitter who had yet to show much power in the hopes that he could take his game to the next level and provide a boost to the lackluster Tigers offense. Instead, Young was plagued by injuries all season and finished with the worse numbers of his career.

After playing in at least 125 games for four straight seasons, Young was able to play just 54 games last year. After hitting at least .300 for four straight seasons, Young's batting average dropped to .284 last year. After getting on base at least 34.5-percent of the time for four straight seasons, Young's OBP was an ugly .329 last year. And after posting an SLG of at least .480 for four straight seasons, Young managed just a .458 SLG last year.

Any way you look at it, the 2002 season was a complete and utter waste for Young and the Tigers. So, naturally, he came back this year to have his best season and earn his first trip to the All-Star game.

Young set career highs this season in games played (155), at-bats (562), hits (167), triples (7), home runs (29), walks (58), OBP (.372), SLG (.537) and OPS (.909). It's truly scary to think about what Detroit's offense might have looked like without Young. After all, they managed just 3.65 runs per game (far and away the fewest in the AL) despite the fact that they, unlike five other AL teams, had at least one player with an OPS above .900.

Now, onto the National League...

3. Kaz Ishii, SP, LA

Ishii came over to the major leagues last season and started out pretty strong, posting a 3.58 ERA in 100.2 innings before the All-Star break. Then, the league caught up with him and he got hung with a 5.57 ERA in the second half of the season. then, a line drive off the bat of Brian Hunter caught up with his head and fractured his skull. The ball hit Ishii so hard that it caromed all the way to the backstop, and nobody knew how Ishii would bounce back from such a frightening injury.

Well, once again Ishii got out of the gates fast, as he was 8-2 with a 2.94 ERA at the All-Star break. Once again he got pounded after the break, but his overall numbers were better this season than they were last season. He went 9-7 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 140 strikeouts (8.57 K/9IP), 101 walks (6.18 BB/9IP) and 16 homers allowed (0.98 HR/9IP) in 147 innings.

Those aren't great numbers and Ishii will probably never be a great pitcher, but to be able to come back and pitch effectively at all after having a line drive break your head is impressive enough for me.

2. Richard Hidalgo, OF, HOU

After the 2000 season Hidalgo was one of the hottest players around. He was 25 years old and had just hit .314/.391/.636 (1.027) with 42 doubles, 44 homers, 122 RBI and 118 runs in 153 games. He looked like he was going to be a star of immense proportions. Then, he slumped the following season, hitting just .275/.356/.455 (.811) with 19 homers and 80 RBI in 146 games.

Last year, Hidalgo slumped even more and also had to deal with injuries. He was only able to play 114 games, missing the final six weeks of the season, and he hit just .235/.319/.415 (.734) with 15 homers and 48 RBI. Then, while he was at home in Venezuela during the off-season, Hidalgo was carjacked and shot in the left forearm.

He recovered from the shooting, the injuries and the two subpar seasons in a big way this year. He hit .309/.385/.572 (.957) with 43 doubles, 28 home runs, 88 RBI and 91 runs scored in 141 games and won the Houston baseball writers' team MVP award.

1. Kevin Brown, SP, LA

One of the best pitchers in baseball from 1996 through 2000, injuries limited Brown to 115.2 innings in 2001 and just 63.2 innings last year. Last year, unlike 2001, he wasn't even effective when he was able to pitch, posting a 4.81 ERA to break a six-year stretch without an ERA above 3.00.

At 38 years of age entering this season, people were beginning to wonder if his body would ever allow him to pitch enough innings again to return to his place as one of the best pitchers in the game. This year provided a definite answer in the affirmitive.

Brown pitched 211 innings this season and was as effective as ever. He only went 14-9, but he had a 2.39 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 185 strikeouts (7.89 K/9IP), 56 walks (2.39 BB/9IP) and 11 homers allowed (0.47 HR/9IP). He was certainly helped by his home ballpark, but he was also certainly one of the five best pitchers in the NL. That's good enough to make him the NL's Comeback Player of the Year.

Thanks for stopping by today. Check back tomorrow for my post on the Managers of the Year in each league.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Little out in Boston

As had been expected since the end of the ALCS, the Boston Red Sox have decided not to pick up the option on manager Grady Little's contract. I've already given my thoughts on this situation a couple of times, but there has been a great deal of media response to this. One column in particular has caught my eye and, while I don't often tear apart other people's work, I am going to do so here.

The column I'm refering to is that of Adrian Wojnarowski on Here is the link to the column so you can read it before you read what I have to say about it:

Little's firing a big mistake

I'm going to start at the top and work my way down. First, it's absurd to compare what the Red Sox have done to what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did. The coach/manager is so much more important in football than in baseball that any comparison between the two sports isn't just irrelevant, it makes the person making the comparison look somewhat ignorant.

In baseball, the game is pretty easy. You put the players on the field, the pitcher throws the ball, the batter tries to hit the ball, the fielders try to field the ball. There are very few plays, very few different formations, very few substitution packages, etc. The manager of a baseball team can really only affect the outcome of a game tremendously in a few ways -- the first is by playing small ball too much and the second is by not understanding how best to utilize his pitchers. There may be other ways, but those are the two big ones that come to mind right now. Little was good at avoiding small ball, but he had no concept whatsoever of how to run a pitching staff.

In football, a coach's system can make all the difference in the world. Look at the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick or the Dallas Cowboys under Bill Parcells. Neither team has a great deal of talent, but they're both in first place in their division and a lot of that is because of the coach. Furthermore, in addition to the system being much more important in football, I believe motivating the players is much more important in football. In football, there are very large men running into other very large men at rather high speeds. If you're not motivated to put all of your heart and desire into playing, then you're not going to be the best football player you can be.

I'm sure baseball players play better when they're motivated, but you can still pitch or hit or field if you're unhappy and don't like your manager. If you don't believe in what's going on around you on the football field, however, then why would you kill yourself to get downfield and make that extra block? Why would you keep grinding for an extra inch or two on every play. Why would you go full-speed when you know the play doesn't involve you? All of these questions are applicable to football but aren't really applicable to baseball.

So, that's the first problem I have. To say that the Patriots not keeping Little is like the Buccaneers not keeping Dungy is foolish. To say that the Red Sox don't have a Gruden to hire to take them to the next level is also foolish because, as I just said, you can't compare Gruden and what his system meant to Tampa Bay to any manager the Red Sox could potentially hire. It's like comparing apples and screwdrivers. Totally and completely different things.

If you don't believe me that baseball managers and football head coaches are two completely different things, ask yourselves this question -- would any baseball team give up the equivalent of two first round and two second round picks in the NFL draft for a coach? No, of course they wouldn't, because the players are much more important in baseball than the managers, but the coaches, certain coaches anyway, might just be more important than the players in football.

The next thing I have a problem with is the first name on that list of "absolute, tested championship managers" that Wojnarowski provides, while trying to point out that the Red Sox don't have that kind of manager to go get.

The first name on that list, of course, is Joe Torre. My question is this -- were the Yankees hiring an "absolute, tested championship manager" when they fired Buck Showalter, a very good manager, after he couldn't quite deliver them to the ALCS in 1995?

Of course they weren't. They were hiring a man who had led his team to a first-place finish just once in 14 seasons as a manager. They were hiring a man who led his team to a winning record just five times in 14 seasons as a manager. They were hiring a man with a .470 winning percentage (894-1007) in 14 seasons as a manager.

I don't mean to sound like a whiner or anything, but had things gone just slightly differently, there's a chance that Joe Torre might never have led the Yankees to a World Series. If Jeffrey Maier didn't reach out and catch a fly ball in the 1996 ALCS, there would have been at least a chance that the Orioles would have gone to the World Series that year instead of the Yankees. Then, after the Yankees lost to the Indians in the 1997 ALDS, maybe George Steinbrenner would have fired Torre. You never know.

I'm not trying to take anything away from Torre, but to say the Red Sox shouldn't fire Little because there isn't anybody like Torre available is ridiculous. Torre, like most managers, does some things well and some things poorly. He has won four World Series titles in large part because he has had a lot of very good players at his disposal and because his teams got some nice breaks. There were, obviously, also some breaks that went against the Yankees on Torre's watch, but if you're going to tell me that you expected the Yankees to win four World Series in five years as soon as they hired Torre, I'll tell you you're full of crap. So the fact that none of the potential managers available for the Red Sox are that impressive-looking doesn't worry me because Joe "Mr. Absolute, Tested Championship Manager" Torre himself wasn't that impressive-looking when he got hired.

Okay, on to the next thing I have a problem with. Wojnarowski essentially says that Little makes poor in-game decisions, but is terrific in the clubhouse. He says that Little could learn to fix the former but that the Red Sox cannot replace the latter. Let's break a manager's job down really simplistically into two categories.

1. In-game management
2. Clubhouse management

It is indisputable that Grady Little was bad at No. 1. As Bill Simmons said many times, he's one of the few managers who constantly causes you to yell out loud while he's making, or not making, a move. Unlike with most managers, there's very frequently no need to second-guess Little because you've already first-guessed him. Also, he's shown no ability or inclination to learn from his mistakes and improve his in-game management.

On the other hand, there is no hard evidence that Little is a great manager of the clubhouse. Sure, they seemed like a happy bunch of guys and they showed a great deal of resiliency at times this year, but that could have been the mixture of players on the team and the fact that they were winning more often than not just as easily. He did handle the Manny Ramirez "illness" superbly, but that's the only "clubhouse" matter that I know for sure he made a big, positive impact on.

A lot of people like to bring up the fact that the Red Sox have won 93 and 95 games in Little's two seasons at the helm. However, nobody's mentioning (probably because none of the people in the media who think Little should stay are the people who like statistics) that the Red Sox should have won 101 games in 2002 based on their run differential. If Little's such a great manager of men, then why did his team underachieve by so much last year?

Come to think of it, I don't remember hearing much about the wonderful chemistry in the Boston clubhouse last year. Did Little just acquire this marvelous ability this season? Did he decide not to use it last season for reasons known only to himself? Or might he just not have such an amazingly helpful, but equally-amazingly hard to quantify ability?

So, in my opinion, there is one aspect of the job that Little certainly does poorly and another aspect of the job that Little may or may not do well. Wouldn't it make sense, then, to get rid of Little and find somebody who can do the first thing better and may very well do the second thing just as well or better also? I think it would.

I'm going to skip the next thing that pisses me off because I want to close with that and move on to the statement that says, in effect, that Theo Epstein deserves some credit, but all the players he went out and acquired would have floundered were it not for Little. Let me reproduce the exact section so you can see what I'm referring to.

"Do you truly believe when (Epstein) acquired David Ortiz and Todd Walker, Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar that they were destined to deliver career years? Did Epstein believe Ortiz could be an MVP candidate, Walker an October hitting star, Mueller a league batting champion and Millar the unquestioned unifying force in a monumentally diverse clubhouse?"

The answer to that first question is that, no, Epstein obviously didn't expect Ortiz, Walker, Mueller and Millar to all have career years this season. And it's a good thing that Epstein didn't expect all four of them to have career years, because he would have been disappointed when it turned out that they didn't all have career years. I don't know if Mr. Wojnarowski even checked before writing his column, but only half of the players he mentioned had career years.

Ortiz set career highs in at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBI, walks, batting average, SLG and OPS in seasons in which he had more than 50 at-bats. Mueller set career highs in hits, doubles, triples, homers and SLG and had his highest batting average and OBP since his 200 at-bat rookie season. Both of them legitimately had career years the likes of which Epstein could not have expected. Is Wojnarowski giving Little credit for their career years? I'm not sure, but I don't know why he'd even bring it up if he's not.

The other problem is that Wojnarowski seemed to suggest that Walker and Millar also had career years. Well, they most certainly did not.

Walker hit .283/.333/.428 (.761) in 144 games this season. He hit .299/.353/.431 (.784) in 155 games last year. So he did worse across the board this year than he did last year. Also, for his career, Walker has hit (counting this season) .290/.346/.434 (.780). Those numbers are skewed somewhat by the time he spent in Colorado, but it is very clear that this was not in any way, shape or form a career year for Walker.

Suggesting that Millar had a career year is even worse because he had perhaps his worst season as a major leaguer. Here are Millar's Avg, OBP, SLG, OPS and EqA each of the last five seasons.

.276 Avg, .348 OBP, .472 SLG, .820 OPS, .283 EqA in 2003
.306 Avg, .366 OBP, .509 SLG, .875 OPS, .300 EqA in 2002
.314 Avg, .374 OBP, .557 SLG, .931 OPS, .312 EqA in 2001
.259 Avg, .364 OBP, .498 SLG, .862 OPS, .289 EqA in 2000
.285 Avg, .362 OBP, .433 SLG, .795 OPS, .277 EqA in 1999

As you can see, although he set a career high in games played, this is definitely Millar's worst season since 1999. His numbers this year appear to be better than his numbers in 1999, but he had a higher OBP (which is more important) in 1999 and played in a pitcher's park that season.

Finally, Epstein also didn't expect Jeremy Giambi to be a complete and utter bust this season. I don't know what Wojnarowski's point was in trying to show that Epstein got lucky in assembling this year's offense, but he failed miserably. Epstein went out and acquired five cheap, unheralded players. Two of them did much better than expected, two of them did much worse than expected and one of them did about what was expected (maybe slightly worse).

Also curious is Wojnarowski calling Millar, "the unquestioned unifying force in a monumentally diverse clubhouse." Well, if that's true, then what did Little do? I thought Little was responsible for all of the great chemistry in the Boston clubhouse, but now I find out that it was actually Millar. I'm starting to get a little confused. I know the Red Sox had "chemistry" and I now that somebody must have provided the "chemistry" but nobody seems to know exactly who that was.

The thing that pisses me off the most is that Wojnarowski says that it is an absolute certainty that Little was fired because of what happened in Game 7 of the ALCS and anybody in the Red Sox organization who says otherwise is lying. Well, Mr. Wojnarowski, if the Red Sox braintrust was so satisfied with Little before the playoffs, then why didn't they extend his contract then?

The fact of the matter is that the Red Sox front office never really liked Little as Boston's manager and I can understand why. Many, many people who followed the Red Sox all year long were begging for Little's dismissal long before the World Series. In fact, some Red Sox fans were worried that if the Red Sox won the World Series, they would be stuck with Little as the team's manager for an unbearably long time. One person, in a Baseball Primer chat I believe, put it in Matrix terms:

Take the blue pill and your team goes to the World Series, but Grady Little returns as the manager for next season. Take the red pill and your team goes home, but you never have to worry about Little again.

Quite simply, Little was not let go because of that one decision in the ALCS. The Red Sox parted ways with him because of a very large number of questionable decisions. Heck, there were even a very large number of questionable decisions by Little in the playoffs, but the only one that anybody wants to talk about is the decision to leave Pedro in the game.

I don't know if everything I wrote here makes complete sense, but I hope it does. Basically, I don't think Mr. Wojnarowski said a single thing in his entire column that is anywhere near relevant or true. It seems as though he made up his mind that Little got a raw deal and then decided to write something that would show that, regardless of truth or relevance.