Tagged: Carlos Beltran

The Other Side of the Steve Phillips Argument

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General manager-turned-broadcaster Steve Phillips has taken
a lot of flack over the last few days, ever since he made a series of critical
comments about the Mets’ Carlos Beltran during ESPN’s Sunday night broadcast.
Frankly, some of the blowback against Phillips has been overdone, with his
comments taken severely out of context by some critics who don’t like his commentary to begin with or haven’t forgiven him for a spotty record as a general manager.

 

First of all, Phillips only suggested trading Beltran IF the
Mets were to fail to make the postseason for a third consecutive year. Let’s be
honest here. If the Mets fall short of the playoffs for a third summer, no one in the organization will be
untouchable. GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel will likely be fired, and
one of the Mets’ big three–either Beltran, Jose Reyes, or David Wright–will
almost certainly be traded. (And if you don’t agree with that possibility, you
simply haven’t been following the Mets’ fortunes since October of 2006.) Furthermore,
one of the reasons that Phillips “picked on” Beltran has to do with the ages of
both Reyes and Wright, who are both 26 and likely have a number of prime years
remaining. Beltran is no kid anymore–he’s 32, an age by which most players
start to show some decline–and therefore not likely to have as prolonged a
future as either Wright or Reyes. Yet, because of his all-round greatness as a
player, Beltran will still command something substantial in a potential trade.

 

In posing some of his criticisms of Beltran on Sunday night,
Phillips chose some of his words badly and came off sounding awkward. For
example, he talked about Beltran not delivering enough “winning plays,” a
strange and nebulous way of wording things, to say the least. That kind of
terminology certainly did not help Phillips’ argument, leading to some of the
negative reaction on the Internet. That’s fair criticism. But some of Phillips’
points about Beltran are legitimate. Twice this year, Beltran has inexplicably failed
to slide on the basepaths when sliding should have been his first and only
option. (Beltran is just part of the problem here; as a team, the Mets are simply
atrocious running the bases. They don’t hustle, they don’t understand game
situations, and now they even miss bases.) In the field, Beltran has also made
a habit of missing the cutoff man, which is surprising for a center fielder of
his rather considerable defensive talents. And Beltran has never been much of a
vocal leader, which is an attribute the current Mets severely lack–and have
lacked for a few years now. Hey, when you make the big bucks, like Beltran
does, some people expect you to speak up in the clubhouse every once in awhile. 

 

Did Phillips make his case against Beltran poorly? Yes,
absolutely. Did he belabor his criticisms of Beltran during the broadcast? No
question. But let’s keep things in context here, while looking toward the
possible future. If the Mets continue their inconsistent play and miss out on a
postseason berth for a third consecutive season, Beltran will be one of just
many people in the organization holding their heads on the chopping block. And
if the Mets can get the right package of players in return for Beltran–who is
still one of the top ten players in the game and a future Hall of Famer–that might be one of the steps they
need to take to change the dynamics of a team that too often seems dazed and
disinterested.

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The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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How quickly a player’s value can change. Brandon Inge could
have been had for a song during spring training. The Tigers would have taken a
small amount of talent from any team willing to pick up the bulk of Inge’s
contract for 2009. Just a few weeks later, the Tigers are glad that nobody took
a flyer on their starting third baseman. Through Sunday’s games, Inge has hit
seven home runs and is making an early argument for a berth on the American
League All-Star team, especially with Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list. He’s
also played a stellar level of defense at third base, which is no surprise to some
scouts who consider him capable of winning a Gold Glove…

 

The Royals made a surprising move this weekend when they
designated third-string catcher Brayan Pena for assignment. Pena is a rare
breed in 2009–a backup catcher who can actually hit and carries more than a
modicum of power. He also brings versatility to the table, with his ability to
fill in at third, first, and the outfield corners. Expect the Royals to find a
taker in a trade for Pena. If not, he won’t last long on the waiver wire. There
are at least a dozen major league teams who could use help behind the plate

 

The Yankees just cannot seem to avoid injuries. For the
third straight year, the Bombers have been assaulted by a wave of physical
setbacks to start the season. They have five players slated to be part of their
25-man roster currently on the disabled list. The growing list includes set-up
reliever Brian Bruney (elbow), starter Chien-Ming Wang (hip), and default third
baseman Cody Ransom (torn quad), all of whom have hit the DL during the
Yankees’ disastrous weekend venture to Boston…

 

Speaking of waves of injuries, I thought the A’s would be a
factor in the AL West, but the disabled just isn’t cooperating. Staff ace
Justin Duchscherer remains on the 15-day DL with an elbow that underwent
arthroscopic surgery and won’t be able to return until the middle of May at the
earliest.  The A’s also learned this week
that their No. 1 set-up reliever, Joey Devine, will likely be lost for the
season because of an elbow injury. With Duchscherer and Devine, the A’s would
have made a run for the Western Division with the Angels, who have a ravaged
pitching staff of their own, but without at least one of the “Double D’s,”
Billy Beane may have to conduct another firesale this July…

 

Jeff Francouer has promised repeatedly that he’ll be a new
player in 2009, but we’re still seeing the same strangling level of impatience
at the plate. Through Sunday’s games, Francouer has drawn only three walks in
18 games, which is palatable if you’re a Kirby Puckett type of player, but unacceptable
if you’re not hitting for power and not bringing Gold Glove fielding to right
field. Unfortunately, the Braves are strapped for outfielders. They’ve already
made top prospect Jordan Schafer their starting center fielder and just had to place
the disappointing Garret Anderson on the disabled list…

 

On paper, the signing of Milton Bradley made tons of sense
for the Cubs. They need the kind of left-handed bat that the switch-hitting Bradley
can provide. But Bradley has started out miserably at the plate (one hit in 23
at-bats), has already suffered his first injury, and won’t play again until Lou
Piniella deems him 100 per cent healthy. In the meantime, the Cubs will
continue to play with 24 men. Observers in Chicago are also wondering when Milton and
Sweet Lou will have their first blow-up. Both men have explosive tempers that
tend to erupt when things go badly on the playing field. Watch out in the Windy City…

 

Carlos Beltran is hitting like he did during the 2004
postseason, when he practically carried the Astros to their first berth in the
World Series. By flattening out an already level swing, Beltran has been able
to hit National League pitching at a .406 clip. Beltran won’t hit .400 for the
entire season, but his speed, patience, and ability to switch-hit make him a
contender for his first batting title. I just hope that Beltran doesn’t wear
himself out trying to catch everything in an outfield that will feature Daniel “Bull
in a China Shop” Murphy all too regularly and Gary Sheffield on occasion… Sheffield’s
presence on the roster continues to surprise many of the New York beat writers. With Sheffield in town, Fernando Tatis’ role has been reduced
to almost nothing, while Ryan Church remains a platoon player in the eyes of
Jerry Manuel. Sheffield started Friday night’s game against Washington’s Scott Olsen, the first time the
Mets had faced a left-handed starter all season…

 

Finally, a postscript to Hank Aaron’s visit to the Hall of
Fame on Saturday. In filling out all of the artifacts contained in the new
Aaron exhibit, the former Braves legend has donated more than 50 pieces of
memorabilia to the Hall of Fame and Museum. The large supply of Aaron artifacts
include not only the requisite share of milestone bats, balls and gloves, and
his entire uniform from home run No. 715, but also several bricks and a porch
post from Aaron’s childhood home in Mobile, Alabama. Those surviving pieces
from Aaron’s youth serve as yet another reminder of how “The Hammer” came from
modest beginnings, overcoming a lack of money and a preponderance of racism on
his way to one of the greatest careers in the game’s history. Kudos to Hall of
Fame curators Erik Strohl and Mary Quinn for a job well done in constructing
such an extensive exhibit on Aaron, now on permanent display on the Museum’s
third floor.

Stunning Dunning, Umpire Baiting, and Nate Colbert

Felix Hernandez’ history-making grand slam on Monday night put him in exclusive company, as he became the first American League pitcher in 37 years to hit a bases-loaded home run. The last man to perform the feat was Steve Dunning, a name with which many of you are not familiar, or have already forgotten. For me, Dunning’s name always brings a smile to my face, mostly because of his nickname, “Stunning Steve.” Baseball people called him Stunning Steve Dunning not only because it rhymed, but because he had a dazzling fastball that at one time made him one of the top pitching prospects in the game. In fact, he was just about as highly touted as Hernandez was when “King Felix” first joined the Mariners. And just like Hernandez, Dunning had to settle for a no-decision in his grand slam game. Dunning couldn’t hold a 5-1 lead for the Indians, giving up five runs on ten hits through four rocky innings against the American League West champion A’s.

After Dunning won The Sporting News‘ 1970 College Player of the Year award, the Indians made him their No. 1 choice in the June draft that spring. Foolishly, the Indians rushed the Stanford product to the major leagues right away, completely bypassing the usual minor league apprenticeship, thereby making the same mistake the Rangers would commit three years later with left-hander David Clyde. On June 14, Dunning made his big league debut. He pitched reasonably well, lasting five innings while giving up two runs to the light-hitting Brewers. Dunning picked up the win, supported capably by Bob Miller’s four innings of shutout relief.

The highlight reel didn’t end there; unfortunately, the highlights just came too few and far between for Stunning Steve. He would win only three of his remaining 12 decisions in 1970, flatlining with an era near 5.00. He pitched a bit better in 1971, striking out 132 in 184 innings, but also walking over 100 men along the way. (Throughout his career, a lack of control would remain Dunning’s biggest pratfall.) The highpoint to his season, other than his grand slam against Diego Segui, came on April 18, when he one-hit Ted Williams’ Washington Senators. After the game, Williams held little back in proclaiming that Dunning’s “going to be some pitcher some day.”

Dunning became only a journeyman pitcher. In the spring of 1973, the Indians gave up on the wild right-hander, trading him to the Rangers, where he became part of Mike Shropshire’s infamous “Seasons in Hell” teams. A subsequent trade sent him to the White Sox, though he never actually appeared in a game for Chicago. Then came trades to the Angels, Expos, Cardinals (another team he never played for), and finally Charlie Finley’s A’s, with whom he ended his seven-year vagrancy in 1977.

Even though Dunning’s career ended in obscurity and disappointment, he’ll always have that grand slam–and Ted Williams’ endorsement–to fall back on…

I have no idea what Carlos Beltran said to home plate umpire Brian Runge during Tuesday night’s game between the Mets and Mariners, but it sure does seem like Runge baited the player, prolonging an argument that likely would have ended quickly. There’s absolutely no doubt that Runge later bumped manager Jerry Manuel (I saw the replay twice, and there’s no question that Runge initiated contact), an incident that should bring swift discipline from the Commissioner’s Office. If MLB officials are going to punish managers for pushing or shoving umpires (and they absolutely should), then umpires should be disciplined for making similar contact with managers, as Runge clearly did. A fine would appear to be the minimum appropriate punishment; a suspension of a game or two would more suitably fit the crime…

 
Former major league slugger Nate Colbert will visit Cooperstown this weekend, headlined by an appearance at the Hall of Fame on Friday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. The featured guest in a Hall of Fame “Legends Event,” Colbert will discuss his ten-year career with the Astros, Padres, Tigers, Expos, and A’s, most notably his five home runs in a 1972 doubleheader against the Braves. With his powerful but compact swing, Colbert emerged as very good player for some dreadful Padres teams. For example, during that same 1972 season, he drove in 111 runs, representing a stunning (there’s that word again) 23 per cent of San Diego’s runs scored that summer. That still ranks as the highest single-season percentage for any player, relative to his team, in major league history.  And to think that Nate accomplished that while wearing those horrific yellow-and-brown double-knits that made the Padres the bane of the early 1970s fashion industry.