Tagged: CC Sabathia

Bunts and Boots: Land of the Giants, Royal Flush, and Birdbathia

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For the first time in years, the Giants have become a team
of interest in the National League West. The Giants scored ten runs on Tuesday
in handing the Brewers a loss at AT&T Park/Pac Bell, which is an awfully
good sign for a team loaded with offensive question marks. If the Giants can
show any kind of offensive improvement this season, they will make a run at the
Diamondbacks and the Dodgers for a wild card spot that could be coming out of the West. Their
pitching, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen, is talented and deep. With
hard throwers Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez forming the core of
the rotation, and free agents Bob Howry and Jeremy Affeldt providing some
short-term help in the bullpen, the Giants will have a very competitive staff
in ’09.

 

The Giants don’t possess enough of an offensive identity to
realistically win the division, which only makes their unwillingness to spend
big on an Adam Dunn or Manny Ramirez all the more frustrating. San Franciso’s
3-4-5 hitters in Tuesday’s game looked like this: Freddie Lewis, Bengie Molina,
and Pablo Sandoval. In a better world, those three would be batting sixth,
seventh, and eighth for Bruce Bochy, rather than occupying the middle of the Giants’
order. Additionally, their current infield represents one of the great
mysteries in today’s game; quick now, can you name the starting infield,
outside of veteran shortstop Edgar Renteria. Unless you’re a diehard Giants
fan, you’re probably scrambling for a newspaper to find the answer. (It’s
Travis Ishikawa at first, Emmanuel Burriss at second, and Pablo Sandoval at
third.) But at least the Giants are trying to find some long-term answers with
younger players, rather than merely saddling themselves with mediocre veterans
in their early thirties.

 

And for the first time since the early 2000s, the Giants are
worth watching for some other reason than Barry Lamar Bonds…

 

I’m also bullish on the Royals, despite their exasperating
4-2 loss to the White Sox on Tuesday. Kyle Farnsworth continued the highwire
home run act that he fashioned in the Bronx,
blowing a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning by coughing up a three-run homer. (Perhaps
we’ll see Juan Cruz the next time an eighth-inning lead presents itself.)
Farnsworth’s fireworks ruined the day for Gil Meche, who pitched seven innings
of one-run ball. With better relief and a defense that figures to be improved
with Coco Crisp playing center field every day, Meche could be a 15-game winner
this season. He’ll get some help from No. 2 starter Zack Greinke, and perhaps a
mid-season push from former No. 1 pick Luke Hochevar, who’s starting the season
at Triple-A Omaha.

 

The Royals also have the framework for a good offense, built
around homegrown products Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Mike Aviles and off-season
pickup Mike Jacobs. The Royals are still lacking in the area of on-base
percentage, and are probably still too young in too many areas, but like the
Giants, they find themselves pointed in the right direction after years of floundering
and flailing in the AL Central…

 

Finally, I have to give the New York Post credit for coming up with the eye-popping headline “BIRDBATHIA”
to describe CC Sabathia’s inauspicious Yankee debut against the Birds of
Baltimore. Just in case he hadn’t already realized it, Sabathia will learn
quickly that the New York
tabloids don’t treat underperforming superstars with big contracts very
sympathetically. If Sabathia struggles in his second start this weekend, I’m
sure the Post will deliver a creative
sequel to its longstanding legacy of harrowing headlines. Welcome to Hell’s
Kitchen, CC…

Opening Day Arrives!

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If ever a team needed a dramatic come-from-behind win on
Opening Day to rejuvenate the hopes of a sagging fan base, it was the
Pittsburgh Pirates. Down by two runs with two outs and a man on base in the top
of the ninth, the Pirates mounted a nearly miraculous rally. Facing newly
crowned Cardinals closer Jason Motte, Adam LaRoche kept the Pirates alive with
an RBI single. Eric Hinske, one of the team’s few veteran winter acquisitions,
followed with a double, putting runners on second and third. After Motte hit
Brandon Moss with a pitch, light-hitting Jack Wilson delivered a two-strike
double to the gap, clearing the bases to give the Bucs a 6-4 lead and setting
the table for one of the franchise’s most thrilling wins in recent memory.

 

The Pirates did little of tangible consequence over the
winter, adding only Hinske, backup outfielder Craig Monroe, and utility
infielder Ramon Vazquez as low-end free agent signings. With such little cause
for optimism, most Pirates fans have resigned themselves to another last-place
finish in the NL Central. That still might happen, unless the Reds or the
Astros fall back even further in a weakened division, but at least the long
suffering Steel City can take some solace in an
exhilarating Opening Day win against a division rival. Watch out, ’71 Pirates,
here comes Mashing McLouth and the LaRoche Brothers!…

 

While the Pirates have few burdens of high expectations, the
Yankees find themselves at the opposite end of the rainbow. Their high-priced
winter pickups failed miserably on Day One as part of an ugly 10-5 loss to the
ever-rebuilding Orioles. CC Sabathia failed to make it through five innings,
while walking five batters and failing to register a single strikeout. Mark
Teixeira didn’t fare much better; he went 0-for-4, topped off by an
eighth-inning at-bat in which he stranded the potential tying run on base.
Still, the Yankees found themselves in the game, down only 6-5, before watching
relievers Phil Coke, Brian Bruney, and Damaso Marte implode during a four-run
eighth. Hey, it’s only one game, but CC and Tex will surely be reminded of their
exorbitant salaries in Tuesday’s editions of the Post and Daily News. The
pressure will only grow if their Opening Day futility becomes a trend, and
that’s something the Yankees don’t need as they try to avoid repeating what has
become a bad habit in recent seasons–lousy play in April and May that puts the
team into early holes…

 

The Mets did much better than the Yankees in their opener,
clipping the Reds, 2-1, on a dreary, cold afternoon in Cincinnati. Jerry Manuel surprised the Mets
broadcasters, most of their fans, and yours truly by pulling Johan Santana
after only five and two-thirds innings. With Santana’s pitch count nearing the
dreaded 100 marker (he was at 99)–and bells, whistles, and alarms sounding in
the minds of the pitch-count preachers–Manuel called on ex-Mariner Sean Green
to quell a sixth-inning rally. Manuel decided to use the rest of the game as a
showcase for three of his newest relievers, with Green followed by more
heralded pickups J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. The trio of bullpen
newcomers pinned the Reds down the rest of the afternoon, combining to pitch
three and a third innings of hitless relief. From the Reds’ perspective, Dusty
Baker will surely draw the wrath of the aforementioned pitch counters, as he
allowed ace Aaron Harang to throw 114 pitches in 39-degree weather. As long as
Baker remains in charge, Sabermetricians and second-guessers alike will have
plenty of material with which to attack Baker for his old-fashioned way of
doing things…

 

With a new season upon us after an extraordinarily long and
bitter winter, you may have noticed a few subtle changes to our homepage here
at “Cooperstown Confidential.” For the first month of the 2009 season, we’ll honor
the memory of the fallen Dock Ellis by displaying his Topps rookie card from
1969. Hopefully, Dock was wearing curlers and smiling from above as he watched
his Pirates pull out a finish that would have made the “Lumber Company” proud.
In other changes, we’ve added links to some of our favorite baseball web sites,
including Baseball Think Factory and Bronx Banters. Lovers of film and TV will
notice the link to the incredible IMDB site, too. We’ll be adding more links as
the season progresses.

 

Other plans are in the works. We’ll be adding some few
features (including an historical piece on great nicknames), keeping tabs on
Keith Olbermann, and generally posting more often during the new baseball
season. Please let us know what you think of the changes, and feel free to make
suggestions about what you would like to see and read in this space. Let the
comments fly in 2009!

Winter Meetings–Day Three Wrapup

Hey, who invited Whitey Herzog to the party?

After a slow start, activity has picked up considerably at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. First, there was the news that the Yankees had reached agreement with CC Sabathia on a $160 million contract (an agreement that actually took place in San Francisco) and now we have a three-team, nine-player blockbuster involving the Mariners, Indians, and the Mets. The headliner in the deal, J.J. Putz, will be heading to New York to serve as Francisco’s Rodriguez setup man, completing a whirlwind 48-hour remake of the Mets’ beleaguered bullpen. Here are the final destinations of all the players involved:

*Mets: receive Putz, outfielder Jeremy Reed and reliever Sean Green

*Mariners: receive minor league first baseman Mike Carp, outfielders Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez, and right-hander Aaron Heilman

*Indians: receive right-hander Joe Smith and minor league second baseman Luis Valbuena

My thoughts on the deal? The Mets gave up a large quantity of players to acquire essentially Putz (since Reed and Green don’t have much value), but didn’t have to part with any of their top-tier prospects, so it’s a good gamble for Omar Minaya. Given Putz’ relative youth and live arm, he is a needed addition for a Mets’ bullpen that struggled as much in the seventh and eighth innings as it did in the ninth. Heilman was never going to succeed in the bullpen because of his desire to start, while Chavez was always going to be relegated to a fourth outfield spot. The hard part for the Mets was giving up Smith, a competent reliever, and Carp, who might have been the heir apparent to Carlos Delgado.

The Mariners, who have holes throughout their roster, may be plugging all of their newcomers into prominent roles immediately. Heilman will move into the rotation, Chavez and Gutierrez could become starting outfielders (or at least platoon partners), and Carp could be the Opening Day first baseman or DH. If Heilman can develop as a starter and Carp becomes a productive platoon player, then this deal could work for Seattle…

Sabathia’s deal with the Yankees is interesting on several fronts. From a monetary standpoint, it’s the richest deal ever given a pitcher. It’s also a classic case of the Yankees bidding against themselves, which is not exactly the textbook way to conduct business. From a baseball standpoint, it gives the Yankees their first legitimate No. 1 starter since Roger Clemens’ peak days in pinstripes. Sabathia also becomes the best left-hander the Yankees have had since the prime of Ron Guidry, which happened only about 25 years ago…

The Yankees have also made offers to both A.J. Burnett (five years) and Derek Lowe (four years and $66 million). If Brian Cashman is lucky, the injury-prone Burnett will turn down the deal and Lowe will accept, giving the Yankees an excellent No. 2 starter for their revamped rotation. If both Burnett and Lowe accept Yankee offers, then Andy Pettitte’s career in pinstripes will likely have come to an end…

One other Yankee rumor. They continue to talk to the Cardinals about Rick Ankiel, who would fill a major hole in center field. St. Louis is said to like Ian Kennedy as part of a package, which could also include Melky Cabrera and perhaps one other player (Chris Britton?)…

Finally, one other minor trade did get done on Wednesday. The Phillies acquired backup catcher Ronny Paulino from the Pirates in exchange for a minor leaguer, fueling speculation that the world champions will send Chris Coste to the Cubs as part of a deal for Mark DeRosa. The Phillies like DeRosa as a temporary fill-in for the injured Chase Utley and a possible fulltime candidate to replace Pat “The Bat” Burrell in left field.

Winter Meetings–Day Two Wrapup

Following and studying the Winter Meetings for the last 20-plus years has taught me a couple of lessons: always be skeptical of rumors involving four-team trades and forget about rumors of big-name free agents signing with bad teams just because they happen to play near their “hometowns.” With those principles in mind, let’s look at Day Two of the meetings:

*The Cubs say that the much-rumored four-way trade involving San Diego’s Jake Peavy is “not close” to being completed. Given today’s complicated contracts, it’s tough enough for teams to make conventional two-way deals. Three and especially four-way trades have become a near impossibility. So don’t hold your breath on the Peavy four-team deal allegedly involving the Phillies and Orioles…

*Reports continue to circulate that the Nationals will make a huge offer to free agent Mark Teixeira in hopes of capitalizing on his hailing from the Beltway region. Why in the world would Tex sign with a lowly team like the Nats, who are still two or three years away from contention, when he can expect similar big money offers from the Angels, Red Sox, and possibly the Yankees? It’s nice for Washington to dream, but this sounds about as realistic as talk of Maury Wills making the Hall of Fame…

*It appears that money does talk after all. Hours after it appeared that CC Sabathia would spurn the Yankees to talk turkey with the San Francisco Giants, the Yankees have reportedly signed the massive left-hander to a seven-year deal worth $160 million. If so, the Yankees actually bid against themselves. Although no other team came close to matching the Yankees’ initial offer of six years and $140 million, the Yankees decided to throw in another season and another $20 million to sweeten the deal. Amazing…

*The Mets aren’t done with the free agent market, even after signing Francisco Rodriguez to a relative bargain contract of three years and $37 million. The Mets are very much interested in Raul Ibanez, so much so that they are prepared to make him a lucrative two-year offer. Ibanez would play left field, with Fernando Tatis and Daniel Murphy assuming utility roles at the new Citi Field. One note of caution with Ibanez: he is a brutal left fielder, perhaps the worst I’ve seen since the days of Greg “The Bull” Luzinski. At some point, the Mets would be well advised to think about moving Ibanez to first base and trading Carlos Delgado, whose questionable presence in the Mets’ clubhouse has become a cause for concern…

*One trade did take place on Tuesday, with the Orioles sending Ramon Hernandez to the Reds for Ryan Freel and a couple of low-level minor leaguers. Given the state of catching in the major leagues, I like this deal for the Reds. Hernandez, despite some decline in his game, is still a legitimate No. 1 receiver and will benefit from a change of scenery, leaving the sad sack O’s for a Reds team that may be able to contend in the NL Central in 2009…

*Finally, here’s a smattering of rumors from the second day in Las Vegas. The Indians are close to signing Kerry Wood to a two-year deal to be their closer… The A’s appear to be close to signing Jason Giambi to a contract, probably a one-year deal with an option for a second… The Cubs are making a serious run at free agent Milton Bradley, who would become their right fielder and help balance the righty-heavy lineup that Lou Piniella puts out in Chicago… The Astros continue to dangle expensive shortstop Miguel Tejada, with his original team, the A’s, among the other interested parties… And the Cardinals have let it be known that they will consider offers for center fielder Rick Ankiel, who hit 25 home runs last season, but happens to be a Scott Boras client who is only one year removed from free agency.

The Free Agent Hot Stove Ain’t Hot Right Now

We’re just about ten days into the free agent season, but very little has been cooking in terms of actual signed contracts. Oh, there have been plenty of trades, including deals involving Matt Holliday, Nick “Son of Steve” Swisher, and Coco Crisp, which have already altered the lineup configurations of several teams. But on the free agent front, only one player of significance has changed teams (the underrated Jeremy Affeldt, who left the Reds for the Land of the Giants) and only one has re-signed with his 2008 club (Ryan Dempster, back to the Cubs).

So what’s the holdup? In one sense, this is nothing new. In the early years of free agents, big name players tended to sign more quickly, often before Thanksgiving and almost always before Christmas. In more recent years, the premier free agents have bided their time, so that they can shop their wares on nationwide tours, lift their egos as they’re being courted, and ratchet up the bidding to a war-like state. And with agents like Scott Boras, who is never in a hurry to get his headline names signed and sealed, the process becomes even more protracted.

Yet, there may be other factors at work this year that could end up bringing the process to a turtle-like halt. With the national economy in a seemingly constant state of peril, few teams (other than the Yankees) want to start throwing out contract offers like frisbees, at the risk of being untimely and insensitive. Then there is the ever-growing presence of Sabermetrically inclined and financially aware general managers, who want to be as cost-efficient as possible in signing new players to lucrative new deals. At one time, baseball’s general manager class was filled with wheeler dealers like Whitey Herzog, Clyde King, Joe McIlvaine, and Syd Thrift, who thought of baseball first–and finances a distant second. (They let their owners worry about that.) Today’s GMs, for better or worse, are more aware of economics, and are more apt to be cautious when it comes to doling out huge offers at the start of the free agent season. Whereas GMs used to prefer moving quickly during the hot stove season, many now prefer to take their time in the hopes (often failed) of bringing the market down to a more restrained level.

Given these realities, the week of Thanksgiving could be another quiet one on the free agent front. The elite free agent in this market, CC “California Coast” Sabathia, seems to be in no rush to sign a contract for 2009 and beyond. (Only in baseball could a guy leave unanswered an offer for six years and $140 million dollars!) As a result, most other free agent starters may wait for him to set the bar. And then there is Mark Teixeira, the elite position player in this year’s crop. Tex says he wants to sign before Christmas, but that’s not a great concession considering that the holiday is still five weeks away.

So, with the give-and-take of free agency in a holding pattern and the big names not feeling pressed for time, don’t be surprised if the current waiting game waits just a little bit longer.