Tagged: Daniel Murphy

The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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The Mets finally did the sensible thing in placing Carlos Delgado
on the disabled with a potentially career-threatening hip injury, but now they
face a bit of a quandary in trying to replace him. Do they continue to play
Gary Sheffield in left field every day, thereby freeing up Fernando Tatis and
Daniel Murphy to play first base? And why are they playing Jeremy Reed, a
mediocre hitter with limited experience on the infield, as part of a
three-headed monster at first base? I don’t know that Sheffield
will hold up, considering his age and the fragile state of his shoulder. A
better plan might be to play Murphy every day at first base, while switching
between Tatis and Sheffield in left field.
Tatis or Reed could then serve as defensive caddies for Sheffield,
replacing him in the late innings of games in which the Mets hold the lead…

 

Jerry Manuel’s Sunday night lineup against the Giants left
me scratching my head. Manuel put Reed at first base and kept Murphy in left
field, even though Reed hasn’t played the position fulltime since college and
Murphy is still a brutal defensive outfielder. Wouldn’t it have made more sense
to put Reed in left, where he is very good, and switch Murphy to first base,
where he has been working out in recent days? That way, the Mets would have had
only one player out of position, instead of two…

 

I’m simply amazed at the ferocity with which Raul Ibanez
continues to hit for the Phillies. So much for the theory that hitters need a
few months to acclimate themselves to a different set of pitchers in a new
league. Ibanez has obviously kept some good notes from his experience in interleague
play, because he is off to a career-best start in 2009, even though he’s 36 and
supposedly on the downhill climb. (He’s also enjoying the benefits of playing
his games in a hitter-friendly home part, in contrast to the pitchers’ parks of
Seattle (Safeco Field) and Kansas City (Kauffman Stadium). With 13 home
runs and a Babe Ruthian slugging percentage of .714 through the first six
weeks, Ibanez has been the Phillies’ clear-cut MVP, an impressive achievement
considering the presence of teammates Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy
Rollins. Now the Phillies just need to straighten out their starting pitching,
where everyone is underachieving, and their closer situation, where Brad Lidge
has reverted to the struggles of his latter days with the Astros…

 

As I watched the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval for the first time
this weekend, I immediately thought that Gates Brown had come out of retirement
to play third base for San Francisco.
(Brown, the old Tiger left fielder and DH, had the ultimate bad body, but was
one of the most dangerous pinch-hitters and part-time players of the sixties
and seventies.) Nicknamed “The Panda” by his teammates, the hefty Sandoval
carries the oddest physique (5’11” and 245 pounds) I’ve ever seen at third
base, a position that requires a degree of nimble dexterity. Sandoval is more
agile than his body would indicate, but it’s on offense where the switch-hitter
stands out. He can flat-out hit, and with his sizeable power to all fields,
he’s the Giants’ cleanup-hitter-in-waiting. He also brings the bonus of
versatility; Sandoval can catch, which gives the Giants some depth behind the
underrated Bengie Molina…

 

The Red Sox can still win the AL East without a vintage David
Ortiz, but his inability to hit with any semblance of power will make the chore
that much more challenging. With Ortiz at or near his peak, the Red Sox had
three hitters that struck fear into opposing pitchers. Now they’re down to two,
Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, both right-handed hitters. The Red Sox say
that Ortiz will return to the lineup on Tuesday after being benched for three
games over the weekend, but they may need to make contingency plans if Ortiz
cannot regain his lost bat speed. The Red Sox could eventually turn to prospect Jeff
Bailey or veteran Rocco Baldelli to take up the slack at DH, but the lack of a
left-handed hitting platoon partner for either player remains a concern…

 

With three consecutive walkoff wins against the Twins, the
Yankees achieved something they had not done since August of 1972. That was the
last time that the Yankees posted three consecutive wins with game-ending
at-bats. Johnny Callison accounted for two of those victories with game-winning
singles, while old favorite Horace Clarke won the other game with a sacrifice
fly. Callison and Clarke now have company, as Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez,
and Johnny Damon provided the more recent heroics with a single, a home run,
and another home run, respectively…

 

The Yankees are hoping to receive a triple-boost of talent
sometime this week. It’s possible that Brian Bruney, Chien-Ming Wang, and Jorge
Posada could all return from the disabled list within the next seven days.
Although he is the lesser name among the three players, Bruney’s return could
loom the most important. The Yankees have struggled to find pitchers who can
handle roles in the seventh and eighth innings; Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez
have both flopped badly, while lefty Phil Coke has brought forth mixed results.
Without Bruney, the Yankees don’t have a single favorable eighth-inning option
among their current pitching contenders. With Bruney, the Yankees can continue
to resist the talk show calls for Joba Chamberlain to return to the bullpen.

Bunts and Boots: Stolen Bases, Murphy’s Law, and Jim Palmer

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Less than a week after Sports
Illustrated
ran an article declaring the stolen base to be a lost art, two
players have run wild on the bases. First it was Rockies
rookie Dexter Fowler, who swiped five bases in a game against the Padres. Then
came Carl Crawford, who did Fowler one better by stealing a half-dozen bags on
Sunday against the Red Sox. In the process, Crawford tied the modern era record
for most thefts in a single game. So let’s not refer to the stolen base as
lost or dead, but something that is perhaps being resuscitated in 2009.

 

Do the one-game feats of Fowler and Crawford represent a
changing trend in the way that the stolen base will be used now that we’re in
the post-steroids era (if we can dare call it that)? It’s too soon to tell, but
I was initially leaning toward the poor state of catching as a reason for the
Fowler and Crawford explosions. After all, catching is one of the positions
that has been in recent decline, with most teams struggling to find quality
backups and some lacking severely in the starting department. Then I realized
that the two catchers in question–San Diego’s
Nick Hundley (no relation to Todd or Randy) and Boston’s
Jason Varitek–both have good reputations for their defensive play. Varitek
doesn’t throw the way he did in his prime, but his caught stealing percentages
have been 22 to 24 per cent over the last five seasons. Those aren’t great
percentages but they’re not terrible either and they’re remarkably consistent.

 

So I really don’t know why the stolen base seems to be on
the uptick in 2009. Teams are still hitting plenty of home runs; in fact, the
home run numbers for this April were up over the same numbers for April of
2008. Maybe the reasons for the surge in speed this week don’t matter. Maybe we
should just enjoy the spectacle of the stolen base…

 

With the Mets facing the possibility that Carlos Delgado may
be saddled with a chronically sore hip this season, they will have to start
considering alternate plans. If Delgado cannot play every day, or if his hip
prevents him from generating sufficient power, the Mets would be smart to move
Daniel Murphy to first base. Murphy has been nothing short of a defensive
disaster in the outfield this spring, as he combines the worst of Greg “The
Bull” Luzinski and Lonnie “Skates” Smith in left field. By putting Murphy at
first base, where he figures to be much more comfortable (he started his career
as a third baseman), the Mets would be forging a long-term solution at the
position. But here’s the problem: who steps in and plays left field? Gary
Sheffield has played poorly in spot duty, Fernando Tatis is best as a supersub,
and Jeremy Reed is no more than a stopgap. Perhaps Wily Mo Pena, currently at
Triple-A Buffalo, could provide some help. Unfortunately, the Mets don’t have
much else in terms of ready made offensive talent at Buffalo, where the Bisons
are running last in the International League in most major categories,
including batting average, home runs, and slugging percentage…

 

Finally, I’d like to extend thanks to those readers who
posted suggestions for this month’s homepage card image. I loved the suggestion
of the 1952 Topps Gus Zernial, with the various baseballs sticking to his bat, but
could not find a suitable image for posting purposes. So we’re going with a
1974 card of Jim Palmer, one of the underrated pitching greats of the 1970s,
for at least the first half of the new month. Always silky smooth, Palmer
pitched with a classic overhand throwing motion, releasing the ball from
seemingly the highest possible point above his head. Though surpassed by the
likes of Carlton,
Gibson, and Seaver, Palmer was one of the era’s second-tier Hall of Famers, and
the lynchpin to those great Orioles staffs of 1969-1971.

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.

A Smattering of Intelligence: Bucs Banter, Marvelous Melky, and Murphy’s Law

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What in the name of Omar Moreno is going on in Pittsburgh?
With Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Pat Maholm making like Bert Blyleven,
Jim Bibby, and John Candelaria, the Pirates find themselves on a PNC
Park roll. They just completed a
stunning three-game sweep of the Marlins on Wednesday, a happening that becomes
all the more remarkable considering that Florida
entered the series a major league best 11-1. The Pirates are the hot and
fashionable team National League team now, with a record of 9-and-6, just a
half game off the pace in the NL Central.

 

The Pirates are managing to play exceedingly well in a
division in which just about every team was considered better than the Bucs. First
and foremost, they’ve turned around their fortunes with improved starting
pitching. Last year, the Pirates’ rotation teetered on the atrocious. Now they
have confidence that Maholm can be an ace, and have reason to think that
ex-Yankees Ohlendorf and Karstens can be contributors at the back end of the
rotation. All three hurlers pitched well in shutting down the Marlins’ offense,
which is among the most potent and diverse in the National League. The bullpen
has also chipped in heavily. The late-inning lefty-righty punch of John Grabow
and closer Matt Capps has yet to give up an earned run this season.
Offensively, the Pirates have lived up to expectations, highlighted by a
nucleus of Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, and Ryan Doumit.

 

Can the Pirates keep up the pace? Well, perhaps for a few
weeks, but there are indications that their early-season play may not be
sustainable. Ohlendorf and Karstens fit better long term as relievers, not as
starters. Grabow and Capps will start to give up runs eventually; they’re
capable relievers, but they’re not the latest incarnations of Grant Jackson and
Kent Tekulve either. Three of Pittsburgh’s
hitters–Morgan, LaRoche, and Freddy Sanchez are all hitting over .300–a
circumstance that figures to change as the season ages. And now the offense is
the facing the predicament of losing Doumit for as many as ten weeks with a
broken right wrist.

 

Putting the negativity aside, the Pirates have succeeded in
avoiding the kind of cruel start that has doomed them in recent years. They
have some young talent that has a chance to blossom, especially in the form of
Doumit, Morgan, McLouth, and Maholm. For the first time in years, Pirates fans
have hope. And that, for a flailing franchise, is worth something…

 

The Yankees may have found a doable role for Melky Cabrera.
A full-fledged flop as the Yankees’ center fielder in 2008, Cabrera has emerged
as an early supersub stud in New York.
Receiving only his second center field start of the new season on Wednesday,
Cabrera switch-hit home runs–including a game-ending blast in the bottom of
the 14th. Cabrera now has four home runs on the season, despite irregular
playing time and a reputation as a singles hitter.

 

Based on the bulk of his major league career, Cabrera
doesn’t hit well enough or with sufficient power to play every day. But his
line-drive swing, good defensive skills, and strong throwing arm play well in a
reserve role. He can play center field one day, as he did on Wednesday, or
right field another day. He can come in as a late-inning defensive specialist,
especially in the outfield corners. He can also pinch-run. In other words, he’s
a good player to bring off the bench–an area where the Yankees could use the
help…

 

If his struggles continue in left field, the New
York media will start referring to him as
“Murphy’s Law.” Daniel Murphy has made just about every mistake that
can be made in the outfield. He’s dropped a fly ball, made a throwing error,
missed the cutoff man, even fallen down on the job, and generally brought back
memories of Dave “King Kong” Kingman trying to play left field at
Shea Stadium. Two of Murphy’s miscues have led directly to Mets losses, which
has led to early calls of panic from some members of the team’s rabid fan base.

 

Let’s not give up on Murphy too quickly. He’s still learning
to play the outfield fulltime after dabbling in a variety of positions,
including second base. He’ll get better with more repetitions and he’ll be
helped by playing next to a Gold Glove center fielder like Carlos Beltran.
Besides, Murphy’s bat is too good (maybe good enough to win a batting title in
the future) to sit him on the bench or plant him in Triple-A Buffalo. A better
plan would be to platoon Murphy with Gary Sheffield, who also needs at-bats. That
way, the Mets would take some pressure off Murphy and limit their defensive
foibles to left field, while giving Ryan Church a chance to play right field
every day. That’s a far more workable solution, one that would not involve
tossing the towel on the talented Mr. Murphy.

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Sheffield to Shea–Make That Citi Field

Like most of the baseball world, I was surprised to hear
that Gary Sheffield had landed with the Mets–and not the rumored destinations
in Philadelphia, Cincinnati,
or Tampa Bay. On the one hand, Sheffield
potentially addresses a Mets need (right-handed power) that has existed ever
since Moises Alou was placed on the disabled list early in 2008. But is Sheffield at the age of 40 the right answer to the problem? That is the issue that remains highly
debatable on the eve of Opening Day 2009.

 

Sheffield’s bat speed has slowed
considerably over the last two seasons. His chronic shoulder problem–he
allegedly can’t lift his right arm fully over his head–has only exacerbated his
decline, while rendering him mostly a designated hitter in Detroit. The Tigers didn’t think that Sheffield could play the outfield anymore; the Mets
obviously disagree since they have no DH slot and no vacancy at first base,
where Carlos Delgado is entrenched for at least one more season.

 

What role do the Mets have planned for Sheffield?
To be honest, I’m not sure. The Mets have already made a rightful commitment to
hitting stuff Daniel Murphy in left field, which leaves only right field as a
current option. Sheffield wants to play every
day, but the Mets already have Ryan Church, a far superior defensive player,
available to play against right-handers. Will Sheffield
be satisfied with a platoon arrangement? And if he is, will his achy shoulder
allow him to play right field even two or three times a week?  

 

Signing Sheffield also
creates roster problems. The Mets will now have to cut one additional outfielder to make room for the ex-Tiger, Yankee, and Dodger. The odd man out could be
off-season pickup Jeremy Reed. The ex-Mariner is nothing special as a fifth
outfielder, but he represents the only true backup to Carlos Beltran in center
field. If something happens to Beltran, the Mets will have to turn to Church, a
fine fielding right fielder who is stretched as a center fielder.

 

On the surface, the signing of Sheffield
creates more problems than it fixes. So why did the Mets take the plunge on
Sheffield after passing on all other right-handed hitting options this winter?
Well, there is a theory making the rounds. The Mets signed Sheffield
not because they really wanted him, but because they wanted to keep him away
from the rival Phillies, who need a righty bat as badly as the Mets. The more I
think about it, the more I’m beginning to believe that is the real reason why Sheffield
will be part of the inaugural season at CitiField.

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Manuel, Wells, I-Rod (and Sean Penn, Too)

Jerry Manuel is not afraid to shake up things up when it comes to the construction of his lineup. Less than two weeks into spring training, the Mets manager has already made two major pronouncements. He created a few headlines early during the first week when he said he would like to experiment with the embattled Luis Castillo as his leadoff man. And now in week No. 2 of the spring, he has declared that Daniel Murphy will be his everyday left fielder–and not a platoon partner of Fernando Tatis, as most of us had expected. I have my doubts about Castillo’s ability to handle the leadoff role at this stage of his career, but I like the move with Murphy, who appears to have the offensive skills to fill a role as the Mets’ No. 6 hitter, batting behind some combination of Carlos Delgado and David Wright. This move might also free up Tatis to assume more of a utility role, taking Delgado’s place at first base against selected left-handers and backing up Wright at third base. The Mets need to take advantage of Tatis’ versatility; he can play four positions (both the infield and outfield corners), an ability that will come in handy now that Damion Easley is an ex-Met…

There are a few certainties in life: death, taxes, and Sean Penn making a jackass out of himself at the Oscars. Here’s another–injuries in spring training. The Blue Jays have suffered the first major setback of the spring, as Vernon Wells strained his hamstring during workouts on Monday. Wells is expected to miss a full month, which could be cutting it close in terms of his availability for Opening Day. This is exactly the kind of news the Jays don’t need after a winter that saw them lose A.J. Burnett to free agency while failing to make any major acquisitions of their own. With a few bad breaks, the Jays could be looking at last place in the stacked AL East, behind even the perennially disfunctional Orioles…

While most of the free agent focus remains centered on Manny Ramirez, another future Hall of Famer (at least in my mind) finds himself at home, waiting for the right offer. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is still available, a rather shocking development considering the lack of catching depth around the major leagues. I-Rod has received at least one offer–coming from the Astros–but is believed to be holding out hope for a contract offer from the Mets. Unfortunately for Pudge, the Mets have two healthy and capable catchers in Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro. At some point, Rodriguez will have to accept the Astros’ offer or swallow hard on a non-roster invite to some other spring locale. Whichever team ends up with Rodriguez will be getting a bargain, though. I’m convinced that his poor hitting with the Yankees late last season was caused, at least in part, by the difficult task of having to learn an entirely new pitching staff in mid-season. Given such defensive distractions, it’s understandable that Rodriguez hit so poorly as a stand-in for the injured Jorge Posada.