Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Hardball Times

Hello again. I said before that this would be a "review" of the 2006 Hardball Times Baseball Annual, but that's no exactly true. Actually, I'm going to look at some of the articles in it and the ideas expressed and see what there is to learn.
The annual begins with a look at each division and what went on as the season unfolded. They use statistics to tell the story of the season, and while I don't always agree with their conclusions, they are approached with an admirable degree of reason and good sense. The writers for The Hardball Times are a bizarre assortment; what you have are essentially big-time baseball fans and stat geeks from across the country who contribute to this website as writers and analysts, mostly in their spare time. Some succeed moreso than others (such as Steve Treder's entertaining look at the NL West), but you really get the sense of a work in progress here. The Times doesn't offer pat truths or intractable absolutes; they are working to solve a problem and are simply seeking to make a genuine effort toward a solution. There is a sense of working through the problems in the book, which comes off not as amateur, but rather as honest and straightforward. No one here pretends to have the Holy Grail of statistical analysis, but their frank admission of such makes them much more useful than 100 self-righteous vapid-heads.
Rob Neyer gives a preview of his next book with an article on big mistakes made in the past season. It's not a matter of pure second-guessing or a generous helping of hindsight, but rather something about which people should have known better, even at the time the decision was made. A frank look at past mistakes is a brilliant way to acquire insight and to avoid repeating these mistakes; but insight is a difficult problem for baseball executives, sabermetric or no.
Neyer takes the Yankees and Red Sox to task (as so many have), but he makes a good point that no one else had considered: why in the world did the Phillies trade Placido Polanco? Yes, the Phillies had a young rookie in Chase Utley who was ready to play second. But the problem predates that issue. Neyer wonders why in the blazes the Phillies felt the need to sign David F'N Bell to a big contract when he's a pretty dreadful hitter. They could have simply moved Polanco to third, saved the money on Bell, and had both Polanco and Utley in the infield. It's a good point, and no one else has made it. Often we see a problem as it existed when it reached the crisis point, rather than looking back on how it could have been avoided long before.
Matt Welch, in the article Getting with the Program, defends the Los Angeles Angels, who are often the target of a good deal of scorn from sabermetricians. Welch does temper the negativity surrounding the Angels' philosophies but doesn't do a very good job of countering the negativity itself. He does point out the fact that the Angels' system has produced a good record of winning (compared to the sabermetrically-inclined A's), but doesn't successfully dispute the criticisms surrounding the team. You get a good sense that Welch is a fan of the Angels looking to excuse his team, rather than someone looking to make a straightforward argument, and this is reflected in his commentary.
On the other side of LA, Jon Weisman writes a fine article about Paul DePodesta's star-crossed time in Los Angeles. It's been commonly accepted since his firing that Paul was a failure, but Jon does a good job of pointing out that this isn't true. Without cheerleading for DePo, Weisman points out his level of success which, while not absolute, was enough to at least ensure his job. DePo was simply another scapegoat, one which the media were all the more ready to accept given his background.
Maury Brown previews the battle over the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current CBA expires after the 2006 season, so get ready for some more titanic squabbles among millionaires. But Brown does a good job of examining the issue, coming to the basic conclusion that it won't be too bad this time around. Craig Burley and Thomas Ayers preview the World Baseball Classic. This is for another blog entry, but the Classic has taken some turns even since this article was written, and not looking like as golden an opportunity as people thought.
Bill James looks at the amount of young pitching used by the Royals. He wonders if the Royals used a historic amount of young pitching? While it wasn't historic, it was large, and James' hypothesis about bad teams using more young pitching was generally borne out. The most interesting bit from this article was James' look at the best pitching staffs by decade, in terms of RSAA (Runs Saved Above Average). The #1 pitching decade, so to speak, goes to the 1990s Atlanta Braves. Next were the 1940s Cardinals, whom James describes as "the first great farm system churning out arms like IHOP frying pancakes." Next are the 1940s Tigers (Hal Newhouser, Dizzy Trout), the 1900s Cubs (Mordecai Brown, Orval Overall, etc.) and the 1960s Cardinals (Bob Gibson and friends). But the 9th team on the list is the 1950's Boston Red Sox.
This is a bit of a surprise. Or, as James exclaims, "What? Ike Delock is a Hall of Famer?"
While it may be true that RSAA is missing something, James looks back at the team and discovers that this forgettable era in Boston history did have a very underrated pitching staff, led by Frank Sullivan, who had a couple damn good seasons (since forgotten). It's always fascinating when statistical analysis brings back an answer contrary to what you believe, and how you seek to reconcile the two.
James does another study of Bert Blyleven's career. Blyleven is, in my opinion and several others (James included) the best pitcher not in Cooperstown by far. The knock on Blyleven was that he didn't "match the effort" of the team. While Blyleven's pitching stats are very good(3.31 career ERA, 117 ERA+) , his won-lost record is just fair (287-250). Perhaps, as his critics have claimed, Blyleven didn't "match the effort." That is to say, did he win games 9-0 only to lose another one 2-1? Was he saving runs in games where it didn't mattered but giving them up in close games when they did?
James studies the issue and finds that this is somewhat true. He concludes that Blyleven did fail to "match the effort," although I don't really see that. It's really impossible to prove whether his record is the result of effort-matching or simply bad luck. Do pitchers really have the ability to say, "Okay, we're ahead by 9, so I can give up 6 or 7 runs?" Can they really control when they give up lots of runs? To a certain extent, yes, a pitcher can control whether or not to bear down on a hitter depending on the situation. But is this factor really significant enough to account for Blyleven's record? And if it is, can we prove that it's anything but bad luck on Blyleven's part that he won the easy games and lost the tough ones? I can't see that in James' research, although he still doesn't see it as enough to keep Bert out of the Hall.
John DeWan, former CEO of STATS, Inc. writes an article where he argues that there's nothing really magical about the 100-pitch limit. In fact, he finds more evidence that pitchers throwing more pitches tend to do better in the rest of the season, rather than tiring out. His article is counter-intuitive to what sabermetrics think, that throwing a lot of pitches in one start is generally bad on the pitcher. There's not enough in DeWan's article to truly isolate the factors he wants to, and still several explanations for his study other than the conclusion he comes to, but it is an interesting idea meriting another look.
Pitch counts are an example of stats taken way out of control. Just as Saves are now far over-valued beyond what they intend to measure, pitch counts have become used far beyond their usefulness. All pitchers are held to low pitch counts, which may or not be the best idea for them. Pitch counts are virtually the only significant measure taken to determine pitcher abuse, whereas other factors must be taken into account. Many old-timers grumble about all the pitch counts in baseball, and while they all come from a genuinely good idea, they are used far beyond their usefulness and practicality.
Perhaps the most interesting (and complex) data in the book are the statistics on batted balls. Thanks to Baseball Info Solutions, THT is able to determine many heretofore unknown facts, such as how often batters hit line drives, and what percentage of a pitcher's outfield flies become home runs. John Fox breaks down a team's basic offensive and defensive statistics and determines from these how much runs a team should have score and prevented. This helps eliminate a good deal of luck; hitters will no longer be punished for a line drive that was hit right at the shortstop, nor will pitchers be punished for the broken bat blooper that falls for a single. It determines the heart of what the team did based on the event itself, not based on the result of the event, which may or may not have been positive. When you break down an offense (or pitching staff, etc.) to these basic bits of information, you can determine just how good they should have been, based on these components. Fox then determines which teams were the luckiest, according to how much they outperformed their components. Some may argue that there's more than luck involved, and I suppose that's true to a certain extent, but this helps eliminate a lot of the luck and chance that we previously thought was uneliminatable (if that's a word). This tells us a lot about who got lucky, and helps us predict who might be in for a "luck adjustment" next year.
There are several other very fascinating articles: Dave Studenmund breaks down the park effects into much more useful detail; J.C. Bradbury and David Gassko ask how much control a hitter has over a batted ball and subsequently make us wonder just how much control a pitcher has over home runs allowed; Bradbury also shows us "PrOPS," a method of removing luck on the individual level which gives us a pretty good idea of who got lucky (and unlucky) in 2005 (wouldn't it be great to know that free agent Alex Gonzalez, a bad hitter in 2005, was actually lucky and might have been even worse than his numbers); Dan Fox introduces us to Incremental Runs, a way of measuring who the good baserunners are beyond steals; and Dave Studenmund finishes it off with Net Win Share Value, which basically shows how much teams over-(or under-) paid their players, based on their actual Win Share value and their circumstances. Obviously, the best value is a rookie making the league-minimum who plays like an MVP; but that player can't make $15 million, and NWSV adjusts for that. Even a big-name free agent can be a great value if he produces far and above how he's getting paid, based on his status as a free agent (or arbitration-eligible player). The best and worst values in 2005: (WSAB refers to Win Shares Above Bench, or Win Shares above what a replacement-level AAA player would produce)
Jason Bay, PIT (Salary: $355,000) WS: 34 WSAB: 20.4
D. Willis, FLA (Salary: $378,500) WS: 26 WSAB: 19.2
T. Hafner, CLE (Salary: $500,000) WS: 27 WSAB: 18.9
Derrek Lee, CHC (Salary: $7.6 million) WS: 37 WSAB: 24.1
D. Ortiz, BOS (Salary: $5.25 mil.) WS: 31 WSAB: 22

Lee shows up ahead of lower-cost players because NWSV accounts for the real world; getting a player like Lee for $7 2/3 million on the free agent market is just as valuable as developing a rookie like Bay who makes the league minimum.

S. Sosa, BAL (Salary: $17 mil.) WS: 4 WSAB: -3.3
B. Bonds, SF (Salary: $22 mil.) WS: 2 WSAB: 1.5
K. Brown, NYY (Salary: $15.7 mil.) WS: 0 WSAB: -2.2
J. Bagwell, HOU (Salary: $18 mil.) WS: 3 WSAB: 1.3
C. Park, TEX-SD (Salary: $15 mil.) WS: 5 WSAB: 0.5
This is why you don't sign old players to big, back-loaded, long-term contracts. Sure, Bonds and Sosa were worth that much money when they first signed the deal, but as you approach 40, nobody's worth that much money. Teams regret adding that one extra year to the contract, and so will many teams that signed long-term contracts this year, thinking: "Oh, what's one more year, anyway?"

THT also publishes many useful (and hard-to-find) stats in the back of the book.
Hopefully, this book will become an annual event, much-anticipated in the sabermetric community. THT is a little-known website not affiliated with anyone at all, but they've built up quite a bit of influence and respect in the sabermetric community. Getting people like Rob Neyer and Bill James to contribute to your annual is a pretty impressive sign, as THT is becoming one of the must-read analysis sites on the internet. The fact that it's essentially a labor of love and a hobby makes it all the more charming. You won't agree with all of their conclusions, but the very fact that they're out there making the arguments and stirring up the intellectual soup is more than worthwhile.

More activity

  • The biggest news is that the Rangers have signed the only free agent pitcher left that's really worth a damn: Kevin Millwood. Millwood is signed for 4 years and about $48 million. Is this a good move for the Rangers? Yes and no. Yes in that it gives them a pitcher who is, you know, actually good. They were entering the season with a starting rotation of Adam Eaton, Vicente Padilla, Rich Rodriguez, Joaquin Benoit, and a partridge in a pear tree. The Millwood signing gives them at least one pitcher who can be counted upon to be above-average and vaguely durable.
  • The negative aspect of the deal is money: $48 million. 4 years isn't a bad deal for Millwood (who's 31), and while he will likely earn his $12 million this year and maybe next, he's not likely to be worth it on the back end of the deal. There is a fifth year on the contract, but the best information available is that it's a team option for the Rangers. The Millwood problem is about the same as the Eric Milton problem; a team is trying to solve an entire pitching staff's problems by signing one guy to big money. Millwood will be an upgrade, but does that mean the Ranger pitching staff still doesn't suck? Odds are that Millwood will pitch about as well as Kenny Rogers did last year, except that he costs more money. So the Rangers' pitching staff is, if anything, a shade worse than it was last year (they've lost more than they've gained), despite being much more expensive. Considering where the Rangers are, it's not such a terrible move, but the real lesson here is never to let your pitching staff degenerate this far; the best option for improving your pitching staff is to develop your own young arms. The Rangers have failed miserably to do this. In fact, it would be hard to think of the really top-notch arms the Rangers have developed since 1972. Kevin Brown, Bobby Witt . . . am I forgetting anyone? The Rangers (like the Reds) are forced into a no-win situation simply because their farm system has proven inept at developing a very good pitcher. Oddly enough, the Reds are even more of a historical disappointment when it comes to developing pitchers . . .
  • The Blue Jays have traded for Troy Glaus. I think J.P. Ricciardi is trying to sign every living player on the North American continent (and a few dead ones). The Blue Jays had Shea Hillenbrand and Corey Koskie slated to play third base, which gives you pretty good production for a relatively small price. Now they've got Troy Glaus. Glaus' acquisition (I guess he'll be the DH) gives the Jays greater depth, but is it really worth the cost? The Jays give up second-base glove wizard Orlando Hudson and "closer" Miguel Batista in exchange for Glaus and a prospect. You've got a couple teams swapping big contracts here (Batista for Glaus), but I have to see the D-Backs getting the better end of this one. The Jays don't really need Glaus, but they're getting him anyway, which sounds more like the Yankees or the Mets than the previously sensible Toronto front office. The D-Backs get rid of a big contract without losing much, since they can shift Chad Tracy back to third and put uber-prospect Conor Jackson at first. Batista can either close or (better yet) shore up a pretty slim Diamondback rotation. Hudson doesn't hit much, but he's an excellent defensive second baseman, and it's not like the D-Backs had anyone else. Ricciardi has gone too far, like the computer in I, Robot. Or something a little less geeky . . .
  • The Indians signed free agent pitcher Jason Johnson. Johnson is the epitome of a low-end innings-eater, but then the Tribe is only spending $4 million on a 1-year deal, a surprisingly reasonable contract in this off-season.
  • The Cardinals filled some openings with RF Juan Encarancion and 2B Junior Spivey. Encarnacion is about as overrated as you can get. He has good power and gets his RBIs, which makes people ignore his .316 career OBP. He doesn't really steal bases anymore, and at age 30 (in March), his best years are behind him, which is a bit unnerving, considering they've got him for 3 years. Spivey is a good-hitting second baseman, but is one of the most injury-prone players in the game today. He's a career 354/436/270 hitter (granted, with some help in hitter's parks), but has only played more than 106 games once in his career. He's going to be 31 and is coming off a 77-game loser of a campaign in Milwaukee and Washington. But here's the kicker -- Spivey gets a 1-year, $1.2 million contract. So even if Spivey does get injured, the Cards won't be out much money, whereas Encarnacion will barely be a good investment even if he reproduces his career numbers.
  • It's beginning to look like the Orioles might just trade Miguel Tejada. Tejada expressed a desire to be traded a few weeks ago, which set off a media flurry. He went back on his comments in public, but it looks like he might still want out of Baltimore. The deal on the table now (according to rumors) is that Tejada would go to the Cubs along with Erik Bedard for Mark Prior, Corey Patterson, and young Rich Hill. This is a complex deal, but it works out to a steal for the Cubs. Tejada is the best shortstop in baseball, and one of the best players in baseball, period. Tejada turns 30 in May, so while he should decline, he's still got some good baseball ahead of him. It's tough to see Prior go. Prior looked like the best young pitcher in baseball in 2003, when he had a near Cy-Young season. Since then, though, he's been horribly troubled by injuries. Prior is 25, and the time for him to recover from injury is growing short. Bedard doesn't have near the potential that Prior does, but should actually be just as good if not better over the next few seasons (Bedard is a bit older; he will turn 26 in March). Patterson is no loss, and Rich Hill is a bit old to still be called a prospect. Tejada doesn't really make that much money, and I think the Cubs get the best end of this deal by far. The only thing that could make this a good deal for Baltimore is if Prior turns around and starts pitching like a Cy Young candidate again. That is possible, but unlikely. The Orioles should really just try to keep Tejada; their pitching would only marginally improve, if at all, by trading a Grade-B injury-prone star prospect (Bedard) for a Grade-A injury-prone star prospect (Prior).

More to come later, including my review of the 2006 Hardball Times Baseball Annual.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Free agents

  • Johnny Damon signed a 4-year, $52 million deal with the Yankees. This is a pretty big loss for Boston, who are now looking for a center fielder and a shortstop (since trading Renteria). As Rob Neyer points out, though, Damon's numbers have experienced a nice boost from Fenway. Over his 4 seasons in Boston, Damon hit 383/442/310 at Fenway, and 342/440/281 away from home. This doesn't mean that he'll hit that poorly at Yankee Stadium; but don't look for Damon to be the big-time hitter he was at Fenway. He's also 32 years old, which means that his defense in center field and his stolen bases will be declining. Don't get me wrong; Damon is a good idea for center field, much better than anyone else out there. He'll probably be worth the money over the first year or two, but not for the back end of the contract. Of course, that's been true of EVERY contract signed so far this off-season. The Sox are stuck in a pretty good hole without Damon; I've heard it suggested that they trade for Corey Patterson, but that's seriously laughable. Patterson isn't worth the price it would take to get him; the Sox would be better off coming up with a creative solution in center. What will likely happen is this; the Yankees will be the best team in the East in 2006, maybe by a fair margin. But they'll be dealing with a fair amount of financial obligations in the future, whereas the Red Sox will have the option of rebuilding from within. Although the odds of Red Sox fans being remotely patient enough to sit this one out is non-existent. I can look out my window and practically see the vitriol spewing from New England, especially if (when) the Sox finish second to the Yanks again this year. The Sox are partly responsible for ending up in the situation they're in; they've made some really questionable moves. But the fact that they're not throwing millions of dollars around to hide their mistakes is a really good sign.
  • The Cubs signed Jacque Jones to a contract. He'll likely play left field, although I'm not really sure who's going to be where in that outfield. Jones has good power, but as Neyer points out in the same article, the Cubs aren't exactly short on power. What the Cubs do not need is another guy who hits some home runs, strikes out all the time and never walks. Jones' OBP over the past two seasons combined is .317, a dreadful number for someone in an AL hitter's park. The Cubs will likely get 20+ homers from him, but he won't hit any more than .270 or draw more than 40 or so walks. He's also, at 30 years old, not getting any better. This is what happens when you wait around for the free agent market to empty. You're left with gaping holes to fill with players like Jones.
  • On a similar note, the Cardinals signed Sidney Ponson. When not punching judges in Aruba or getting a DUI, Ponson in 2005 posted a 6.21 ERA in 130.1 IP. This is after a 2004 season where his ERA was a mere 5.30. Ponson is 29, and he's simply not going to be the pitcher people thought he was. Not only is he a below-average pitcher (4.81 career ERA) with a poor strikeout rate (about 120 per 200 innings), but he's also coming off some pretty serious personal problems. The Cardinals would have been much better off signing a no-name place-filler or just bringing someone up from the farm system.
  • Alfonso Soriano has again reiterated that he's not moving to the outfield. He also claims that he's going to wait and become a free agent and sign on with an AL team after this season. Gee, Jim Bowden, maybe you should have checked a little closer before you actually made this trade? If Bowden thought he could talk Soriano into shifting into the outfield, he was dead wrong, and should have been absolutely CERTAIN of this before he made the bone-headed trade in the first place. Not only that, but Soriano will be a real popular guy in Washington now that he says he doesn't want to play there. Any hopes of signing him to a long-term deal are apparently useless now, and he sure as hell can't trade him to any NL team. Trading for Soriano as an outfielder was a bad idea. If he ends up playing (read: "butchering") second base, it will be an even dumber move. Bowden is left with a front-page attitude problem and an incumbent second baseman (All-Star Jose Vidro) who has to be wondering who he pissed off to get treated like this. Well done, Jimbo.
  • The Dodgers are starting to look like the Yankees west. They signed Kenny Lofton to play center field, which isn't such a bad move, except that Lofton is getting older and is best used in a reserve/pinch hitting capacity. Not only that, but they signed Nomar Garciaparra. Nobody knows where Nomar's going to play, although Peter Gammons speculates that it will be at first base. I'm flummoxed as to what this deal was about. The Dodgers already have a first-base platoon in Hee Seop Choi and Olmedo Saenz which is cheap and effective if not spectacular. Nomar hits well for a shortstop, but his offense isn't sufficient for first base. Not only does that leave Choi and Saenz out in the cold, it further confuses an already confused lineup. The Dodgers have a lot of players, but no one really knows who's going to play where. They signed Rafael Furcal to play shortstop, which is great, except that they already had Cesar Izturis. Izturis can't hit like Furcal, so I thought he might shift to second, with Jeff Kent playing first. Now that they've signed Nomar, I don't know what the hell's going on. I'm not at all convinced that the Dodgers are doing anything but throwing money around in order to look like they're a better team. It's amazing how often that happens, even though it rarely works. It's been said that the McCourts, who own the Dodgers, are very headline-conscious. This offseason bears that out, as they've gone after all the pretty toys in the free agent bin, ignoring the fact that they have a lot of young players who now have noplace to play, and a pitching staff that needed an upgrade much more than the lineup did.
  • The Rangers and Padres completed a confusing trade: The Rangers sent young pitcher Chris Young, minor league first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and outfielder Terrmel Sledge to San Diego in exchange for Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka and a prospect. Eaton was a good minor league prospect, but has yet to pitch well at all in the majors. He's 28 years old, and his ERAs and strikeout rates show someone who's about as mediocre as his numbers appear. For some reason, though, the Rangers still wanted him. Otsuka is a good reliever, and the Rangers need that. But I don't get why they trade one young pitcher (Young) for an older, less effective pitcher in Eaton. Sure, Eaton is more "established," but I thought being established was only a good thing when you were, you know, good. Chris Young, the pitcher the Rangers gave up, had as good a season in 2005 as anything Eaton's ever done. His ERA was 4.26, but 1) he pitched in hitter-happy Texas, and 2) his strikeout rate (137 K in 164.2 IP) indicates that he's better than that. Not only that, but Young is younger (just 26) and cheaper than Eaton. Not only that, but the Rangers also gave up a pretty good 23-year-old slugging prospect in Adrian Gonzalez. So the Rangers traded away a good, cheap, young pitcher for an older, more expensive, less effective pitcher? I'd like to think that the Rangers aren't so dumb that they can't see past the ends of their noses, but this trade doesn't bode well for any optimism in that regard.
  • The Mariners signed Jarrod Washburn to a 4-year deal. This is good news for Seattle. Washburn isn't going to win any Cy Young Awards, but he's a fairly young and relatively cheap part of the starting rotation who is twice as dependable as some of the bigger-name pitchers.
  • The Diamondbacks traded pitcher Javier Vazquez to the Chicago White Sox. As Matthew Perry might say, could the White Sox have any more pitchers? They've got a pretty dynamite rotation in Buehrle-Garcia-Garland-Contreras-Vazquez, with young Brandon McCarthy waiting in the wings. That's nice, but could you get some offense, too? The Sox need a good dose of OBP more than they need a pitcher in mid-career crisis. Not only that, but Vazquez asked for a trade from Arizona to be closer to his family on the east coast. Well, I guess Chicago is closer than Arizona, but it may not be what he had in mind. And wouldn't it be a bit embarassing if Vazquez calls GM Kenny Williams and says, "I don't know what maps you've been looking at, but I asked for a trade to the east coast."
  • The White Sox signed catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a 3-year contract extension. I'm sorry, but Pierzynski just isn't that good. The Sox are going off of the Postseason Halo Effect, with Pierzynski mooching a lot of credit for the success of the pitching staff. Maybe the Sox were amazed by his performance on the NWA-TNA pay-per-view.
  • The Royals signed free agent pitcher Scott Elarton, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. Okay, this is why the Royals completely suck. They get some money in the off-season and, instead of spending it wisely, they buy about 3 or 4 bottom-of-the-barrel free agents. The free agents do nothing, and it turns out the Royals would have been much better off investing in their farm system. The Royals are like somebody at the mall with a gift card about to expire. "Well, we have to spend it on something! But instead of buying one nice thing, let's buy about 15 really crappy things."

That's a little harsh, but essentially true. Stay tuned for the 1962 NL Expansion: Astros and Mets.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Expansion Pt. 3

Los Angeles Angels
The Angels were created on October 26, 1960. The expansion draft took place on December 14. So hastily was the franchise cobbled together that the team's first general manager, Fred Haney, was chosen on their way to the press conference announcing the deal. Haney ended up with a much better haul in the expansion draft than his Washington counterparts. Familiar faces included Yankees All-Star outfielder Bob Cerv, former Browns ace Ned Garver, former Cincinnati slugger Ted Kluszewski, and the "Walking Man" Eddie Yost. These veterans served to give the franchise a bit of star power, but it was the acquisition of two young prospects that would lay the groundwork for the Angels' franchise in the 1960s: righthander Dean Chance, drafted from the Orioles, and shortstop Jim Fregosi, taken from Boston.
The 1961 Angels called LA's Wrigley Field their home. It would be a challenge to call Wrigley Field a major league park; the power alleys were a cozy 345' feet from home plate. Only the Yankees (240, with Mantle and Maris leading the charge) out-homered the Angels (189). There were 248 home runs hit at Wrigley Field in 1961, an amazing total for a pitcher's era. The park made otherwise marginal hitters look like stars; a good example would be outfielder Ken Hunt, who hit 25 HR in 1961 but never hit more than 6 in any other season.
With their slugging offense being supported by solid pitching from Ken McBride and reliever Tom Morgan, the Angels were surprisingly competitive: they finished in 8th place at 70-91; still the best record ever by a modern expansion team's inaugural season. Not only that, but the 1962 squad went 86-76 coming in 3rd place, 10 games behind the Yankees. This led Autry and the front office to believe the team was better than it really was. Consequently the team tended to look for the short-term fix rather than investing in the farm system. This would be the basic problem with the franchise for the next 40 years.
1962 saw the team further subordinated to Walter O'Malley when it took up residency in Dodger Stadium. They went from one of the best hitting parks in baseball history into one of the worst; and after their surprising 1962 performance, the club sank back into 9th the following season.
The best news on the team was the development of shortstop Fregosi. Fregosi wasn't a great defender, but he was possibly the best-hitting shortstop of the 1960's. His breakout season in 1964 saw him hit .277 with 18 HR, 9 triples and 72 walks despite playing in cavernous Dodger Stadium. But the real superstar in 1964 was pitcher Dean Chance. Chance dominated the league with a 1.65 ERA, going 20-9 with 207 K in 278.1 IP. Despite playing in the same era (and same city) as Sandy Koufax, Chance walked away with the 1964 Cy Young Award. There was only one award for both leagues at the time, and Chance received 17 votes against just 1 for Koufax (2 votes went to the Cubs' Larry Jackson). Unfortunately, Chance never performed that well again, with his only other good seasons coming after being traded to Minnesota. Fregosi, too, fell short of promise. Coming off a monster season in 1970, Fregosi suffered an injury that basically ended his effectiveness as a player. It all but ended what should have been a Hall-of-Fame career, and the Angels were forced to recover.
The 1960s went on with the team barely able to compete. Despite the move into their own stadium (known as the Big "A" in Anaheim), the Angels only once finished above .500 in the decade; that being a, 84-77 5th-place finish in 1967.
The theme continued with the team unable to produce its own stars, and forced to import second-rate players from other organizations just to stay competitive. The only really good deal the team made in the early 70's was a trade with the Mets that sent Fregosi (then all but finished) to the Mets in exchange for Leroy Stanton, Frank Estrada, Don Rose . . . and Nolan Ryan. Ryan's first year in California (1972) was also his break-out year; he made 39 starts and pitched 284 innings, posting a 2.28 ERA and leading the league in both strikeouts (329) and walks (157). The best years of Ryan's Hall-of-Fame career came aas an Angel, with the highlight being the 1973 season where he set a new major league record with 383 strikeouts.
It looked like the Angels might have another fireballer on their hands when Frank Tanana came along. Tanana was the team's 1st-round pick in the 1971 draft, and proved to be one of the best pitchers to come out of the team's farm system. Tanana struck out over 200 batters in three straight years, posting ERAs around 2.50 each season. It looked like the Angels had a dynamic duo on their hands, but an arm injury sidelined Tanana's career. With the Angels dubious about his future, they traded him to Boston as part of a deal for Fred Lynn. Tanana later resurrected his career with Detroit. The Angels developed another promising pitcher around the same time in Andy Messersmith, but decided to trade him to the Dodgers for a 37-year-old Frank Robinson.
It looked like the arrival of superstar Lynn might help bolster a lackluster lineup. But although he had a couple of good years left in him, Lynn was never able to recapture his MVP glory days with the Red Sox. He would be the first of many high-profile trades and free agent signings that left the team with little more than payroll trouble.
The farm system never really lived up to that of the Dodgers, who in the 70's were churning out superstars by the truckload. Asked in 1971 what the problem was with his young team, manager Lefty Phillips replied: "Our phenoms ain't phenominating."
Managers came and went by the truckload, most of them despairing to work with a sub-par team and a front office obsessed with nothing more than out-drawing the Dodgers. But in the late 70's, the nucleus of a good team started to form. Boosted by some worthwhile free agents (Bobby Grich, Don Baylor), some smart trades netting them players such as Ryan and Brian Downing and some sure-enough homegrown talents such as Carney Lansford, Dave LaRoche, the 1978 Angels went 87-75 to finish 3rd in the AL West, a mere 5 games behind Kansas City.
With former star Jim Fregosi at the helm, the 1979 team became the first in franchise history to make the postseason; their won-lost record was a lackluster 88-74, but it was good enough for a 3-game cushion over 2nd-place Kansas City. The heart of the 1978 team returned, bolstered by the front office's nabbing of Rod Carew, obtained from the Twins in the midst of a salary dispute. Carew hit .318 and drew 73 walks as the team's first baseman. Even he wasn't enough in the ALCS, however, as the team went down to Baltimore in 4 games.
The biggest name absent from the 1979 team was outfielder Bostock. After emerging as a star in Minnesota, the Angels signed Bostock before the 1978 season. He had a fine year, hitting .296 with 59 walks and only 36 strikeouts. But on September 23 of that season, Bostock was shot to death as an innocent bystander. It was only one in a long series of tragedies that seemed to doom the franchise's up-and-comers. Ken Hunt, outfielder with the 1961 team, snapped his collarbone while stretching in the on-deck circle and never played a full season again. Pitcher Ken McBride, one of the few reliable hurlers on the team, suffered a car accident in 1964 that basically ended his career. In 1965, rookie pitcher Dick Wantz looked like a sure thing in spring training, but was dead of a brain tumor four months later. At least 3 other Angels died in car accidents during the period. The tragedies lent an air of doom and desperation to an already sick franchise.
The front office also showed a great disregard for its players. Superstar Fregosi was refused permission to undergo surgery for a foot tumor in 1971. After trying to tough it out, the shortstop finally checked himself into the hospital. The delay helped end a promising career and likely cost him a shot at Cooperstown. One pitcher was sent a letter to his house saying his raise was denied because he had contracted a venereal disease. The pitcher's wife opened the letter and sued him for divorce. Outfielder Tony Conigliaro pestered the team so much about his eye problems that they thought he was just a crybaby. They were as surprised as anyone when Conigliaro announced his retirement due to the troubles. The Angels refused to pay the rest of his salary, and were only forced to do so when the Players Association sued.
After a disappointing drop to 6th in 1980, the Angels battled back under new skipper Gene Mauch, winning the AL West in 1982 with a team-record (at the time) 93-69 campaign. It was partly the work of big-name hitters like Reggie Jackson (free agent) and Doug DeCinces (trade with Baltimore) that helped the team edge the Royals by 3 games, but moreso a mound staff of no-names like Mike Witt and Geoff Zahn along with the veteran Ken Forsch that drove the team with a 3.82 team ERA that ranked 2nd in the AL. The ALCS against Milwaukee got off to a hot start when the Halos took the first two games, but then dropped the next three. It gave the team, their manager Mauch, and the franchise as a whole a reputation as "chokers" that would last 20 years.
It was the same story in 1986. The team won the AL West with a 92-70 and took a decisive lead in the ALCS. But with reliever Donnie Moore one out away from clinching the pennant, he gave up a home run to Boston's Dave Henderson that ignited an extra-inning victory for Boston. The Red Sox took the next two games, and the Angels went home again. Moore would never recover. He committed suicide in 1989, attempting to murder his wife in the process.
The 1990s saw the team reacquainting itself with also-ran status. Despite the development of solid young pitchers such as Jim Abbott and Chuck Finley, the team was still chasing after free agent bats, such as Chili Davis and Lance Parrish. Although the team would later develop 3 fine outfielders in Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, and Jim Edmonds. Salmon and Anderson would become cornerstones of the franchise. But Edmonds was lost in a trade to the Cardinals that netted the Angels reliever Kent Bottenfield and second baseman Adam Kennedy, not exactly fair returns.
With the death of Autry, the singer's second wife Jackie intensified the "Win one for the Singin' Cowboy" rally cries. It didn't look like the Angels would need any help in 1995. Riding the bats of Edmonds, Salmon, and Anderson, as well as hurlers Finley and Mark Langston, the Angels took an 11-game lead into early August. Then they proceeded to blow it. In what was one of the greatest collapses in history, the Angels eventually fell behind the Seattle Mariners, with free agent closer Lee Smith's struggles exemplifying the team's futility. The Angels did manage to rebound and catch the Mariners in a tie on the last day of the season. The ensuing 1-game playoff saw the team dominated by Mariner ace Randy Johnson, with the team unable to come up with the big win once again.
The Angels 2002 quest for the World Title began quietly. Added to incumbent stars Anderson and Salmon were fruits from the most productive farm system in the franchise's history. It provided center fielder Darin Erstad, whose 240 hits in 2000 electrified baseball (and set a new standard for a career year). It also provided third base slugger Troy Glaus and rock-solid backstop Bengie Molina.
But the most productive, and most surprising, aspect of the 2002 team was their pitching staff. Their 3.69 tean ERA was just a hair worse than Oakland (3.68) in the entire league. Added to incumbent closer Troy Percival were solid young starters Jarrod Washburn and John Lackey, and top-notch relief arms such as Brendan Donnelly and Scot Shields.
The entire season was a story of just being a hair worse than Oakland. The Angels set a franchise record with 99 wins -- but finished 2nd behind Oakland. The A's won 103 games, including a 20-game winning streak in mid-summer that made the baseball world forget the Angels altogether. But the Angels' strong record got them into the postseason, as they finished with a 6-game cushion over Boston and Seattle as the AL Wild Card.
The postseason would be a tale of outslugging the other guys. While baseball commentators waxed nostalgic about Anaheim's superior pitching and defense, the Angels proceeded to win in the postseason as ugly as humanly possible. They defeated the Yankees in the ALDS despite a 6.17 team ERA; they simply scored 8 runs per game and made up for it. They waltzed over Minnesota in a tame, 5-game ALCS that saw the team sport a 2.45 ERA. For the first time in franchise history, the Angels were going to the World Series.
It was downright ugly. It seemed like longer than 7 games, what with the 85 runs scored, the 21 home runs and the 10 errors. The Angels posted a 5.75 team ERA and were outscored by the Giants (44-41), but managed to emerge victorious, thanks to the well-publicized heroics of rookie Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez and That Damn Rally Monkey.
With the collapse of the Yankee dynasty, the Angels have become one of the best all-around franchises in the American League. It has yet to win them another World Series, but they have returned to the postseason twice: in 2004 (swept out of the ALDS by Boston) and 2005 (again defeating New York in the ALDS, but losing to Chicago in a 5-game ALCS).
With new owner Arte Moreno pulling the strings, the Angels appear to be a stable, winning franchise. They've shown a remarkable ability to not only spend money, but (for the most part) spending it wisely, bringing in 2004 AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero and 2005 AL Cy Young Bartolo Colon as free agents. Their farm system continues to bear outstanding fruit, with young shortstop Brandon Wood (20 years old) making his name as one of baseball's top prospects. They still have to compete with the A's, but they're actually a very respectable franchise for the first time in a long, long while.
They're Back in the Saddle Again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Expansion Pt. 2

The pressures forcing Major League Baseball to expand were multifold. The population of the country had shifted decidedly westward since the turn of the century, making the 16 Eastern and Midwestern teams unable to fully exploit the country's growing population. The deterioration of the major cities inhabited by the majors called for a move to new, burgeoning metropolises west of the Mississippi. Westward expansion was pioneered by teams such as the Braves and Athletics, illustrating the money to be made in new cities. The practicalities of expansion became more manageable the more teams moved out west, with the growing opportunities of air travel making westward road trips much easier. All these factors were weighing on the minds of baseball men in the early 1960's.
But the most immediate factor was the pressure being brought on baseball by Congress, threatening to look into baseball's anti-trust exemption. When Washington Senators owner Calvin Griffith urged the American League to let him move his franchise, the owners faced even more backlash from influential Washington figures. Expansion now became not only likely, but necessary.
The AL's solution was to allow Griffith to move his franchise to the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The league would then install an expansion franchise in Washington, D.C., still to be named the Senators. Construction on a new stadium (later named RFK Stadium) would allow the Senators to leave cavernous Griffith Stadium and find friendlier quarters.
The AL also decided to place an expansion franchise in Los Angeles. Many teams had attempted to move into the city in the past, but nothing had come of it. And since Walter O'Malley had moved his Dodgers to Chavez Ravine and seen unprecedented attendance, he was not anxious to see another team on his turf. The assigning of the Los Angeles franchise to singer Gene Autry came after a great deal of backroom finagling between league owners, with Walter O'Malley feverishly pulling strings to protect his interests. Hall-of-Famer Hank Greenberg (then part owner of the White Sox) put together a syndicate to secure the Angels. But the league took exception to the fact that one of Greenberg's partners in the syndicate was Bill Veeck, whose maverick nature and publicity stunts made the other owners refuse to grant Greenberg the franchise unless he dropped Veeck. Greenberg refused, and the league moved on.
Not only did Autry pay $350,000 to O'Malley as an indemnification against invading his "territory," but he also agreed to lease the Dodger-owned Wrigley Field, a minor league park, until their own stadium could be constructed. The Angels entered their first season already under a good many fiscal obligations, a state that would continue throughout the franchise's history.
So entering the 1961 American League season, the major leagues boasted new franchises for the first time since the AL's birth in 1901. It made for an interesting practical challenge that the new 10-team AL was forced to adopt a 162-game schedule, whereas the 8-team NL stuck with the traditional 154-game campaign. This would prove to be no small issue when Roger Maris entered the summer poised to challenge Babe Ruth's all-time home run record.

The (New) Washington Senators
The New Senators entered the league under a bit of a cloud. They were meant to replace Calvin Griffith's team, which claimed that the city couldn't support his franchise and left town. Few executives seemed to have asked whether the new Senators wouldn't ultimately face the same problems that forced their forebears out of town. But, not looking to alienate Congress, the owners eschewed forethought and established the franchise anyway. Ten years later, the Senators would be gone, for most of the same reasons the original franchise left.
But the 1961 team entered play with some bare optimism. In the expansion draft held in December of 1960, the Senators had selected the core of their first ballclub. Familiar faces taken in the draft included: Dick Donovan, a relatively successful pitcher with the White Sox, journeyman slugger Dale Long, veteran left fielder Gene Woodling and former Yankee MVP pitcher Bobby Shantz.
The 1961 season opened with former Washington All-Star Mickey Vernon managing. Offense was hard to come by in Griffith Stadium, and it wore on the team. Catcher Gene Green led the team with 18 HR and a .280 batting average. The veteran Woodling hit .313, but in limited duty. The fair performance by the pitching staff (6th in the AL in ERA) was largely an effect of the stadium; only the established Donovan pitched well, posting a 2.40 ERA that belied his 10-10 W-L record. The Senators finished the season 61-100, tied with the Athletics for last place in the league. It got no better for the team, as they took over sole possession of last in 1962 and 1963. Vernon was fired mid-way through the 1963 season, being ultimately replaced by Gil Hodges.
Hodges took what was essentially a nothing team and started to build a contender. The ownership realized that most of the unknowns they took in the expansion draft were unknown for a reason, with only outfielder Chuck Hinton developing into a valuable part of the team.
The team gradually rose above the cellar as the 60's wore on. They finished 9th in '64 (their first year out of the basement), 8th in 1965 and 1966, and then rose all the way to 6th place in 1967. A good part of the team's success came from a trade with the Dodgers in late 1964. The Senators gave up young pitcher Claude Osteen and John Kennedy to the Dodgers in exchange for 3B Ken McMullen, OF Frank Howard, P Phil Ortega and P Pete Richert. Osteen developed into a good pitcher in L.A., but the trade brought the Nats McMullen, a good-hitting third baseman, and Howard, who would be the franchise's biggest star in Washington.
Howard was a home run hitter in Los Angeles, but fans and management soured on his low batting averages and strikeouts. Howard came to Washington and became a hero. Nicknamed "The Capital Punisher" for his titanic blasts, Howard slugged 239 HR in 7 seasons in Washington. Many seats in the nether regions RFK Stadium are still marked as the landing place of one of Howard's big blasts.
"Hondo" (as he was more commonly known) was the only truly potent hitter on the team, and he put together a few monster seasons. In 1968, the year of the pitcher, Howard slugged 44 HR, leading both leagues by far (no one else hit 37). His .552 slugging percentage also paced the majors.
Perhaps as a consequence of his new-found BabeRuthness, Howard began drawing more walks. Combined with the league's efforts to shrink the strike zone to favor the hitter, Howard nearly doubled his previous career high in walks (60) by drawing 102 in 1969, and then 132 in 1970. He posted an OBP of over .400 each year, the only two times he would top the mark. Howard's 1968 heroics earned him 8th place in the AL MVP voting. He would top that with a 4th-place finish in 1969 and a 5th-place finish in 1970. Howard stayed with the team after Washington, getting traded to Detroit and retiring after the 1973 season.
Pitching-wise, the Nats didn't have as much to be happy about. Ortega, obtained in the Osteen trade, combined with Dick Bosman, Joe Coleman, and former Senator Camilo Pascual as the only strong hurlers on the staff.
Despite the lack of any evident stars beyond Howard, Hodges was still able to bring the team back to respectability. His reputation as a manager grew a little too much, though, and the New York Mets convinced him to take over their squad in 1968. The Hodges-less Nats plummeted back to last place, while their former skipper took the Amazin's to the 1969 World Championship.
After a year under Jim Lemon, the Nats introduced a new manager in 1969: none other than legendary slugger Ted Williams. Partly as an attempt to shake up the team, give the hitters a first-rate tutor, and simply nab a gate attraction, Williams was given his first managing job just 9 years after retiring. Worries that Williams would serve to piss of the hitters more than help them dissipated when the team won 86 games in 1969, shooting up to 4th place in the newly-formed AL East and giving it the best record for a Washington baseball team in nearly 25 years. The good news was 1B prospect Mike Epstein (30 HR, .278 AVG), a solid left side of the infield in McMullen and defensive whiz Ed Brinkman at short, and a respectable 1-2-3 of Coleman, Bosman, and Jim Hannan in the starting rotation. Ownership was even more impressed by the clicking of over 900,000 fans at the turnstiles, a relative achievement (they were still 5th in the league), but certainly the sign of great things to come.
But Williams made the mistake of making his first season his best. Fans kept waiting for the good news as the team sank back under .500, bottoming out at 96 losses in 1971. With an attendance of 655,156 just edging Cleveland for second-worst in the AL, all the old Washington problems were back at the fore. With owner Bob Short claiming poverty, he said that unless someone in Washington could pony up some cash, he was selling the team off to Texas. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn made it his personal mission to keep baseball in Washington (with fears of Congressional investigations still dancing in his head), and he . . . well, failed. Short took off for the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Kuhn made an effort to attract other franchises to the nation's capital, but all the efforts failed, illustrating Kuhn's loss of influence and subsequent loss of the Commissioner's job. Baseball wouldn't return to Washington until 2005.

Texas Rangers
About all the Rangers had was manager Williams and slugger Howard. And all that got them was 100 losses and a last-place finish. Williams lost his job after the season, being replaced in 1973 by Whitey Herzog. Herzog didn't last long, eventually being replaced by a manager with an equally titanic (and surly) reputation: Billy Martin.
But in 1974 Martin, warts and all, helped pull the team all the way up to 2nd place in the AL West. The biggest star was MVP Jeff Burroughs, who hit .301 and slugged 25 HR. But the biggest story on the team might have been the work done by Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins (25-12, 2.82 ERA). The Rangers got Jenkins from the Cubs in a trade for Bill Madlock and Vic Harris. Oh, those Cubs . . .
But the biggest story of the 1974 season was David Clyde. Clyde was a big star in Texas high school baseball, and the Rangers took him with the #1 pick in the 1973 draft. Failing to heed the warnings of the "baseball people," Clyde was sent right to the major leagues as a much-needed gate attraction. The ploy worked for a while, as Clyde started out well and the fans came to see him, but Clyde ultimately just wasn't good enough for the majors yet. Subsequent arm injuries limited him to just 56 games after the 1973 season, finishing off what should have been a promising career prematurely.
With most of the same players returning, the team dropped to 3rd place in 1975, with a 79-83 record. Martin was fired, partly because of the decline and partly because he's . . . well, Billy Martin. The presence of four separate managers didn't stop the Rangers from going 94-68 in 1977, posting a .580 winning percentage that stood as the franchise record for over 20 years. Unfortunately, they still finished 8 games back of the Royals, who won 102 games.
There was a whole new cast of characters representing the 1977 Rangers, many of whom would become closely associated with the franchise over the coming years. One was 1B Mike Hargrove, known as the Human Rain Delay for his exhaustive pre-at bat rituals. SS/3B Toby Harrah was a fine hitter, but some kind of dreadful defensively, so the Rangers traded him for glove wizard Buddy Bell, who would become a fixture at the hot corner.
Catcher Jim Sundberg was another fan favorite. A 3-time All-Star and 6-time Gold Glove winner, Sundberg was given a good deal of credit for fashioning contenders out of some pretty lean pitching staffs. The Rangers basically failed to produce their own pitchers, forcing them to sign free agents or secure established pitchers in trades. Jenkins, Bert Blyleven, Dock Ellis, and Gaylord Perry were among the established stars who somehow managed to (for the most part) leave their best years outside the Lone Star State.
After another 2nd-place finish in 1978, the Rangers retreated back into mediocrity. Managers come and went under owner Eddie Chiles, a Texas oil man with his own ideas about running a baseball team, which included giving players "performance reviews" where the manager would go over a player's strengths and weaknesses. This, combined with the franchise's inability to sign or develop quality players, made the franchise a perennial also-ran in the 1980's. Although new manager Bobby Valentine did drive the club to a 2nd-place finish in 1986 (87-75), the team never produced a consistent and reliable star. With the exception of reliable knuckleballer Charlie Hough, the franchise's stars tended to be of the "flameout" variety (see Pete Incaviglia).
The Rangers' re-emergence in the 1990's was largely due to two main reasons: 1) their move into the hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington and 2) using the money from the increased revenue to sign free-agent hitters. Through trades and big free agent contracts, the club secured the services of very useful players such as Rafael Palmeiro and Will Clark, as well as some less-than-successful bats (Jose Canseco).
But the two main reasons the club vaulted back into contention in the mid-90's were 1) they had two bonafide homegrown All-Stars in Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez and 2) they played in a 4-team division, the AL West. The odds that all four teams would suck one year were pretty high, but hey -- somebody's gotta win the division. This was almost illustrated in the strike-shortened season of 1994. When the season ended, the Rangers were 52-62 . . . and in 1st place, ahead of 3 teams that were even worse.
The 1996 Rangers combined their offensive juggernauts (Rodriguez, Gonzalez, Palmeiro, Clark, and Dean Palmer) with solid pitching from Ken Hill to secure the AL West title. After 35 years, the Rangers were about the become the last American League franchise to reach the postseason.
The Rangers lost the ALDS to the Yankees in 4 games. This was to be the pattern in the late 90's: great slugging, (barely) adequate pitching, losing to the Yankees in October. The Rangers returned to the ALDS by winning the division again in 1998 and 1999. The Rangers were swept both years, only managing to score one run in each 3-game series.
The all-offense Rangers started caving in on themselves. The signing of Alex Rodriguez to a historic contract in the 2000 offseason gave the Rangers a great player, yes, but the other 24 guys weren't so hot. The difficulty in convincing free agent pitchers to come to Arlington was best expressed when the Rangers doled out a 5-year, $75 million deal to Chan Ho Park. Park wasn't such a superstar pitcher to begin with, and he pitched terribly in Texas, posting ERAs of 5.75, 7.58, 5.46, and 5.66 during his injury-plagued reign of a mere 380.2 IP.
The Rangers are still well behind the A's and Angels as the 2006 season opens. Despite fighting back to 89-73 in 2004 under new manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Orel Hershiser, the Rangers retreated to 79-83 last year.
The lesson to be learned in Texas is the same one that the Senators never learned: Develop your own players, and make sure some of them can pitch.

Tomorrow, the Angels (and I promise to make it shorter).

Total Baseball Encyclopedia 2004 Ed.
Total Ballclubs by Donald Dewey & Nicholas Acocella
and www.baseball-reference.com.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

An expansion pre-history

Before I start dealing with specific expansi0n teams, I thought it would be best to begin with a look at how the AL and the NL arrived at the point in time where they decided to expand. Books have been written about the period from 1901-1960, the modern-day pre-expansion era. But I'll try my best to summarize and deal with the necessary background before we deal with the expansions of 1961 (AL) and 1962 (NL).

The 19th Century
Dealing with teams and franchises is especially problematic in the 19th century, as teams came and went on a yearly basis. Franchises were amazingly unstable, being born, moving, and dying in a matter of years. The common undercurrent was the National League, as well as a couple of other major leagues. The National League was established in 1876 with 8 franchises: Chicago, St. Louis, Hartford, Boston, Louisville, New York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. Most record books begin with the 1876 season, as statistics are much more available and complete than in the NL's forerunner, the National Association. The Chicago Cubs won the first NL pennant, thanks to players and moguls Cap Anson and Al Spalding. If any one team dominated the 19th-century NL, though, it was the Boston Braves. Built from the remnants of the old Cincinnati Red Stockings, the Braves won 8 NL pennants between 1877 and 1898.
The NL co-existed with the American Association from 1882 to 1891. The two leagues even met in a postseason exhibition series similar to the modern World Series. Although the AA began as a rival to the older NL, the two leagues made peace with each other in 1884 in time for the emergence of the Union Association. The UA was an attempt to establish a third major league, but was by and large a failure. Very few name players were attracted, and the league folded after one year. The inclusion of the UA as a major league in baseball encyclopedias is a rather odd one. The league was really no more competitive or respected than many minor leagues of the era, and allowing UA statistics to stand beside AA and NL marks is a dubious decision.
In 1890, a third major league, the Players League, was established. It was championed by John Montgomery Ward, an early unionist and activist for players' rights. The new league proved a sufficient challenge to the other two leagues, extracting some measures to favor the players before the PL folded in 1891. The Players League was one of the chief factors bringing about the downfall of the AA, which was not as successful as the NL in surviving the labor war and subsequent rise in salaries. The AA folded after the 1891 season, leaving the NL as the only major league until 1901.
Ban Johnson stepped into the void and worked feverishly to turn his Western League into a new major league. His opportunity emerged when the NL contracted from 12 teams to 8 after the 1899 season. Johnson used the leverage, along with his tireless personal energies, to redub his league the American League and challenge the NL as a rival major league in 1901.

The Early Modern Era
The AL was successful in stealing away some of the NL's biggest stars, most notably pitcher Cy Young and star 2B Nap Lajoie. The two leagues fought through the 1901 and 1902 season, and the AL appeared to be winning. The far-flung NL was having difficult competing with Johnson's operation, as the AL's power was concentrated almost solely in his hands. Johnson billed his league as the more family-oriented league. The NL in the 1890's became increasingly adult-oriented, with nasty brawls and obscene language a fact of life. Johnson succeeded in poising his league as a practical alternative.
The NL in 1901 drew 3,423 fans per game. The AL averaged 3,067. In 1902 the AL drew 3,990/game, while the NL dropped to 2,995. The NL owners saw which way this was going and made peace. The National Agreement, baseball's unofficial constitution, was signed between the leagues after the 1902 season. The last straw seems to have been Johnson's desire to field a team in New York, challenging the NL's two franchises and giving the AL access to the country's largest city. The terms of the agreement recognized the contracts of both leagues, with player "jumping" curtailed. Many players were forced to return to their old teams as part of the peace agreement. The Agreement also provided for a 3-man board of governors to function as the ultimate power between the leagues. The 3 men sitting on the board were AL president Johnson, NL president Harry Pulliam, and Cincinnati owner Garry Herrmann. The board would function as the chief executive of major league baseball until supplanted by the office of the Commissioner in 1920.
These would be the only two major leagues forevermore, with the exception of 1914-1915. 1914 saw the emergence of the Federal League, an attempt to create a third major league. The FL succeeded in attracting a few major league stars (Mordecai Brown, Joe Tinker), but was staffed for the most part by career minor leaguers and washed-up veterans. The biggest consequence of the FL was the ability of players to extract huge salary increases from the owners in order to ensure their loyalty. Few big leaguers actually jumped, but everyone threatened to in order to get a sizable raise from the otherwise tight-fisted owners.
The collapse of the FL after the 1915 season removed the players' bargaining chip. Owners ruthlessly hacked salaries down to their pre-FL levels, leaving ballplayers once again helpless in their fight against the owners. It was in this context that the Chicago Black Sox rebelled against the especially stingy Charles Comiskey in throwing the 1919 World Series.

The Teams
The NL entered the 1901 season (the first season of more-or-less "modern" baseball) with 8 teams. Five of those teams, the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Cardinals, still exist today in the same cities. The other three franchises were the Boston Braves, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Giants.
The Braves, after dominating the NL during the 1890's, dropped to 5th place in 1901. They rose back to 3rd in 1902, then fell again to 6th place in 1903. The Braves wouldn't finish in the 1st division again until 1914, the year the team known as the "Miracle Braves" stormed from the league's basement to take the NL pennant and win the World Series in surprising fashion over Connie Mack's dynastic Athletics. They just missed doing the same thing in 1915 (finishing 2nd), and after a 3rd-place finish in 1915, never made it above 4th place again until 1947. The team (led by Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain) won the 1948 NL pennant, losing the World Series to Cleveland.
The fiscal realities of sharing a city with the Red Sox wore on the weak sister Braves. Construction magnate Lou Perini, who had owned the team since 1941, looked into the prospects of moving the club to Milwaukee. The move of the Braves from Boston to Milwaukee would be one of the most significant moves toward paving the way for future expansion. Perini took a gamble that many of the more staid owners wouldn't have considered, uprooting his franchise after the 1952 season and having it in place in Milwaukee in time to begin the 1953 campaign. The 8.822 fans who saw the Boston Braves on September 21, 1952 didn't even know they were seeing the end of the NL in Boston.
But the real thing that got the attention of the other NL owners was how well the Braves did in Milwaukee. After a franchise-record 1,455,439 million in attendance in 1948, the Braves saw those numbers drop more than 80% before they left town (sporting a bare 281,278 in 1952). Other NL owners started to dread going to Boston, knowing they weren't going to leave town with much in the way of gate receipts.
But the city of Milwaukee was very, very happy to see the Braves. The long-time home of the AA Milwaukee Brewers, the city was anxious to see the first big-league baseball west of the Mississippi. The result was an attendance of 1,826,397, a new major league record. In 1953, the 2nd-place Braves (92-62) not only outdrew the NL Champion Dodgers (105 wins and an attendance of barely 1.1 million) but also outdrew the World Champion New York Yankees (who drew a little over 1.5 million).
With the Braves franchise awash in cash, the league became much more open to the possibilities of seeing baseball move to new cities. It also planted the seeds of expansion. But more importantly, the Braves' success in Milwaukee got a few other men thinking about moving their teams ...

Which brings me to the other two 1901 NL franchises: the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Giants were the best team in the NL by far pre-World War II. This was due mainly to the tireless efforts of Hall of Fame manager John McGraw. The Dodgers, on the other hand, posted a couple of NL pennants (1916 and 1920), but were never able to match their Manhattan rivals in either quality or revenues.
This all changed in the years immediately preceding World War II. This was mainly due to the retirement of McGraw and the subsequent fall of the Giants to also-ran status, and the emergence of the Dodgers as the best NL team of the 1940's and 50's. It was mainly the work of executives Larry MacPhail and Branch Rickey that brought Brooklyn some of the best NL teams ever in the last two decades of its existence. Finally, in the early 1950's, New York fans finally had two NL teams to be proud of. The Dodgers and Giants won every NL pennant between 1951 and 1959. (The only two exceptions were back-to-back pennants by the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and 1958).
But as everyone knows, Brooklyn owner Walter O'Malley was determined to move his team west. O'Malley's heartlessness is still legendary in Brooklyn, but the truth is that O'Malley was no more or less money-grubbing than anyone else that ran a baseball team in the first half of the 20th century. Although the Dodgers were doing well in attendance, O'Malley saw the neighborhood around his ballpark degenerating quickly. He knew that the middle-class was fleeing to the suburbs, so he pressured the city of Brooklyn into building a new ballpark (the more things change, huh?). The city may have thought O'Malley was just bluffing when he threatened to move the team, but he certainly wasn't. While it's true that O'Malley may have been using the new stadium as a blind and was planning to move regardless, it was just a matter of time before some team ended up in the metropolis of Los Angeles, anyway.
Due to travel concerns, the NL rules stated that two teams would have to move to California for the shift to be feasible. O'Malley (one of the greatest backroom powers in baseball) persuaded Giants owner Horace Stoneham to foresake Manhattan for San Francisco. Stoneham, much moreso than O'Malley, had reason to leave town. Whereas the Dodgers still ranked 5th in the league in attendance before they moved to LA (drawing 1.02 million in 1957, their last year in Brooklyn), the Giants ranked dead last. Even perennial losers like Pittsburgh and Chicago were outdrawing the Giants, who won the 1954 World Series and had in Willie Mays one of the most exciting players in baseball history. Not only that, but the Polo Grounds (the Giants' home ballpark) was located in northern Manhattan on the Harlem River. It hadn't been a garden spot in years, but the realities of the neighborhood became more and more clear when a spectator was shot and killed in 1956 by a stray bullet fired from the street. Stoneham, a free spender, was feeling the bite of the dollar as he was finding it more and more difficult to get upper-middle class white people to come to Harlem and watch a ballgame. It's interesting that O'Malley was the driving force behind the shift, when Stoneham had much more pressing reasons to move.
Both teams moved west for the 1958 season. The Giants took up temporary residence in Seals Stadium, former home of the famous Pacific Coast League franchise, while Candlestick Park was built. The Dodgers moved into the Los Angles Memorial Coliseum, a facility built for the Olympics. It's hard to imagine a building less suited for baseball. The field was shaped in such a way that the left-field foul line was a cozy 250 feet away, whereas the power alley zoomed back to a distant 440 feet.
One thing the building was perfect for, though, was holding lots and lots of people. The Dodgers drew 1.8 million in their new facility (an increase of 800,000), setting a major league record when 93,103 fans attended an exhibition game against the Yankees to benefit paralyzed catcher Roy Campanella. Although Seals Stadium wasn't nearly as spacious, the Giants still managed to nearly double their New York attendance, drawing 1.27 million fans (after drawing barely 650,000 their last year at the Polo Grounds).
While the Dodgers and Giants still reside on the West Coast, the Braves took a further move. For a variety of reasons, initial enthusiasm in Milwaukee soon dulled down over a number of disputes between locals and owner Perini. Even after Perini sold the Braves to Milwaukee-based interests, it wasn't clear whether they would still remain in Milwaukee. The city of Atlanta started to look like a very attractive option. Atlanta would open up the Braves to the television revenue (a new factor in baseball business) of the entire Deep South, whereas Milwaukee was particularly lacking in this potential.
After seeing attendance drift back below the 1 million mark (it had peaked at 2.2 million in the World Championship season of 1957), ownership announced the Braves would be moving to Atlanta for the 1965 season. A series of local lawsuits halted the move temporarily. The Braves weren't able to work out a solution in time for the season to start, so they were forced to remain one more year in Milwaukee. It was a lame-duck season in every sense of the word, as a sense of doom followed around the still-potent team (86-76) and a bare 555, 584 fans dropped the Braves to last in the NL in attendance (only the KC Athletics drew worse in the AL). The move finally happened in time for the 1966 season. The entire affair left a distaste in Milwaukee for the MLB. Local interest still pursued a major league team, and finally succeeded in 1970, when local car dealer Bud Selig bought the dying Seattle Pilots and moved them to Milwaukee as the Brewers.

The AL
The American League's first season as a major league (1901) saw 8 franchises take the field. Four of those teams, the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, and Detroit Tigers, are still where they were 104 years ago. The other four teams were the Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Athletics, and Washington Senators.
The Baltimore Orioles were Johnson's attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the old Baltimore Orioles, managed by John McGraw. The Orioles were the most famous team of the 19th century, a team whose exciting, aggressive style is remembered nearly as much as their fights and brawls. Johnson got McGraw to manage the team and even returned some stars from the old Orioles, such as McGraw protege Wilbert Robinson. But the Orioles and the AL were doomed from the start. Johnson was billing his league as the family alternative to the NL, while McGraw and his Orioles went out every day and fought as dirty as any team in history. Johnson tried disciplining McGraw, but it became clear that these two titanic egos just could not co-exist. When Johnson expressed his desire to field an AL team in New York, he targeted the Orioles, who had finished last in the league in attendance in 1902, as perfect candidates. McGraw had other ideas. He jumped to the NL to manage the New York Giants, and even took some of his best players, such as Roger Bresnahan, Joe McGinnity, Mike Donlin and Robinson along with him. The McGraw-less Orioles moved to New York and were re-named the Highlanders (their home park was on a hill in uptown Manhattan).
Johnson sought to shore up the New York club by moving players around from the other teams. It wasn't anyone's idea of fair play, but it did bring new meaning to the term "competitive balance." Catcher Deacon McGuire and SS Kid Elberfeld (Detroit), OF Patsy Dougherty (Red Sox) OF Willie Keeler (Brooklyn in the NL), P Jack Chesbro (NL Pittsburgh) and P-Manager Clark Griffith (White Sox) were brought in to shore up the team. They succeeded, contending for the 1904 AL pennant to the final day of the season, when Chesbro wild-pitched in the pennant-losing run. The Highlanders would later be re-named the Yankees and developed into the greatest sports franchise of all time.
The Milwaukee Brewers were one of the original AL franchises, but were also the only one not to last past the inaugural season. They finished dead last in the AL in attendance, and Ban Johnson decided to shift the team to St. Louis to directly challenge the Cardinals. The team was re-dubbed the Browns, and it proved to be one of the saddest franchises in major league history.
There are really only two seasons worth remembering from the Browns' 52-season history. One is 1922, when the Browns fought a very close pennant race against the Yankees, finishing the season a bare 1 game back, with a 94-60 record (their .604 winning percentage was a Browns franchise record). The other season to remember is 1944, when the Browns made their only postseason appearance. It was only appropriate that the Browns won the pennant during the World War II era, when other freak occurences such as one-armed ballplayers were relatively common. The Browns beat out the Hank Greenberg-less Tigers by 1 game, but lost the World Series to the crosstown rival St. Louis Cardinals.
There weren't many famous faces on the Browns, but some of the more notable players to appear for the team were Hall of Famers George Sisler and Goose Goslin, as well as All-Stars Urban Shocker, Vern Stephens, and Bobo Newsom. The most memorable character on the Browns wasn't a player; it was owner Bill Veeck. Veeck's reign as owner of the team saw some of the more memorable stunts in baseball history including, but not limited to: the appearance of Eddie Gaedel as the only midget to play major league baseball, Millie the Queen of the Air sliding down a tightrope from right field to third base, and Grandstand Managers Day, where Browns manager Zack Taylor relaxed in a rocking chair while the fans in attendance coached the team. Using large placards such as "hit and run," and "steal," the fans managed the team. League officials were not pleased, although the Browns won, defeating the Athletics 5-3.
Veeck was not, however, able to field a competitive team, nor was he able to reverse the team's dire economic condition. He ended up selling the team to a group that moved the franchise to Baltimore. The team was re-named the Orioles, after the legendary minor league team. And from 1966-1983, the Orioles put together one of the greatest teams in American League history.
The Philadelphia Athletics became as identified with one man as any other team, perhaps, in history: Cornelius MacGillicuddy, known to friends as "Connie Mack" and to players as "Mr. Mack." Perhaps it's because he won 10 pennants and 5 World Series. But it's probably because the Philadelphia A's existed from 1901-1954, and Connie Mack was their manager from 1901-1950.
The Philadelphia A's were a great example of an up-and-down team. Mack showed the managerial brilliance that got him elected to Cooperstown in 1937 by building two separate dynasties: the 1910-1914 A's, who won 4 pennants and 3 World Series, and the 1929-1931 A's, who won 3 straight pennants and 2 World Series. The unfortunate fact is that, with the exception of these two oases of winning, the A's generally sucked for the majority of the time they existed. Mack won 3,582 games as manager of the A's, a feat that will never be equalled. But neither will his 3,814 losses with the team. Any man who watches his team lose 3,948 baseball games (he also managed in Pittsburgh from 1894-1896) and still lives to be 94 years old is some kind of amazing.
The A's were actually the first of the original 8 AL franchises to shift since the Orioles moved to New York in 1903. It was 1953, and the Philadelphia team hadn't finished higher than 4th in 20 years. The attendance reflected this: a 362, 113 mark that was lower than any other big-league team by 200,000. It started becoming clear that Philadelphia wasn't big enough to support two major league franchises. But there were lots of opportunities out west. The Mack family (Connie's sons ran the franchise) got only one solid offer for the team. It came from Arnold Johnson, a Chicago millionaire with strong connections with the Yankees who showed interest in moving the team to Kansas City. In a complex wrangle that must have made for some interesting discussions around the Mack family dinner table, the team ended up getting sold to Johnson, who kept his word and moved the team to Kansas City.
The Kansas City A's were never good; they were never even really remotely good. The club actually has one of the more shameful records of any modern franchise, which comes only in part from what happened on the field. Johnson's connections to the Yankees made some wonder if the A's wouldn't just end up as a big-league farm team for the New York powerhouse. As it turned out, that's exactly what happened, as the Athletics gave up hot young prospects such as Roger Maris, Clete Boyer, and Ryne Duren to the Yankees in exchange for a pittance; the Kansas City team was left with washed-up former Yankees such as Ewell Blackwell, Johnny Sain, and Don Larsen.
Hope emerged when the team was sold to Indiana insurance executive Charlie Finley, who had courted major league franchises for years without success. Finley is one of the most interesting characters in the history of baseball; words do not do justice to a man who was simultaneously a progressive-thinking maverick and an insufferable horse's ass with more harebrained schemes than Ralph Kramden. Ideas such as the designated hitter originated with Finley, making him one of the few baseball executives to seek creative solutions to problems. Finley was also responsible for offering a bonus to any A's player who grew facial hair; he felt it would give the team personality. It gave them all that and more, as the Moustache Gang became the best team ever that absolutely hated each other.
The Kansas City version of the team was perhaps doomed from the start, and Finley hounded the other owners to let him move the franchise. With the litigation-happy Finley threatening to sue, the AL owners backed down and permitted him to move the club to Oakland for the 1968 season. The ensuing brouhaha raised by Kansas City officials and Missouri politicians led baseball to promise the city an expansion franchise sometime before 1971. When this failed to appease the itinerant Missourians (Missourites?), the AL was forced to rush through plans for expansion for the 1969 season, providing for a franchise in Kansas City.
But we'll get to that later. The A's moved west, won 4 World Series, appeared in the postseason 14 times, and then reinvented themselves as a sabermetric baseball organization at the turn of the century.
The last club we come to is the Washington Senators. The Senators were famous for being losers, but they were, for most of their existence, a fairly competitive team. They won 3 pennants and one World Series and while they were often in the second division, they weren't as bad as the Browns. It wasn't until the late 1930's that the Senators became the cellar-dwellers everyone remembers. This helped prompt them to move the team.
Owner Calvin Griffith (nephew of franchise patriarch Clark Griffith) was, by the late 1950's, constantly pressuring the league to allow him to shift the franchise. The arrival of the Orioles in Baltimore in 1954 had further depleted an already bare fanbase, and Griffith had his eyes on the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Behind-the-scenes politicking occurred that even Richard Nixon would be proud of. Former Commissioner Happy Chandler promised the club a 50,000-seat stadium if they would move to Louisville. Talks opened up with Los Angeles mayor Norris Poulson (with Chief Justice Earl Warren reportedly offering behind-the-scenes encouragement), but Walter O'Malley stepped in and took LA for himself. The Twin Cities gradually emerged as the most likely location of the Senators in the future.
There were, however, worries among baseball higher-ups that it would be rather unseemly to shift so many teams in such a short span of time. With the A's, Braves, Browns, Dodgers, and Giants jacking up their teams and heading off for the highest bidder, baseball officials were worried about their public appearance as monopolistic puppeteers with no loyalties to cities nor their fans. It was especially problematic, as the Washington, D.C. fanbase was somewhat more influential than most.
The solution was that the league would expand from 8 teams to 10. Griffith would be allowed to shift his team to Minnesota (re-dubbed the Twins), and the AL would place a new expansion franchise in Washington. So although the 1960 Senators and 1961 Senators would be two entirely different franchises, baseball would remain in Washington for the foreseeable future. The other expansion franchise was to be located in Los Angeles. They were to be known as the Angels.

And that takes us to the end of part 1. Part 2 will pick up with the 1961 AL expansion that added the New Washington Senators and the Los Angeles Angels.
Until then ...

This essay was produced thanks to generous assistance from these references:
Total Baseball Encyclopedia, 2004 ed.
Total Ballclubs by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella
The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract by Bill James
and of course www.baseball-reference.com.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

NL West Offseason

San Diego Padres
Key losses: Mark Loretta, Ramon Hernandez, Pedro Astacio, Joe Randa, Mark Sweeney, Rudy Seanez, Chris Hammond, Robert Fick
Needs: 2B, starting pitching, maybe C and relief help
The Padres won 83 games last year and have struggled a lot this offseason just to end up pretty much back where they started. The good news is, I guess, that nobody in the NL West looks significantly better. The Padres are, at this point, rough favorites to repeat in my view.
The big losses are Loretta (who is basically irreplaceable). I haven't a clue why he was traded, as I said before. His 2006 salary was $3 million. He was traded for backup catcher Doug Mirabelli, who will make $1.6 million. So in order to save a paltry $1.4 million, the Padres traded away one of the best second baseman in the league, knowing that there are no good second basemen readily available (with Grudzielanek out of their price range), and certainly not available for $3 million. Loretta earned 15 Win Shares last year in just 404 ABs. Mirabelli earned 5 WS. In 2004, Loretta earned 33 Win Shares, good enough for 8th in the entire NL. Mirabelli earned 7 WS. Whatthehell?
The Padres also re-signed Trevor Hoffman, which is good for the newspapers, but leaves them with a 38-year-old closer who threw 57.2 innings last year. If the Padres do repeat as NL West Champions in 2006, it will likely be by default.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Key losses: Royce Clayton, Shawn Estes, Quinton McCracken
Needs: Starting pitcher, maybe SS or CF and relief help
The Diamondbacks are at least returning most of their squad from 2005, when they won 77 games and finished 2nd. The bad news is that their Pythagorean W-L record shows just 66 wins, making them the luckiest team in all of baseball last year and, incidentally, the worst team in the NL. There's no reason to think that the Pythagorean record is incorrect, which means that the D-Backs are headed for what the statisticians might call a "correction" in 2006.
But can they improve this essentially 66-win team? They traded for Johnny Estrada to catch, which doesn't do much for the offense, but at least fills what was a gaping hole last season with a capable defender. The D-Backs offense is full of aging hitters (Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green, Troy Glaus, Tony Clark) who just can't be counted on for significant production. The pitching staff is little better, with Brandon Webb the only really good news. If Javier Vazquez gets traded (as he has requested), the D-Backs may be able to get back some pitching help, or a CF/SS solution. But even then, they're still one of the worst teams in the league, and I'll be surprised if they finish as high as 3rd.

San Francisco Giants
Key losses: J.T. Snow, Brett Tomko, Scott Eyre, Marquis Grissom, Kirk Rueter
Needs: 2 or 3 starters, an infield bat, and a couple wheelchairs
Last year, Giants GM Brian Sabean took a strong dose of fukitol and signed a lot of old players to long-term deals, hoping to make the team contenders. You can infer from my tone what I feel about such a strategy, which ultimately resulted in a 75-87 record. Now he's stuck with a fleet of old players, some of which are still good, but most of whom can be expected to get worse from here on out. As good as Moises Alou (39 years old), Omar Vizquel (39 in April), Mike Matheny (35) and Ray Durham (34) were in 2005, it's likely that at least 3 of 4 will be worse in 2006, perhaps significantly so (especially on defense). And if the team lost 87 games with these guys playing well, imagine what 2006 will be like.
Is it possible the Giants can recoup these losses in other ways? Barry Bonds should be back. But don't expect an MVP, for 4 big reasons: 1) Bonds is coming off extensive surgery, which should take a chunk out of his productivity, 2) Bonds is 41 (turns 42 in July) and is beyond due for a drop in quality, 3) Bonds will play at most 120, but more likely less than that given his injury history, and 4) there may be some chemical substances absent from his bloodstream. Put all that together, and you get a guy who is on the outside simply a good player -- just maybe a very good player. What you don't have is someone who can boost his team by 20 wins just by showing up.
There's also the fact that the Giants' pitching staff sucks. Armando Benitez (33) is the closer, an already inconsistent performer coming off injuries. Their ace, Jason Schmidt, is coming off a poor year (4.40 ERA, 85 BB in 172 IP) where he was plagued by injuries. The only other even moderately average pitcher the Giants have is Noah Lowry, who pitched pretty well in 2005 (3.78 ERA, 172 K in 204.2 IP). But the cupboard is completely bare after that, and I'm not even sure the Giants have 5 pitchers to stick in the rotation. There has been talk about signing a free agent pitcher (such as Matt Morris). That would help, but it still wouldn't put the team over the top. The only hope for the Giants is that the rest of the division sucks like it did last year and they can stumble off with the division title.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Key Losses: Jeff Weaver, Elmer Dessens, Giovanni Carrara, Jose Valentin
Needs: 3B, OF, C, 1 or 2 starters
The Dodgers actually stand the best chance of dethroning the Padres. As bad as they were last year (91 losses), they were ravaged by injuries. If they can add to the potent roster they already possess, they could be considered favorites in the West. But they'll have to get through the trials and tribulations of a new GM and brand new manager in Grady Little (known to Red Sox fans as Grady F'n Little).
The Dodgers (should) have J.D. Drew, Eric Gagne, Brad Penny, and Odalis Perez returning from injuries. This alone will be a big boost to their pitching staff and give them a potent cleanup hitter in Drew. Whether all 4 really will be healthy all season is certainly questionable (Drew especially), but having these 4 return from injuries that all be erased them from the 2005 roster gives the Dodgers an automatic boost. The signing of Rafael Furcal gives them a solid defender at shortstop who can actually hit and run as well (sorry, Cesar Izturis). Jeff Kent is still a potent bat, and the platoon of Hee Seop Choi and Olmedo Saenz at first may not be great, but it's cheap and fairly effective. The Dodgers will probably be trading Milton Bradley, which (depending on what they get in return) could leave them with 3 big holes in the lineup (catcher, 3B, and CF). They have some free agents to pursue and could certainly use someone else to support the solid if unexceptional starting rotation of Derek Lowe, Penny, and Perez. If they can solve these problems (and keep everybody healthy), I would go so far as to call the Dodgers the favorites in the NL West, despite the presence of Grady Little in the dugout.

Colorado Rockies
Key losses: Byung-Hyun Kim, Dan Miceli, Dustan Mohr, Todd Greene, Jamey Wrightt
Needs: 2B, corner outfielder, C, starting pitching
The Rockies really have nothing to lose. They have some promising youngsters (Clint Barmes, Matt Holliday, Garret Atkins), but they don't look so promising outside of Coors. I don't expect to see the Rockies pursue major free agents, so look for them to sign stopgaps and look for prospects.
The Rockies need pitching. This might be the most blatantly obvious thing I've ever said before. Rookie Jeff Francis didn't take to well to Coors Field (5.68 ERA), and he's really the only great hope they've got. Byung-Hyun Kim would be a nice, risky free agent signee, since he did pitch well last season (4.86, good for Colorado).
There's nothing to see here, move on.

My next project is to take a look at a short history of expansion and expansion franchises. As we look at what it takes to put a team together and win, it's instrucutive to look at the teams that started from scratch over the past 45 years, and how they handled the problems. We can look at the winners and losers, who did what right and who just blew it. Keep your eyes open for it. I'll post soon.