Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Short notes

Opening Day inches ever closer, and there is excitement in the air. Just a few short new items out of Spring Training:
  • IN Demand cable has offered to match Direct TV's bid of $700 million to carry baseball's Extra Innings package, thereby keeping it available to cable subscribers. Since the (premature) announcement that Direct TV would be the exclusive home of out-of-market baseball games, the deal has met with a lot of opposition, not just from common fans, but from government officials. While it still looks like the DirecTV deal will go through, there's still room for hope for the rest of us, and that's good news. Either way, it's encouraging that the fierce negative outcry from the fans actually had some effect on the baseball Lords.
  • On the field, it looks like Ken Griffey, Jr. will be moving to right field to start the season. The Reds are apparently making this move because of Griffey's injury, but it's a move that they should have made two or three years ago regardless. Griffey can no longer handle the center field job, and it can't be having a good effect on his health.
    The only problem with this arrangement is that it's doubtful that Griffey will hit well enough by right field standards. In 2005, Griffey compensated for his bad defense by hitting 301/369/576 in 128 games, good even for Cincinnati. But last year, Griffey hit 252/316/486, probably the worst season of his career. A batting line like that isn't bad for center field (even adjusting for the hitter-friendly G.A.B.), but it's dismal for a right fielder. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA prediction system projects Griffey to hit 275/344/506 this season, a bit better than in 2006. But it also predicts that he'll lose nearly 100 plate appearances due to injuries and age. Putting Griffey in right field would probably help him get more playing time in this system, but it would also drastically reduce his value. A right fielder who hits 275/344/506 in a hitter's park isn't bad, but he's not worth millions either.
    The unfortunate thing is that this is the best the Reds can do. They've got Griffey, and with his contract, he's not going anywhere. This state of affairs may not be very satisfactory, but under the circumstances, the move to right field is the best the Reds can do. It would have been even better if they'd done it a year or two ago.
  • In a horrifically familiar turn of events, the Associated Press is reporting that both Kerry Wood and Mark Prior may not be ready in time for Opening Day. Wood strained his right triceps earlier in Spring Training, so his status is doubtful, even as a middle reliever.
    Luckily, the Cubs weren't counting much on a healthy Kerry Wood, whose injury history is legendary. But they were hoping to get a healthy and slightly effective Mark Prior. Prior has struggled in Spring Training, but as Lou Pineilla wisely points out, it's a small and insignificant sample size. The Cubs don't need Prior in the starting rotation right away, not with their fleet of free agents, but it would help. The same AP article notes that Prior has only reached the mid-80's in velocity, which is pretty discouraging.
    If anyone's in the market for a play about star-crossed Cubs, here's the perfect storyline.
  • The Red Sox are again shuffling through the deck to look for a closer. When they signed former Mariner Joel Pineiro, it was assumed that they would be converting him into the role. Eventually, even the Red Sox realized how insane that idea was. Last I heard was that they were slotting in Mike Timlin for the role, because he's an old reliable guy who's "been there." Well, the news today is that Timlin will start the season on the DL, scuttling those plans. But then that's probably for the best.
    The Sox are scrambling -- again -- to try and put together something to acquire another closer. There have been rumors about a trade with the Nats for Chad Cordero, but those have been flying around for months. The Giants are shopping around Armando Benitez, but most teams are wisely keeping their distance from him. Oh well. Anything's better than Joel Pineiro.
  • The two big unlikely comebacks of Spring Training are progressing fairly well. Sammy Sosa, in camp with Texas, has had a great spring, hitting 417/421/778. Spring stats are notoriously fickle, but this is a good sign for Sosa and the Rangers. Sosa may be pursued by rumors of steroid use, but his experience shouldn't be nearly as bad as Barry Bonds'. If I were the Rangers, I'd be very reluctant to get my hopes up about Sammy. But on a team with a pretty weak outfield and no set DH, there's room for Sammy to make a difference, even as a part-timer.
    The other big comeback is that of Josh Hamilton. Hamilton, formerly of the Devil Rays, is the former star prospect whose life fell apart due to drugs. The Reds got Hamilton in the Rule V draft, hoping he could resurrect some of his former prospect-ness. And so far, Hamilton has been the biggest story in Reds camp by far, hitting 487/543/692 in 14 Spring Training games. But I'm forced to point out what so many others already have -- 14 Spring Training games aren't enough to change our minds about Hamilton. Hamilton has just 89 at-bats above Class A in his entire career, he'll be 26 in May, and he's only played 15 games since 2002.
    To say the odds are against Josh Hamilton would be a hideous understatement. But his "story" is such a great human interest hook that the media has already resurrected him as a success. To be fair, he has been something of a success; to go through what he has and return to baseball at all is a great accomplishment. But it's far, far too early to expect him to produce at the major league level. It's not impossible for someone who used to have great baseball skills to come back from a long layoff and still retain something. But, realistically speaking, I'm more likely to win the lottery.
  • Former commissioner Bowie Kuhn passed away last week at age 80. Kuhn's tenure saw more change than arguably any other executive who's held the office. It was under Kuhn that free agency, the amateur draft, and the player's union all came about. Unfortunately, Kuhn is mainly remembered for the futility of his tenure, as he tried and failed to stop most of the changes that took place during the era. In the end, Kuhn managed to alienate both the players' union and his employers, the owners. The union (and Marvin Miller) hated Kuhn for his sense of entitlement and his meddling. The owners, on the other hand, thought Kuhn was too soft on the players and resented his interference in labor disputes. Therefore, there was really no one left to say anything nice about Kuhn.
    This isn't to say that the criticisms of Kuhn weren't valid. And I'm not in favor of whitewashing the records of the recently deceased. But Rob Neyer probably paid Kuhn the best compliment when he said that, all else aside, Kuhn really was looking out for the best interests of the game. He may have interpreted those interests narrowly, and he may have had an overinflated sense of his role in enforcing them, but he was a man who acted with the best of intentions.
    Perhaps the biggest insult to Kuhn was that he was the first real commissioner not inducted into Cooperstown. (Kuhn was preceded by Gen. Spike Eckert, but I think we can all agree that Eckert doesn't really count as a baseball commissioner). However, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Happy Chandler, and Ford Frick were all enshrined as executives in Cooperstown. It was Kuhn, really, that broke the tradition of honoring former commissioners, and none since Kuhn have been inducted, either. It was an unfortunate insult from the players and the owners towards a man who just tried to do he thought was best.

Back with more soon. Until then, consider the deification of Josh Hamilton by those who should know better.

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