And with that, here's the latest updates in my baseball world:
- I recently caved in and subscribed to MLB.TV for the month of August (their monthly rate isn't too bad). It's not as good as the Extra Innings package, but it's a chance to see a lot of baseball in the heat of the pennant race (which is especially important, since my TV is on the fritz).
My biggest problem with MLB.TV is the blackout restrictions. I knew going in that all of the Cincinnati games would be blacked out. But I can pick up those games on the radio (with Marty Brennaman), so that's not a big deal.
The other problem is that with MLB.TV it's not as easy to switch between games. On TV, of course, you just change channels. But with the internet, of course, you have to wait a good deal longer. And then sometimes you'll wait a minute to connect to a game and find out it's in a commercial. But then I have that problem on TV, too; no matter how many games I'm watching, it seems like there's always a moment where they are all in commercial.
What I usually will do is pick three or four games to alternate between. I'll pick the Braves first and then any game with postseason implications or really interesting players. I usually wouldn't have Twins .vs. Rangers high on my list, but Johan Santana is pitching today, and so that one's in my rotation.
- With the new collective bargaining agreement, the MLB tried to put a lot more pressure on keeping down signing bonuses in the amateur draft and pressuring teams not to pay "above slot," that is, if a player is a #10 overall pick, he should be paid like other #10s, and teams should play hardball if players ask for more.
With the only thing stopping them being the "pressure" from the commissioner's office, teams essentially disregarded Bud Selig and paid the prospects (for the most part) what they were asking for, going over slot more than once. Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein does a great job of analyzing the draft results here, saying that despite the MLB pressure, teams (shockingly) continued to operate in their best interests, paying over slot when they deemed it necessary to get the right player. Goldstein quotes one scouting director, whose first comment about the new rules was, "Well that didn't work." Goldstein quotes a few scouting directors from around the bigs whose basic response was, "Well, what the hell did you expect?" It's going to take a lot more than nasty e-mails from the commissioner's office to keep teams from signing what they believe to be the best talent available. And one scouting director was more direct in basically saying, "Who the hell are you guys to tell me what to pay my draft picks?"
The new rules did not accomplish what they were set out to do, and Goldstein among others presents some possible ways to resolve these issues. This will be an ongoing story, but suffice to say that the players and their agents won this round.
- The Cubs signed Carlos Zambrano to a big contract extension, which will pay him $91.5 million over five years. The $18 million+ AAV (average annual value) is a record for a pitcher, not counting Roger Clemens' pro-rated deals.
Is Zambrano worth this? Yes and no. Yes in that the Cubs really need him, can afford to overpay him, and are paying less than Zambrano would have gotten on the open market. No in the sense that Zambrano isn't strictly worth this much money, but as I said before, that's just semantics. They're not overpaying by too much, and my main worry is that Zambrano stays healthy and can handle his insane workload. The really good news is that Zambrano is just 26, so he'll just be 32 in the last year of the deal, which is pretty reasonable under the circumstances.
So the Cubs did overpay, but not by so much that I'd get too worried.
- I saw a note earlier in the week that the White Sox had signed Jermaine Dye to a $22 million extension. I wasn't too thrilled that the Sox, who aren't going to be really contending for a couple years or so, signed Dye, a good but not great right fielder, to a contract extension. Better to let someone else overpay him.
I was also surprised in that, when I saw the $22M figure, I assumed that it was a 3-year, $7M per deal. Instead, it was a 2-year, $11M per deal. I don't think Dye is worth $11M per year, especially to the White Sox. But I am impressed that the Sox were able to limit the deal to two years, a very canny move. I was surprised that Dye would take less than three, but maybe he likes Chicago.
I still don't think the deal is so great; they'll be overpaying Dye and probably won't be in a position where his contributions will be the difference between making and not making the postseason. But I guess you could do worse. And at least they just got him for 2 years. It's almost always better to pay a higher AAV for shorter years, especially when the player in question is over 30.
- Diamondbacks pitching prospect Micah Owings had one of the best games by a pitcher in years. It wasn't his pitching that made the difference, although he threw a good game, shutting out the Braves through 7 innings. No, it was Owings' performance at the plate: Owings went 4-for-5 with two HR, six RBIs, and 4 runs scored. The last time a pitcher got 4 hits, 4 runs, and 6 RBIs in a game was . . . well, never. How amazing is that?
According to espn.com: "The last pitcher to record four hits and four runs was Danny Jackson in 1988. Owings' 11 total bases are the most by a pitcher in the last 50 seasons. The last Arizona player to have four hits, two homers, four runs and six RBIs was Shea Hillenbrand in 2003."
I knew that Owings was a big-time prospect for the D-Backs, but I didn't know that he could hit like this. It doesn't get talked about much, but a pitcher's hitting does make a small, but significant difference. In the National League, a pitcher will mount up a lot of at-bats, and the difference between a bad-hitting pitcher and a legitimate hitting threat like Owings or Jason Marquis is pretty significant over the course of a season. But it's almost impossible to find hitting stats for pitchers, and few people discuss the fact that a good-hitting pitcher can really make a difference.
- Congratulations to John Smoltz, who just today passed Phil Niekro to become the Braves' all-time leader in strikeouts with 2,913.