General

Stupid Stuff

Three dumb things that I want to talk about.

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9/11 was such an intensely personal event for all New Yorkers and a lot of us took refuge in sports. Ten days after that horrible day the Mets became the first team to play a home game in NYC. It was an incredibly emotional night and when Mike Piazza put the Mets ahead in the 8th with a home run, the crowd erupted in “USA” chants. It was a really great moment. Piazza later signed the jersey he wore and gave it to the Mets for safe keeping.

Well, the Mets SOLD it. It just came to light that the jersey is now being auctioned off by the person who bought it. The Mets originally claimed a mistake was made and the jersey wasn’t meant to be sold, but the jersey was authenticated by the team. Piazza is incredibly upset, as are a lot of people who can’t believe the Mets would be so stupid.

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John Oliver makes a living skewering people and he turned his attention to the Yankees. Specifically, their high-handedness when it comes to Legends Seating and their attempts to keep the ‘riff-raff” out of it. Oliver decided a way to level the playing field, albeit temporarily, was to buy three sets of Legends seats and sell them to people for 25-cents each. The one condition was they had to send him a picture of what they would be wearing in the seats, and the more outlandish, the better.

That’s how two guys dressed as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ended up right behind home plate yesterday. The contest continues tonight and tomorrow, so keep an eye right behind home and see what shows up. It is a pretty hilarious bit by Oliver, you have to give him credit.

Thankfully, the Yankees didn’t take the bait, the turtles got to enjoy the game. But the Yankees need to act more humbly. I detailed the real reason behind the paper ticket ban in February and yesterday people had to walk a pretty far distance because of that. The Yankees are in this to make money, that is never in question, but they should be smarter about it and think about their image every now and then.

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Finally an on the field incident. Baseball has a rule problem and Joe Girardi and the chief umpire yesterday agree on the solution. Let’s review.

Carlos Correa hits a weak grounder towards first. Betances grabs it and turns to throw to first, but Correa is running inside the baseline and on the grass so he can’t see the firstbaseman.   Betances tries to loft it over Correa, but throws it into right. Girardi claims obstruction, but is overruled because the umpires can’t judge whether it was simply a bad throw or if Betances was actually hindered.

That all makes sense, but the solution, which Girardi and umpire Dana DeMuth agreed on is pretty radical- drill the runner in the back. Girardi wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea, comparing it to an assault. DeMuth said the following:

“Do it. Throw it into the runner’s back. Because then what’s happening? He is impeding.”

Now, you could argue that this is similar to the double-play grounder to second. Why does the runner going into second slide? Primarily because the fielder is going to whip a throw right into their chest if they don’t. Think about it, if you weren’t worried about getting drilled in the chest with the ball, it would make more sense to stand up all the way through the play and obstruct the fielder’s view of first.But you are, so you slide and hope to get into the fielder’s legs to disrupt the throw. I suspect that if you were worried about getting drilled in the back, you wouldn’t run inside the baseline, but that seems like a bad way to handle this. Baseball needs a better way, anyone have any suggestions?

 

The Crystal Ball

It’s time again for my annual attempt to predict the baseball season. As always, use this with caution! For fun, after I finished my attempt at this, I tabulated the ESPN “experts’ picks and added them to the bottom of each section.

AL East

1- Blue Jays-  Yes, they lost Price, but they got Stroman back at the end of last year and he went 4-0 down the stretch. The bullpen has been upgraded and the lineup is probably the best in the league. I think they could win 90-plus again easily and they will take the division.

2- Red Sox- Yes, they got Price, but he can’t start every day and that could be a problem. Lucky for them they have some nice young hitters and a revamped bullpen. They will contend for a Wild Card.

3- Yankees- I can’t see enough going right for this team to contend seriously. The bullpen has a sexier name at the top, but how much better can Chapman-Miller-Betances be than Miller-Betances-Wilson were in 2015? Betting on age is the other problem here as there are too many old players still clogging the roster. But, the Yankees are getting younger and smarter. Next year we should see over half the lineup under 30. For now, we will have to be content with another consecutive season over .500.

4- Rays- Honestly you could pick the final two spots out of a hat, but I really like Tampa’s pitching. Chris Archer looks like one of the best pitchers in the game and with Matt Moore back and healthy, that is a formidable 1-2 punch.

5- Baltimore- I’m just not feeling it, but I still love Charm City and Boog’s BBQ.

ESPN Experts picked: Blue Jays (19), Red Sox (8), Yankees (2), Rays (2)

AL Central

1- Royals- All hail the champions and I think they continue to reign in the division.

2- Cleveland- Love the pitching, worried about the hitting, but I think they have enough to get into a Wild Card game.

3- Detroit- Still can mash with the best of them, and Wilson and Rodriguez will make that a  solid bullpen.

4- Minnesota- Sano and Buxton are two of the most exciting young players in the game. I’m also really looking forward to seeing Byung Ho-Park and how his 50+-homer power in Korea translates to the states.

5- Chicago- Call it the curse of Adam LaRoche. I still don’t know why that all blew up the way it did, but it is a bad omen for the 2016 White Sox.

ESPN Experts Picked Royals (15), Cleveland (11) Detroit (3) Minnesota (2)

AL West

1- Houston- Correa is going to give the rest of the AL fits for a long time. Add in Keuchel, a better bullpen and some other young hitters and you have a really good team.

2- Texas- Remember that they were a bat flip away from winning the ALDS and they will be getting Yu Dravish back shortly.

3-Anaheim- Best player in the game, and a revitalized Pujols. They are dangerous, but not enough to make the playoffs.

4- Seattle- Did you see that Jesus Montero was released? (He is now a Blue Jay) The search for offense in the Pacific Northwest continues.

5- Oakland- The rebuild continues, but don’t bet against them being back on top very soon.

ESPN Experts Picked Houston (21), Texas (10)

NL East

1-Mets- Think of the pitching they had last year and then remember that they get Zack Wheeler back this year. Yikes. Neil Walker was an underrated pickup. They are primed to repeat atop the NL East.

2- Washington- Not sure what went wrong last year, but the manager has walked the plank and Dusty Baker, a great manager, is in charge. The second best player on the planet should headline a deep and dangerous team that could go very far.

3- Miami- This division is very top-heavy in my mind. You could have the first two teams easily win 90+ and the bottom three struggle to win 70. I picked Miami for third because I like some of their young hitters, but it wouldn’t shock me to see Atlanta here.

4- Atlanta- The new ballpark and rebuilt team are works in progress, but you can see the foundations being laid.

5- Philadelphia- They didn’t know when to quit and will have a long road back from oblivion.

ESPN Experts Picked Washington (16), Mets (15)

NL Central

1- Chicago- Dare I say it? Ok, they are the best team in baseball. The playoffs are always a crapshoot, but for the regular season they reign supreme.

2- Pittsburgh- Whenever I hear a Pirates fan complain about three-straight wild card spots and three-striaght eliminations, I want to point out a few things. First, you could only dream of that five years ago. Second, win the damn division! 162 games matters and the division champs get the advantages they have earned.

3- Cardinals- Always dangerous and always in contention, but this year I think they are outclassed.

4- Milwaukee- Another coin-flip pick for me. I could put the Reds here, or the Brewers.

5- Cincinnati- See above.

ESPN Experts Picked Chicago (27), St. Louis (3), Pittsburgh (1)

NL West

1- Giants- Remember it is an even year and that means they win. Also, they are very good.

2- Dodgers- Immensely talented, but they can’t seem to put it all together- ever.

3- Arizona- Greinke will help a lot, but they aren’t there yet. Pollock injury is devastating.

4- Padres- They are accumulating a lot of young assets and were smart to pull the 180 they did last year.

5- Colorado- Tough break trading Jose Reyes for their most popular player. They won’t threaten this year.

ESPN Experts Picked Giants (20), Arizona (7), Dodgers (4)

AL Playoffs

Wild Card- Texas over Cleveland

ALDS- Kansas City over Texas and Houston over Toronto

ALCS- Houston over Kansas City

ESPN Experts Picked Houston (9), Toronto (8), Royals (8), Boston (4), Cleveland (1), Texas (1)

NL Playoffs

Wild Card Washington over Pittsburgh

NLDS Chicago over Washington and San Francisco over Mets

NLCS Chicago over San Francisco

ESPN Experts Picked Chicago (19), Giants (6), Mets (3), Washington (3)

World Series

Get ready to head to the bunker- Cubs over Houston in six games!

ESPN Experts Picked Chicago (14), Toronto (4), Royals (4),  Houston (2), Giants (2), Mets (2), Texas (1), Washington (1)

Play Ball!

 

 

A Tough Choice

There is an interesting story playing out involving the Chicago White Sox and Adam LaRoche. LaRoche retired Tuesday because the White Sox asked him to stop bringing his son around the clubhouse so much. In doing so, LaRoche walked away from a contract that would pay him $13-million this season. Things are now getting heated as the entire White Sox team apparently thought about boycotting their game yesterday in support of LaRoche.

Ken Rosenthal wrote an interesting article about this controversy and it leaves me conflicted. On one hand, baseball players are essentially working during the times most of us can see our families and allowing them to bring their kids to the clubhouse gives them a connection with their family that’s important. On the other hand, not all players probably love having kids in the clubhouse all the time. There needs to be time for a team to be a team, devoid of distractions that family and outside people bring.

I don’t agree with LaRoche’s opinion about school. In the Rosenthal article he said,  “We’re not big on school. I told my wife, ‘He’s going to learn a lot more useful information in the clubhouse than he will in the classroom, as far as life lessons.’ ” But it is certainly his right to think that way and essentially home school his son.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, if LaRoche truly retires (the paperwork hasn’t been officially submitted), and what the ramifications are for the White Sox if he does.

 

 

Three Strikes…

MLB announced this afternoon that Jenrry Mejia has been banned from baseball for failing a third test for PED use. (Technically, he can apply for reinstatement a year from now, but he must sit out two years before playing again.)

It’s an amazing story of stupidity. Mejia has been suspended at the start of the season last year for 80 games for failing the first test. He was suspended for 162 games almost immediately after returning to the team and is now out of baseball. This is a guy who was going to make over $1-million this year, despite his suspension, and has now failed three drug tests in less than a calendar year.

Give MLB credit for putting in a plan with serious teeth to try to clean up the game. I should note however that this case involves a 6-foot, 200-pound, reliever who threw in the low 90’s. You simply can’t tell who is cheating with your eyes.

 

It Won’t Be Long Now

I’ve argued before that the NL will adopt the DH soon and we have the clearest evidence of that yet today. Rob Manfred said today that National League teams “might” embrace the DH. Here’s one quote:

“Twenty years ago, when you talked to National League owners about the DH, you’d think you were talking some sort of heretical comment. But we have a newer group. There has been turnover, and I think our owners in general have demonstrated a willingness to change the game in ways that we think would be good for the fans, always respecting the history and traditions of the sport.”

I think it is inevitable for a number of reasons.

1- Pitching is very expensive. Ian Kennedy just got $14-million a year for the next five years. David Price and Clayton Kershaw cost about $1-million per START. Teams can’t risk injury to these guys doing something they aren’t trained to do.

2- The DH allows teams to hide bad defenders and older hitters and rest players.

3- The AL is kicking the NL’s butt in interleague play. The NL hasn’t won the season series since 2003. You can’t credit the DH for all of that, but you can’t argue that it isn’t helping.

So what are the arguments against it? Well tradition obviously, but baseball has done a good job of invalidating that. From no more day World Series games to light at Wrigley, baseball doesn’t mind blowing up its history. Some owners will mind because it should increase salaries, but that’s also why the Players’ Association will embrace it.

And of course there is the fact that the DH has survived and thrived in the AL for over 40 years. The yells will be loud, but its coming NL fans.

My Annual Hall Of Fame Rant

Once again the idiots people who vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame have covered themselves in ignominy. How in the world is Ken Griffey Jr. not a Hall of Famer? Three voters thought he wasn’t, and therefore he misses the chance to be the first unanimous HOF’er.

The voters also showed their moral certitude by keeping Bonds and Clemens below 50% of the vote. Curt Schilling got more votes than Clemens and Jeff Bagwell got more votes than Bonds which shows you the voters clearly aren’t interested in statistics. And they won’t have McGwire to kick around anymore as he departs the ballot after ten years with 12.3% of the vote.

Another departure from the ballot is Allan Trammell after 15 years which is a shame. (They changed the expiration rules a few years ago and Trammell was grandfathered in for 15 years. Lee Smith was too and has one last year to get 75%)

And Edgar Martinez getting less than 50% of the vote makes me wonder if any of these guys actually watched baseball in the 90’s.

On the plus side, Piazza made it finally. Bagwell should make it next year, and Tim Raines will have a solid shot.

Trevor Hoffman earning 67% of the vote in his first year should get there eventually too, but that total should quash any idea that Mariano might be the first unanimous Hall of Famer. The way things stand today, I think Jeter has the best shot, and he won’t be eligible until 2020. And after if Jeter doesn’t make it, we will probably have to wait for a Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw to see a possible unanimous selection.

 

 

Interesting Theory-UPDATED

Joel Sherman has a column in the Post about the lack of movement in the free agency market. He points out that at this point last year, Sandoval, Ramirez, Martin, Martinez, and Cuddyer had already signed. Yet, there hasn’t been much of any movement on the free agency front so far.

Sherman speculates that perhaps teams have learned their lesson. He points to the fact that apart from the Blue Jays and Russell Martin, every other team that quickly signed a big free agent last year would probably gladly give him up today for nothing in exchange beyond salary relief. Ramirez and Sandoval for the Red Sox. The Mets with Cuddyer. The Tigers with Martinez. The list goes on, and the anonymous quotes from various personnel directors make you wonder if he is right.

But as he points out, it only takes one team to change the calculus of the situation. If the Red Sox, as Andy has speculated, jump all in on the Price bandwagon, he could get things going. Advanced metrics love Jason Heyward, and he is only 26. Either one of those guys could break the bank and there are plenty of other names out there in line for a big payday. I suspect things will start to heat up this week, and in a year or two most teams will regret the contracts they have agreed to.

11:47- We may have a break in the logjam. Jon Herman is reporting the Tigers have reached a deal with Jordan Zimmerman. No contract details yet.

12:10- Heyman posted a story online about the signing, but no details on the length/money.

Over-Qualified?

According to Hardball Talk, here is a list of the 20 players who have been given a qualifying offer from their current club.

Brett Anderson, Dodgers
Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles
Chris Davis, Orioles
Ian Desmond, Nationals
Marco Estrada, Blue Jays
Dexter Fowler, Cubs
Yovani Gallardo, Rangers
Alex Gordon, Royals
Zack Greinke, Dodgers
Jason Heyward, Cardinals
Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
Howie Kendrick, Dodgers
Ian Kennedy, Padres
John Lackey, Cardinals
Daniel Murphy, Mets
Colby Rasmus, Astros
Jeff Samardzija, White Sox
Justin Upton, Padres
Matt Wieters, Orioles
Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals

Some are clearly no-brainers, Greinke, Upton, Hayward, Zimmermann…these guys are going to get huge contracts somewhere and it is worth protecting them.

Others are hard to understand. Ian Kennedy for example. A 9-15 record and a 4.28 ERA in the NL merits a salary of $15.8-million next year?

But the bottom line is that if your club signs one of these players, you forfeit your first-round pick, unless you are the Phillies, Reds, Atlanta, Rockies, Brewers, Marlins, Padres, Tigers, or White Sox, they will forfeit their next pick if they sign one of these guys. (Note to Red Sox fans, if you had lost two more games, you would have made this list.)

Three notable players are not on the list because they were traded mid-season- Price, Cespedes, and Zobrist. Jon Lester cashed in last season thanks to that, I imagine Price will start his bidding around 6/150 and go from there.

It is 1985 All Over Again

About a month ago, I referenced the 1985 Yankees and how the 2015 season was starting to resemble that year with the Blue Jays surpassing the Yankees and taking the AL East. Little did I know how right I was.

Besides the Blue Jays beating the Yankees out for the AL East crown, they are now headed to the ALCS where they will play the Royals- just like in 1985.

In 1985, “Back to the Future” came out. At the end of the movie, the characters travel forward in time to 2015. In the sequel to the movie, we find out that the 2015 World Series winners are the Cubs- the team currently with the best odds to win the World Series.

Spooky isn’t it?

Ok, so maybe it all doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny, but the playoffs have been must-watch TV.

Start with the Cubs beating the hated Cardinals and clinching their first ever postseason series win at Wrigley. (In retrospect that should not have been a surprise. The Cubs have won one postseason series since Wrigley was opened!)

The Mets-Dodgers go to Game 5 tonight, and I am sure Chase Utley will get a warm reception at Dodger Stadium. I think the slide was legal, but dirty. I don’t think it should be legal, but he was clearly able to touch second on it, so I don’t understand the suspension. Would he have been suspended if he had not broken Tejada’s leg? Why wasn’t the guy who broke the Pirates’ shortstops leg a few weeks ago suspended? Makes no sense to me.

How about the Royals? Six outs away from elimination and down four runs, and they storm back to win Game 4 and then comeback in Game 5 as well.

And then there is Toronto. Start with the fact that they lost the first two games at home, but then consider the 7th inning yesterday  which had about everything you could ever expect to see in a baseball game. Personally, I have never seen a catcher’s throw hit a bat, that was a first. Bautista’s bat flip was perfectly fine in my mind, that was a monster homer, much better than the guys who preen over a meaningless homer in May. The game also made me very, very glad the Yankees never bit on Elvis Andrus, what a terrible meltdown he had.

It’s been a great postseason so far, and another do-or-die game tonight. I can’t wait.

How Did I Do?

I make my predictions every year before the season starts, and I review them every year before the playoffs start. This was not a good year for me.

Start with the fact that my World Series prediction– Angels-Nationals has already been eliminated. I also only got four playoff teams out of ten. What went wrong? Let’s go through things division-by-division.

AL East

I am going to give myself a pass of the AL East. My two main predictions at the start of the season were: 1- You could pick these teams out of a hat and 2- Barring a big move at the trade deadline these teams will finish within 10 games of each other. I picked Toronto for second and they clearly made two huge deals at the trade deadline. If that hadn’t happened, would they have won the division and would they have finished 15-games in front of the last-place Red Sox? I don’t think so.

Oh yeah, I missed on the Yankees. I thought they would win 82 games and finish 4th, but I did a lot worse in other divisions.

AL Central

Like this one. I had Cleveland winning it and KC second. I also had Minnesota in last. My lone good prediction, I picked the Tigers to finish 4th despite the hype surrounding them at the start of the year.

AL West

I really messed this one up. I picked the eventual division winner to finish last and I had Houston in third. I did predict that Anaheim would finish ahead of Seattle, so there is that small victory.

NL East

I missed on Washington completely, I am still not sure what happened there. I did pick the Mets for 2nd and got the rest of the division in the correct order.

NL Central

I picked St. Louis for third, but had Pittsburgh and Chicago at the top with Milwaukee in 4th and the Reds in last. Considering that Chicago and Pittsburgh finished with the 2nd and 3rd best records in baseball, this went pretty well.

NL West

I got the Dodgers as the champs, my only division winner,  but picked San Diego to be in 2nd and a wild card team- whoops!

So what do I think will happen now? I think the Blue Jays are going to win the World Series over the Dodgers. I wouldn’t be on it though.