I Might be Wrong, but...
November 17, 2006

OK, it looks like I got that whole World Series thing wrong.  It's not the first time I missed a call.  When I thought the Tigers would win the World Series, I really didn't think the Cardinals matched up with them.  Of course, I didn't think the 119-loss Tigers from two years ago would show up and fumble away every game.  That said, I'm glad to see that Tony LaRussa was at least for the moment able to shake the unfair label of postseason choker.  Winning it all with that team, particularly that pitching staff, is a testament to both his and Dave Duncan's ability.  Recognize, folks.

And it also looks like my prediction that Reggie Bush would have a significant impact on the NFL , enough to be a candidate for most valuable fantasy player this year was a bit overwrought as well.  I do think he'll be an impact player once he stops dancing around and accepts the fact that not every play is an opportunity to take it to the house.  Sometimes, three or four yards is good enough.

And let's see, what else... in my book I predicted Ryan Howard would end up as a platoon player.  Well, when a guy hits .148 with an OPS under .450 with strikeouts in a third of his at bats against lefties as Howard did in 2005, "platoon player" seems like a fairly reasonable conclusion.  Um, oops.  Hopefully if you bought the book you didn't buy into that appraisal as much as you bought into my analysis of Leo Mazzone's impact in Baltimore and my predictions about Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds and the dozens of others I got right. 

But despite the recent backfires, I have a hankering to go out on a limb again: I think the Red Sox doling out $51 million for the right to sign Daisuke Matsuzaka was brilliant.  Not just smart... brilliant.

I'll let you in on what I've been smoking in a minute.  Well, actually, I'm not smoking anything but please allow me to offer my reasoning.

Much of the press has focused on the Red Sox keeping him out of the Yankees' hands.  That's definitely a plus.  The Yanks have a better line-up and bullpen right now than the Red Sox but their rotation is a huge concern.  After Chien-Ming Wang, they have so many questions.  Randy Johnson is unlikely to be more healthy next season and health is always a question with Carl Pavano.  Mussina had a nice rebound year, but after his miraculous new change-up turned his first half around the hitters started to figure it out in the second half.  They hit him 40 points better, his ERA rose by nearly a run to 3.96 and his WHIP was 1.23 after the Break.  Still very good, but not the resurrected ace he appeared to be in April and May.  At age 38, it's a bit of a stretch to think he'll be better or stay healthier than he did in 2006.  Waiting in the wings they have two very good pitching prospects in Phillip Hughes and newly-acquired Humberto Sanchez.  However, Sanchez is still pretty raw and both guys have yet to face major league hitting.  I'm not saying they couldn't do well, but being forced into a playoff race in New York if/when someone goes down is a lot to ask of any young pitcher.  Not having Matsuzaka to fall back on leaves the Yanks in a much more tenuous position.

But that's not why the deal is so smart.  This was not adding a fairly fungible commodity like Hideki Matsui, a solid bat with decent power and passable defense.  This was adding a guy who gives the Red Sox a decent chance to win every game he starts. Young power pitchers are a premium commodity, especially ones with good control.  The Red Sox already had Josh Beckett (27 years old); nobody threw more pitches 95 mph or faster in 2006 than he did.  Last year was a down year for him but that's mostly due to being victimized by bad luck when it came to home runs.  He's a flyball guy but the number of flyballs he gave up last year should have yielded only 23-25 homers, not the 36 he actually surrendered.  He's a huge rebound candidate for 2007.  The BoSox also have Jonathan Papelbon (26) and Jon Lester (23) emerging as solid arms.  Adding Matsuzaka (26) gives Boston a power rotation for the next eight to ten years.  If Papelbon's shoulder stays healthy, essentially the Red Sox will have two ace pitchers (Beckett and Matsuzaka) and a guy who could be a #1a (Papelbon).  No team in baseball can match that.  A case can be made that a few other teams have two young ace pitchers - the Orioles with Bedard and Cabrera, and the Blue Jays with Halladay and Burnett, the Twins with Santana and Liriano - but none of those teams have a big time #2 guy behind them.  Moreover, not many teams in history can match that.  It'd be like the Braves staff in the early 90s when they added Greg Maddux, except with three power-armed John Smoltzes for the playoffs instead of just one. 

Ideally they would add a left-hander to the rotation to give hitters another different look, but they are still in pretty good shape for the next decade.  The question really should be how much is a guarantee that your team will be in the playoff hunt for the next 10 years worth?  Of course, the Red Sox will have to re-negotiate the individual contracts once they expire, so the $50 million they paid to Seibu for the rights becomes essentially an insurance payment.  Assuming the Red Sox do not let Larry Lucchino do any further negotiating with players as they did with Johnny Damon, they should be able to resign their young studs.  So, is $50 million over ten years a fair price for playoff insurance?  What team wouldn't throw away an extra $5 million if it nearly guaranteed them to be in the playoff hunt every year?   Even if they are only able to keep all those guys together for five years, isn't an extra $10 million per year worth having a decent shot to win it all every year?  Maybe $50 million is actually a bargain.

OK, so what else is happening? 

The Devil Rays acquired the rights to Japanese third baseman Akinori Iwamura which means that BJ Upton will be finding another position and Evan Longoria's major league debut will be delayed by at least a year.  He's not a big guy but he did manage to hit 44 homers in 2004.  The last two years he's averaged 31 which is probably a more accurate read of his power.  That will translate to about 15-18 homers per season in the majors.  He strikes out at a pretty decent clip with a fairly unimpressive number of walks.  That suggests we're looking at a guy who will hit in the neighborhood of .260.  Not much has been written about the quality of his glovework but if he's good, or even above average, it could have a bigger impact than his bat.  With the exception of 2005 when they used Alex Gonzalez there, the Devil Rays have had either below average or terrible glovemen manning the hot corner.   Getting a full season from Ben Zobrist, whose bat is fairly anemic but features an above average glove at short, along with above average work from third should help keep the D-Rays' starters in more games.  However, it probably won't have any dramatic impact on anyone in particular because the Devil Rays don't have a single groundball starter. 

The Padres have been pretty active so far.  They let manager Bruce Bochy go to the Giants and replaced him with former Angel's pitching coach Bud Black.  It's kind of weird that a career Padre is now managing the Giants and a career Giant is now managing the Padres.  As for impact, Bochy is one of the best regular season mangers in baseball.  He treats his players with respect and honesty and in return gets both great loyalty and great effort from nearly all his players.  Unfortunately, his effectiveness as a leader doesn't extend to the post-season where he is often either out-managed or simply unprepared for the change in game strategy that is characteristic of the playoffs. 

As for Bud Black, we simply don't know how he'll fare, but the impression I've gotten is that he gets a similar level of loyalty from his players.  But pitching coaches have not had a great record of success as managers in recent years.  Rene Lacheman and Ray Miller come to mind and they were far better as coaches than they were as managers.  Even if he does turn into a good manager, his general manger hasn't been helping him much so far.

Kevin Towers began reshaping the Padres this offseason by allowing Mike Piazza to walk.  Josh Bard and Rob Bowen will take over full-time.  Defensively that makes the team better at defending against the running game, but I'm not sure it helps the team overall.  Piazza did a very nice job handling the staff and showed he still had some pop in his bat.  Unless the Padres spend the money they saved to bring in an impact player like Soriano or Zito, I would call this a bad move.

Towers also made some questionable trades.  First, he dealt second baseman Josh Barfield for third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and pitcher Andrew Brown.  Barfield had a pretty good rookie season but I guess they had too many concerns about his defense and walk rate.  What I don't get is the Padres don't have a replacement second baseman in the minors and the names they've bandied about as potential replacements - Todd Walker, Nomar Garicaparra, etc - aren't any great shakes with the glove either.  Kouzmanoff had a nice year with the stick last year, but he's 25 going on 26 and guys like that should have big years in the minors.  His defense at third is questionable, although probably an upgrade over Russ Branyan.  And Andrew Brown is a decent pitching talent, but no threat to challenge Peavy or Chris Young for their rank in the rotation.  So at this point I don't see a) how the Padres are better off, or b) how they are in a better position than they were a month ago to make moves that would make them better.  Right now they have to make moves just to get their offense back to even.

Then Towers followed that up with another questionable deal, trading Ben Johnson and Jon Atkins to the Mets for Heath Bell and Royce Ring.  I'm a big fan of Ben Johnson, I'll admit it.  He's got decent power and a solid eye at the plate.  He kills lefties so at worst he could be the good part of a platoon.  I don't know about his outfield range but I do know he has a good arm and has decent speed.  Ring could turn into a very good lefty out of the bullpen, but Bell is far too hittable to give up a potentially good player for a lefty-specialist.  Unless the Padres are tryng to load up on relievers so they can deal Scott Linebrink for an impact player like Wily Mo Pena or Marcus Giles, I don't see how either of these trades help the Padres.

The Cubs signed Mark DeRosa to a three year deal.  This transaction will end up very much like the three year deal they gave Ryan Dempster, a nice player but way to much money and way too much guaranteed time for a player that is fairly replaceable. Take away three games August 9-11 in which he went 9-for-13 with 3 homers and 12 RBI, and his final season numbers are .285 w/10 homers and 62 RBI.  He hit .265 (.423 slugging) after the Break and his career batting average is .273 (.404 slugging).  I like DeRosa because he offers position flexibility without having to put a completely anemic bat in the line-up, but bascially the Cubs paid for what was basically a good year that was boosted by three all-time great days. It's funny but the Cubs are always portrayed and perceived as this luckless team, but with the decisions their front office makes, they really bring it upon themselves before the first pitches are ever thrown.  The Cubs are now paying nearly $15 million per year for three relievers (Scott Eyre, Bobby Howry, Ryan Dempster) and a bench player (DeRosa).  That's almost as much as the Marlins paid for their entire roster.  Lou Pinella was brought in to be the great agent of change for Chicago this year but even he can't re-channel that kind of systemic waste of resources.

The Blue Jays inked Frank Thomas to be their DH for a couple of years.  When everyone is healthy, the Blue Jays will have the second best offense in the AL.  But playing on turf will probably cause a few additional injuries to Thomas' legs and they already have Troy Glaus needing days off for the same reason.  Plus this signing leaves tham awfully right-handed with Adam Lind and Lyle Overbay as their only potential power threats from the left side.  And if that's the best they can do, they have no power threat from the left side.

As for personal news, I just finished my picks and pans for Peter Kreutzer's Fantasy Baseball Guide - Professional Edition, a terrific fantasy baseball preview magazine that comes out in January.  And work on my second edition of the Fantasy Baseball Scouting Handbook is well under way.  This year's book will feature a few more articles (perhaps one revealing the true stories behind Fantasyland) as well as about a thousand player profiles and projections for the 2007 season.  I'll post news of any developments that occur in the meantime, but the writing will be occasional on this site until next spring.  So until then, happy holidays and may fortune favor you.  Namaste.