Let the Madness Begin
November 26, 2005

I apologize for not writing here in a while.  It's not that I haven't been writing - quite the opposite, actually.  For the past couple of weeks, I've been writing player profiles for The Fantasy Baseball Guide - Professional Edition.  It'll be available in mid-January.  In the meantime, quite a bit has happened in baseball, so let's get to it.

Perhaps the biggest story so far this offseason is baseball's new Congressionally-inspired steroid policy.  But to be honest, it's really not much of a policy in that there were really only two changes: the punishment for getting caught was increased and the new agreement includes a ban on amphetamines.  The first part isn't really much of a deterrent.  When Rafael Palmeiro got caught, it cost him not only fan support, but he also lost the faith in the media which could cost him his shot at the Hall of Fame.  It also cost him in the eyes of front offices.  Who cares if the guy can still hit? Few, if any teams are going to take the PR hit by signing such a lightning rod of controversy.  So banning a player for 50 games for his first offense isn't much of an increase over what Palmeiro has already experienced.  Yes, it might deter fringe players, but the biggest concern about steroid use, at least what has been offered as the primary motivation behind the agreement, is the protection of  the sanctity of the records.  In that regard, fringe players aren't the threat; star players are.  The problem is that star players have the wherewithal to get around the current testing program easily if they so choose.  The failure of the new policy is both in terms of frequency and the technology.  The testing program is still so anemic that any player who gets caught is either careless, stupid or both.  If they decide to institute random testing 20 times a year, offseason included, and start seriously investing in testing technology, then we can talk about an effective steroids policy.  Until then, the policy is just window dressing.  In a decade, however, the point will probably be moot as gene therapy and smart clothing make their way into the game.  At that point, steroids will be a laughably primitive form of performance enhancement

OK, on to the fun parts of the game.

In Texas, pitching coach Orel Hershiser was promoted into the front office.  He has been given much of the credit for the development of the Ranger's young pitching, so the Rangers will now turn to bullpen coach Mark Connor to continue the education of Chris Young, Kameron Loe, Juan Dominguez and a burgeoning stable of quality young arms.  Connor has been with manager Buck Showalter for ten years and is highly regarded enough that the Braves asked for permission to interview him after they let apotheosized pitching coach Leo Mazzone walk.

There's a part of me that's disappointed that Kim Ng didn't get the GM job in LA, another part that is glad.  Ned Coletti is a very good pick for the Dodger's job given how well he did with Brian Sabean in San Francisco.  But Kim deserves a shot.  One day she and other women will get a chance to show what they can do, and I suspect, like Jackie Robinson and the first African-American players who re-integrated baseball, they will do brilliant work.  The first ones to break any barrier have to be exceptional at their job, otherwise they risk leaving a stigma.  Any woman who is smart and savvy enough to be seriously considered for the GM job in a market as significant as LA will get a GM's job sooner or later and I bet she'll do an amazingly good job.  So why am I glad she didn't get the job?  Because she would have made the Dodgers a powerhouse in the NL West, and quite frankly, they have enough of an advantage already.

Speaking of GMs, it's not exactly surprising that there have been a number of trades consummated this winter.  There are relatively few high profile free agents and the Marlins are having their usual post-playoff fire sale (albeit a year late) to show the people of South Florida that they indeed can't (or won't) compete without a new baseball-only stadium.  No, it's no surprise plenty of trades are both rumored and completed.   As for the Marlins' latest meltdown, their problem is that they keep getting decent enough prospects in these dump deals so that in three of four years they'll be fighting for a spot in the playoffs again.  They can't help but remain competitive despite the fact that they have the perfect owner for ruining franchises.  Anyway...

The first of the deals saw Josh Beckett, Guillermo Mota and Mike Lowell traded to Boston for Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez and two other prospects.  Much has been written about the trade, so I'll try not to go over already well-tread ground.  I thought I might add something that hasn't been brought up (at least, to my knowledge) regarding concerns about Beckett's health.  Much of injury woes have been due to blisters on his fingers.  But don't blisters occur because of friction and moisture?  Miami in the summer is generally a pretty moist place; Boston on the other hand, isn't.  If his shoulder is healthy, I wouldn't be surprised to see his blister issues a thing of the past.  Expect Beckett to stay healthy enough to put in 30-32 starts.  His numbers will take a hit from moving to the AL and to a much better hitters park, but staying healthy could offset some of that.  He might also benefit from a little mentoring from Curt Schilling..  Ramirez reminds me of Julio Lugo: a little power, good speed, average command of the strikezone.  Sanchez is still probably a year or two away from his debut but figures to be a pretty decent starter eventually.

The Mets also cashed in on the Marlins' firesale by acquiring Carlos Delgado for Yusmeiro Petit, Mike Jacobs and a lesser prospect.  Delgado won't be affected by the trade.  He's used to the NL now and Shea isn't much tougher than Pro Player.  Expect a run at 40 homers.  A lot of pundits like Yusmeiro Petit because his numbers have been so good in the minors.  I guess I'm in the minority because I'm not a fan.  He doesn't throw hard at all, and while it's possible for control pitchers to succeed, their margin for error is slim.  Even with his great numbers last year, he had trouble keeping the ball in the yard; not a good sign for success in the majors.  Jacobs has pretty good power, but his .300+ average last year looks a bit out of line given his less than stellar eye for balls and strikes.  He could hit 20 homers, but his average will probably drop to the .250-.260 range.

The Mets pulled off another trade, this one sending Mike Cameron to the Padres in exchange for Xavier Nady.  It's too bad the Padres didn't try more aggressively to acquire Cameron a couple of years ago when he was a free agent because he would have saved them two years of aggravation and disappointment with Jay Payton and Dave Roberts.  It's not that Roberts wasn't good, but he was injured so often that they really only got one month of a healthy player.  Now they have two concerns: the first is, of course, Cameron's health.  The second is that they almost have to get more than the one year left on his contract for giving up Xavier Nady, who's never been given a real chance to show what he could do.  He's not a first tier offensive talent at first like Delgado, but he's at least as good as Lyle Overbay or Dmitri Young. 

One other significant trade that went down was the Phillies trading Jim Thome for Aaron Rowand, Daniel Haigwood and a player to be named.  This one puzzled me on a couple points from the Phillies' standpoint.  The first is that they are investing their future at first base in a guy (Ryan Howard) who can't hit lefties (.148/.175/.246 against them last year).  I'm not saying that dealing Thome is the wrong decision, but only getting a bat as average as Aaron Rowand isn't the right choice.  Along that same line, why is Aaron Rowand preferable to the guy they already have in center, Jason Michaels?  Michaels has better defensive range, has a higher on base and last year was a better slugger.  Dealing Thome frees up some money, but it seems to me that there should have been much better deals to be had.  The White Sox, on the other hand, had several promising centerfielders who can replace Rowand and they get a hitter with 40-homer potential if he's healthy.  Now that he can DH full-time, Thome has a better chance of staying in the line-up.  I'd be surprised if the White Sox didn't still pursue re-signing Paul Konerko because if they have to play Thome at first it defeats the primary purpose for acquiring him in the first place.

OK, so now the signings... the Mariners signed Japanese catching star Kenji Johjima.  He's not a guy who walks a lot but neither does he strike out much.  He did show 30-homer power in Japan, which should translate to about 15-18 homers a season in Safeco.  His best season came in 2004 when he hit .338 with 36 homers in 498 at bats.  Last year a leg injury ended his season but he should be full strength by spring.  The Ms are rumored to be shopping Yorvit Torrealba, but his talents seem more suited to backing up than starting.  Unless they get a super offer, it just makes sense to hold on to a guy with starting experience to back up a guy coming off an injury-shortened year... I was surprised that BJ Ryan got a 5-year deal to close in Toronto.  Ryan did a great job last year, but if the job becomes too mentally taxing, as it does with most pitchers who get a chance to close, then the Blue Jays could end up with a $9 million lefty-specialist.  I don't expect that to happen, and with as much interest that Ryan generated I guess the Jays had to offer as much as they did to get him, but that's an awful lot of confidence in a guy who has closed for just one season... If anyone wonders why the Cubs so frequently fail to live up to expectation, look no further than their signing of Bobby Howry.  I like Howry as a reliever quite a bit, but the Cubs giving him $4 million a year for three years just doesn't make much sense.  They already signed Ryan Dempster to close and have Scott Williamson and Mike Wuertz in the pen.  For a team that doesn't have a shortstop or a right fielder, and has question marks in center, left and second base, finding a third right-handed set-up man for the pen seems like a misplaced priority.  There's still plenty of winter left to make deals, so hopefully this was just the Cubs' first salvo in a very active offseason.  If not, they might could find themselves looking up at the rest of the division.