11th and Washington

11th and Washington: December 2005

Thursday, December 22, 2005

All the right moves for the Yanks ... for once

The thing that strikes me about the Yankees' signing of Johnny Damon is that they needed him. Not for leadoff, necessarily, because I think the Yanks are just fine with Derek Jeter batting first and Alex Rodriguez or Hideki Matsui or, if he could develop into a decent contact and doubles hitter, Robinson Cano batting second. But they needed a centerfielder and at this point they weren't going to find much in free agency if they didn't get Damon. Based on their policy this offseason of hanging onto Cano, Chien-Ming Wang and prospects like Eric Duncan and Philip Hughes, the Yankees weren't going to get a centerfielder through a trade. In that scenario, Juan Pierre was probably the most likely, but when he went to the Cubs, he was out. I suppose they could've explored a deal for Texas' David Dellucci, Seattle's Jeremy Reed (and the rumors of him heading to Boston will only intensify until the Red Sox get someone to fill Damon's spot) or the Cubs' Corey Patterson.

But the most important acquisition this offseason for the Yankees was not Damon or any one player. It was all the players because they filled the needs in center and the bullpen. You can see the difference this winter: Brian Cashman was spearheading the signings this time, not anyone in the Tampa braintrust. These moves fill holes and help the Yankees first and foremost. In recent years, the moves have been more for the wow factor, to make a splash, to grab the headlines. If the Yankees were going to deal a catching prospect and a good young pitcher in Javier Vazquez for a left-handed pitcher, they might've been better off going after a younger, healthier guy like Barry Zito or Mark Mulder (who was available last winter) instead of Randy Johnson.

Instead, the Yanks went after need:

Damon. As has been pointed out in so many places, this deal not only helps the Yankees, it hurts the Red Sox. More than one pundit has moved the Blue Jays up as the second-best team in the AL East and slid Boston down. That may change if the Sox fill Damon's hole with Ken Griffey Jr. or Andruw Jones (HA! Kidding.) and find a shortstop in Miguel Tejada. But for now, Toronto may be closer to wild-card contention than we had a right to expect a few days ago.

Now, I don't know if Damon is a better leadoff hitter than Jeter (and the numbers favor Jeter), but he's one of the best in the game today and it certainly doesn't hurt to move everyone down a spot to accommodate Damon. You think Damon will get some good pitches to hit with Jeter and Rodriguez coming up after him? There's no way pitchers want to walk Damon and risk leaving a hole on the right side for Jeter to slap that ball through, or to create a situation where A-Rod is batting with two men on base. It'll be sad to see the hair go, however. Yankee fans will want to hope that his powers aren't tied to his long locks.

Mike Myers. Another signing that takes from the Red Sox to give to the Yankees (robbing from the super-rich to give to the mega-uber-rich). The left-handed specialist will come in handy in the late innings against some big (or at least capable) bats both in and out of the division: David Ortiz, Aubrey Huff, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Delgado, Jim Thome, Mark Teixeira and Travis Hafner to name a few. Myers is often a one-out guy, but he's one of the best.

Kyle Farnsworth. Fantasy owners keep wanting Farnsworth to be a closer, but it appears that Farnsworth keeps wanting to get out of it. Without going back to look at reports, I don't know why the Cubs traded him to the Tigers last year, but Chicago struggled to find a closer in 2005 until they moved starter Ryan Dempster there and they could've used him. Then the Braves acquired him from Detroit last year and used him as a closer, a job he seemingly would've kept had he re-signed with Atlanta. Instead, he took a setup role, more money and a perceived better chance at a championship ring to be a Yankee. But when you look at Tom Gordon's age and the uninspiring careers of New York's other potential right-handed setup guys, Farnsworth stands out as perhaps the best option.

Octavio Dotel. After major arm surgery last season, it's not clear when Dotel will be available. But just as they did with Jon Lieber when he was coming off Tommy John surgery (and a 20-win season), the Yankees made an investment for the future, knowing that if Dotel can be healthy by July, it will be like acquiring a setup man in a trade before the deadline. The Mets were trying to sign Dotel for the same reason, a move that would've been just as important for them as it is for the Yanks.

So rather than going out and bringing in Brian Giles to move him to centerfield (a move that would've been more for the wow factor than need), the Yankees didn't look for the splashiest move this winter. They seemed to consider more options and evaluate more players and then make the move that was the best fit for them. (I left the re-signing of Hideki Matsui out because it's a slightly different situation when you're talking about a capable, All-Star you already have. Besides, the "need" in left field would have only been there if Matsui signed elsewhere.)

And I'm sure George Steinbrenner didn't have to be convinced too much to steal the Red Sox centerfielder.

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Name that infield

A common baseball party trick over the years has been to come up with "all-star" teams based on specific criteria. The favorite is to create an "all-name team," choosing players at each position because they all have the same name or their names are related to the body, a holiday, heritage or various other themes.

There are a few new tricks now that the Royals have signed Doug Mientkiewicz and Mark Grudzielanek, at least when Mientkiewicz gets into the game at first base alongside Grudzielanek at second.

The combined 24 letters in their last names (12 in each) equal the letters in the last names of the entire starting infield for Mientkiewicz's former team, the Mets: Delgado (7), Matsui (6), Reyes (5) and Wright (6).

Based on projected starting lineups at this mid-December date -- a long way from spring training still, let alone Opening Day -- the right side of the infield in Kansas City features as many or more letters on the backs of the jerseys than 13 teams:

Orioles: Surhoff (7), Roberts (7), Tejada (6), Mora (4)
Yankees: Giambi (6), Cano (4), Jeter (5), Rodriguez (9)
Blue Jays: Overbay (7), Hudson (6), Adams (5), Koskie (6)
Athletics: Johnson (7), Ellis (5), Crosby (6), Chavez (6)
Giants: Niekro (6), Durham (6), Vizquel (7), Feliz (5)

White Sox: Konerko (7), Iguchi (6), Uribe (5), Crede (5)
Cardinals: Pujols (6), Cruz (4), Eckstein (8), Rolen (5)

Phillies: Howard (6), Utley (5), Rollins (7), Bell (4)
Cubs: Lee (3), Walker (6), Cedeno (6), Ramirez (7) [It's 21 if they go with Neifi Perez at short instead of Cedeno.]

Brewers: Fielder (7), Weeks (5), Hardy (5), Hall (4)
Dodgers: Choi (4), Kent (4), Furcal (6), Mueller (7)

Devil Rays: Lee (3), Cantu (5), Lugo (4), Gonzalez (8)

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Trading fiends

Major league GMs are making deals like fantasy owners drunk at an All-Star Game party. It started on Nov. 3 when the Nationals traded third baseman Vinny Castilla to San Diego for pitcher Brian Lawrence. That one's easy: great move for Washington. They open up third base for their first-round pick last summer, Ryan Zimmerman, and get a decent starter who should pitch well in RFK Stadium.

Here are the other 35 deals made in the last six weeks:

Nov. 10: Blue Jays acquired infielder John MacDonald from the Tigers for cash.

Nov. 16: Cubs traded pitcher Jon Leicester to the Texas Rangers for a player to be named. Ho-hum.

Nov. 18: The Mets dealt outfielder Mike Cameron to San Diego for first baseman/outfielder Xavier Nady. This cleared some salary for the Mets and I speculated that, barring any other moves, Nady could platoon at first base with the left-handed-hitting Mike Jacobs. Cameron is perfect for San Diego. He can move back to the position he loves, center field, and the Padres need a gold glover out there in the spacious, lush lawn of Petco Park.

Nov. 21: The Padres acquired infielder Bobby Hill from Pittsburgh for a player to be named or cash (they got pitcher Clayton Hamilton). Hill was a top prospect out of Miami in 1999 but could not come to terms with the White Sox, who drafted him in the second round (with the 66th pick). He played for the Newark Bears and re-entered the draft in 2000, when the Cubs took him in the second round (43rd pick this time). Chicago dealt him to the Pirates in the deal for Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez in 2003, but he's never been able to establish himself as anything but a utility player. He'll now serve as a backup to Castilla at third base or as a veteran option at second base if rookie Josh Barfield is not ready.

Nov. 24: The Marlins traded first baseman Carlos Delgado to the Mets for first baseman Mike Jacobs, minor-league pitcher Yusmerio Petit and Class A third baseman Grant Psomas. If you ask me, the Mets didn't give up much for Delgado. They gave up a rookie first baseman and two minor-leaguers for an All-Star slugger who has the longest active streak of consecutive seasons with 30 or more home runs, nine. Jacobs had a great start last season with 11 home runs in 100 at bats, but there have been other who have come into the majors like that and left them not too long after. Kevin Maas comes to mind. Petit mowed down hitters in the Double-A Eastern League but got knocked around a bit when moved up to Triple-A. Psomas, a third baseman, hit .301 with 20 HR and 69 RBI with most of his 468 at bats coming at low-Class A. But hopefully, the Mets are set at third base for 15 years or so. Delgado was a necessary acquisition with both the loss of Mike Piazza and the terrible production they got last year from first base. As Tom Verducci pointed out, the Mets have the money and, despite appearances, aren't throwing money around like the Yankees.

The Marlins (officially) traded pitchers Josh Beckett and Guillermo Mota and third baseman Mike Lowell to the Red Sox for top shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez and minor-league pitchers Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia. This is the deal that begins the end for the Marlins. Nice work by Boston to hold up Florida for Mota as well. When first announced, this deal was for Beckett and Lowell (and his contract), but when it became final, Mota was moving too. The difference between the Yankees and Red Sox last year was the bullpen (notably, Boston's horrible one), so adding Mota -- and hoping closer Keith Foulke is healthy and back to normal -- is a big step in securing those middle innings.

Nov. 25: The Phillies traded first baseman Jim Thome to the White Sox for center fielder Aaron Rowand, minor-league pitcher Dan Haigwood and a player to be named (pitcher Gio Gonzalez). I said that's where Thome would end up, though I didn't anticipate Phil Konerko re-signing with Chicago. Great move for them, however. Frank Thomas has been declining (mostly his health) the past few seasons. Now they've got one left-handed slugger and one right-handed bopper to split DH and first base duties. On the Phillies' end, Rowand is probably one of the best options they could've had for Thome because he's a major-league experienced center fielder who helps them immediately. They've had trouble with decent fielders in center and this one can hit a bit, too. They'll probably have to move Jimmy Rollins back to leadoff, but I think the tradeoff works to their favor. Gonzalez quickly becomes one of the Phillies' better pitching prospects.

Nov. 28: The Mets acquired outfielder Tike Redman from the Pirates for cash. Redman gives the Mets a left-handed backup outfielder or potential platoon partner with Nady or Victor Diaz in right field.

Dec. 1: The Red Sox acquired pitcher Jermaine Van Buren from the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named. Minor deal.

Dec. 2: The Marlins traded second baseman Luis Castillo to the Minnesota Twins for pitchers Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler. It's baffling what happened to Castillo's baserunning prowess. The past four seasons, his totals have been 48, 21, 21 and 10. His at bats have declined too -- 606, 595, 564 and 439 -- so health may be an issue, but he just hasn't been the same player the last two seasons. Maybe a change will light a fire under his feet.

Dec. 4: The Marlins traded catcher Paul Lo Duca to the Mets for minor-league pitcher Gaby Hernandez and a player to be named (outfielder Dante Brinkley). I would've rather had Ramon Hernandez catching for the Mets, but GM Omar Minaya must've felt that trading for Lo Duca was a cheaper and safer option. Hernandez signed with Baltimore for $27.5 million over four years; the Mets deal was for about three years and $20 million, but they never got past an initial offer before they dealt for Lo Duca. I think Lo Duca is on a downward slide, but hopefully he can still make contact and bat .280-.290 and not become an offensive liability at the position. Brinkley was nothing more than a throw-in but Hernandez had a decent season at low-Class A Hagerstown (6-1, 2.43, 99 SO in 92.2 innings and a no-hitter) but went 2-5 with a 5.74 ERA after his promotion to Class A St. Lucie. He's still a few years away, so it will be a while before we can judge this one.

Dec. 5: The A's acquired pitcher Chad Gaudin from the Blue Jays for a player to be named. I won't be commenting on all the little deals. They're just mentioned to show a complete record.

Dec. 6: The Giants traded reliever LaTroy Hawkins to the Orioles for reliever Steve Kline. Kline is a good pickup and a capable left-handed specialist. Hawkins could find himself in the closer mix as the Orioles try to replace B.J. Ryan.

Dec. 7: The Blue Jays acquired first baseman Lyle Overbay and a player to be named (pitcher Ty Taubenheim) from the Brewers for pitcher David Bush, oufielder Gabe Gross and a player to be named (pitcher Zach Jackson). After two big mound signings -- starter A.J. Burnett and reliever B.J. Ryan -- the Jays ditch the infatuation with the initials and bring in a guy whose name on the back of the jersey will rhyme with the name on the front. A good doubles hitter from the left side, Overbay will help Toronto on defense as well. But the main reason for this trade is in Milwaukee, where Prince Fielder will now get the first base job and David Bush could make the rotation. Gabe Gross won't have much room to crack the staring lineup with Carlos Lee, Brady Clark and Geoff Jenkins in the outfield, but he's there if someone gets hurt.

The Cardinals traded reliever Ray King to the Rockies for outfielder Larry Bigbie and second baseman Aaron Miles. Miles looks to be the replacement for Mark Grudzielanek, who will leave St. Louis via free agency (perhaps -- hopefully -- to the Mets?). Bigbie should have a shot at a job with Larry Walker's retirement (if he sticks with it) and King can really only help a pitching staff that needs all it can get.

The Padres acquired pitcher Dewon Brazelton from the Devil Rays for third baseman Sean Burroughs; they also acquired catcher Doug Mirabelli for second baseman Mark Loretta. In the D-Rays deal, San Diego and Tampa Bay essentially traded two guys who hadn't really lived up to their potential. Burroughs at least had two seasons as a starter in San Diego, but without any power as a third baseman in an expansive ballpark, he just wasn't as attractive a player. Brazelton was a first-round pick in 2001 but has struggled in his attempts to become a major leaguer. Perhaps Petco can help.

The Braves traded reliever Dan Kolb back to the Brewers for reliever Wes Obermueller. For once, it looks like Atlanta made a mistake in evaluating a pitcher. Or two. Jose Capellan, who went to Milwaukee for Kolb, looks to be developing into a solid reliever. Kolb blew some big games for the Braves last summer and Obermueller bounced around among the rotation, the bullpen and the minors. If nothing else, this deal illustrates how Kolb's value has declined in a year.

The Royals acquired pitcher Mark Redman from the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Jonah Bayliss and a player to be named (pitcher Chad Blackwell). I don't expect the Royals to really be playing for anything, so I don't see what this does for them. Nor do I know anything about the players Pittsburgh acquired, but with their young pitchers and Jason Bay, they seem to be putting themselves into a position to build for 2007 or 2008.

The Mariners traded catcher Yorvit Torrealba to the Rockies for a player to be named (pitcher Marcos Carvajal). Torrealba could put up some good numbers in Colorado -- but then again, who can't?

The Marlins traded center fielder Juan Pierre to the Cubs for pitchers Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco and Renyel Pinto. The Cubs got a big piece they needed -- two big pieces, in fact: center field and leadoff. Pierre fills both and can take some pressure off of Corey Patterson, if he stays (and if it hasn't already ruined him). Chicago suffered because of injuries last year, injuries that have become predictable. The same names seem to be hurt (primarily pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior), so they desperately need everyone to be healthy so they can stop using the injury excuse and find out if they've really got what it takes. What they don't have is a shortstop, unless you believe in Neifi Perez or rookie Jose Macias.

The Diamondbacks acquired catcher Johnny Estrada from the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal. Good move for Arizona, which needed a catcher. Atlanta made the deal because Brian McCann emerged when Estrada sat with injuries, which was most of the second half. Note that the Braves have picked up three young relievers in deals this offseason. You can see where that is going. With the struggles last year, they're looking to build a better bullpen under the direction of new pitching coach Roger McDowell.

Dec. 8: The Reds traded first baseman Sean Casey to the Pirates for pitcher Dave Williams. Casey now blocks the position for young slugger Brad Eldred, but he's always hit well at PNC Park. He's a career .355 hitter with 5 HR in 121 at bats in Pittsburgh. Williams will give up a lot more home runs in Cincinnati.

The Phillies acquired pitcher Chris Booker from the Detroit Tigers for cash. Okaaaay ...

The Royals acquired infielder Esteban German from the Texas Rangers for pitcher Fabio Castro, who was selected in the Rule V draft. As minor as minor deals come.

The Rockies acquired infielder Aaron Rifkin from the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named. After trading Aaron Miles, Colorado needed another Aaron.

The Yankees traded infielder-outfielder Tony Womack to the Reds for infielder Kevin Howard and outfielder Ben Himes. Womack will have to fight if he expects to start in Cincy, but at least he can play outfield and both middle infield positions. Howard led the Arizona Fall League in batting but isn't considered a top prospect.

The Red Sox traded shortstop Edgar Renteria to the Braves for third baseman Andy Marte. Now why would Boston trade its top position prospect, Hanley Ramierez, who also happens to play shortstop and then go and trade their starting shortstop? Plus, they have both Lowell and youngster Kevin Youkilis to play third base, Marte's natural position. Boston can't be done, but they may have to settle for Alex Gonzalez to replace Renteria, at least for this season.

Dec. 9: The Angels acquired pitcher J.C. Romero from the Twins for infielder Alexi Casilla. Arguably the best bullpen in the AL (Chicago has just as strong a case) gets stronger. I know nothing of Alexi Casilla other than I'm almost positive he's a guy.

Dec. 12: The Phillies traded pitcher Vicente Padilla to the Texas Rangers for a player to be named. So much for Padilla's career.

The Tigers acquired pitcher Randy Steik from the San Diego Padres for pitcher Kenny Baugh. Randy's name makes me think of steak.

Dec. 13: Announced earlier, but made official on this date: the Rangers acquired outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and pitcher Armando Galarraga from the Nationals for second baseman Alfonso Soriano. Washington has a problem on its hands with Soriano's unwillingness to play anywhere but second base and Jose Vidro's presence on the roster. Vidro's a better second baseman but Soriano may be a better hitter at this point, with all of Vidro's injuries the last two years. But Soriano's numbers will take a hit moving from both the ballpark and the lineup in Texas to those in Washington. Instead of a 30/30 player, he's more of a 20/30 player with the potential to hit 40 HR. Wilkerson, should he be 100 percent healthy next year, could take off. Sledge just becomes part of an outfield logjam.

The Dodgers traded outfielder Milton Bradley and infielder Antonio Perez to the A's for outfielder Andre Ethier. It will be interesting to see how those in Oakland handle Bradley and his temper. They did it with Jose Guillen and made him a wanted commodity again (or perhaps they did it jointly with Cincinnati that year). Ethier hit .319 with 18 HR and 80 RBI at Double-A Midland last year. Interesting how those numbers at that level are worth a switch-hitting center fielder with power and an infielder.

The White Sox acquired infielder Rob Mackowiak from the Pirates for pitcher Damaso Marte. Marte gets in line with fellow southpaw Mike Gonzalez and free agent signee Roberto Hernandez to audition for the closer's job in spring training. With a new manager (Jim Tracy), I don't know where this one will go. Otherwise, I'd say the favorites would be Gonalez, Marte, Hernandez, in that order.

Dec. 14: The White Sox acquired pitcher Javier Vazquez and cash from the Diamondbacks for pitchers Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino and minor-league outfielder Chris Young. The World Champions are making some outstanding moves this offseason, though it remains to be seen just how comfortable Jose Contreras will be without his close friend Hernandez on the team. At least he knows Vazquez from the 2004 season in the Bronx.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

New Negro league candiates for the Hall

WAY too long since I've posted.

Must ... update ... more ...

With the Baseball Hall of Fame announcing that it is considering players from the Negro leagues and before for enshrinement, New Jersey may see itself represented further in Cooperstown. Among the Negro leaguers are one-time Newark Eagle William Bell Sr., former manager of the Newark Dodgers and Eagles Dick Lundy, Eagles manager Raleigh "Biz" Mackey, Eagles co-owner Effa Manley, and Eagles player and manager George Suttles.

A partial and by-no-means complete (as far as I can tell) list of Hall of Famers with Jersey ties include:

Those born here
Goose Goslin
Billy Hamilton
Joe Medwick

Those who died here
Dan Brouthers
Larry Doby
Harry Wright

Those who played here
Yogi Berra (Newark Bears)
Monte Irvin (Newark Eagles)
Ray Dandridge (Newark Eagles)
Leon Day (Newark Eagles)
Willie Wells (Newark Eagles)

I'm hoping to do more research on the history of New Jersey baseball, but I've got so many other various little side projects like that, I don't know when I'm going to get to it. Perhaps once I become independently wealthy and no longer have to work a regular job.

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