11th and Washington

11th and Washington: December 2009

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Baseball history in living color

Love this photo of former teammates Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan at the 1972 All-Star Game in Atlanta. The pic comes from the outstanding Steve's Baseball Photography Pages, which I've casually browsed through before but had not fully investigated. This morning, I merely scrolled through the main page, but there are still the links to team galleries left to explore.

Last year, I made a resolution on my photo blog to take at least one picture a day and post it. I kept to that promise and enjoyed both the process and the results. My hope for 2010 is to be more active on this blog and my personal one (I like to keep the baseball and photos separate from everything else, for some reason). And one way I hope to generate new content for myself is to finally sit down and scan in all the photos I took with my SLR back in the days before I went digital. There were a lot of baseball pics in particular (from the '90s on), so hopefully I can post some of those here.

But for now, there's plenty to see on Steve's pages.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Banking on the signing of Bay

I like the Mets' signing of Jason Bay. I really do. I know they need a starting pitcher, because Oliver Perez has a long way to go to prove he's anything more than a cash suck and Jonathan Niese is probably not the No. 5 starter they need right now, but Bay was another big piece.

SI's Lee Jenkins puts it well:

By reportedly agreeing to a contract with left fielder Jason Bay on Tuesday, the Mets do not necessarily change the power structure in their city or their division. But they do change the conversation. The Mets, and not the Yankees, have made the splashiest move of the offseason in New York. The Mets, and not the Phillies, have made the most significant offensive addition in the National League East. At a time when other big-market teams are hoarding nickels, the Mets identified the player they wanted, pursued him aggressively but not foolishly, and landed him for a relatively fair price.

Matt Holliday would not have come for a fair price (and would not have been as good a fit, as Jenkins goes on to say), and the perceived remaining top starter available, Joel Pineiro, is not available for a fair price at the moment, either. As I wrote earlier, I think the Mets missed their window to get a reliable starter at a fair price, and now they'll have to look to more reasonable alternatives to Pineiro (unless his demands come down). Maybe incentive-laden deals to the likes of Ben Sheets and Erik Bedard are in order, but I'm sure fans would prefer to see someone who comes into Spring Training with no recent surgeries from which to rehabilitate.

In joining the Mets, Bay comes full-circle. This may not be the final stop of his career, but for now he's back with one of two teams that had him before he first became known as a prospect in the Padres' system. As many have noted, Omar Minaya was the Expos' GM when Bay was in their organization, his first. Then Minaya traded him to the Mets, who sent him on to San Diego. It was with the Padres that his potential was revealed, and Kevin Towers used Bay -- and Oliver Perez -- as the key prospects in the deal to land Brian Giles. That's one of the few trades in the last decade in which Pittsburgh truly got the better end.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A brief college football aside

Temple's return to bowl play today in the EagleBank Bowl has stirred up a lot of mentions of the short-lived Garden State Bowl, which was played at the Meadowlands from 1978-81. I once had a program from one of those games saved to my watch list on eBay, yet never bothered to purchase it. I think it was only about $20, but I guess Temple's return has pushed sellers' hopes upward, perhaps thinking that Temple alums will eagerly want to commemorate the Owls' last bowl win before today's game.

Next fall, Yankee Stadium will host a college football game when Notre Dame and Army meet, and then in December, it will host a bowl game, the first in the New York area since those Garden State Bowls in the late '70s and early '80s. It's going to be quite a cold one if the weather's like it is today.

It'll be interesting to see how the Yankee Stadium bowl game -- date as yet unknown, however -- affects any plans for the NHL to plan a Winter Classic there. The last couple of years, when the game was played at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park (well, it will be on Friday), the rink has been set up before Christmas and opened to the public for skating. So maybe the Yankee Stadium bowl game -- at least next year -- will be several days before Christmas. Or maybe there won't be a public skating period.

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Ichiro's greatest hits

Sports Illustrated's review of the decade included the best of the magazine's Sign of the Apocalypse and They Said It features from the front of the book, and my favorite subset of that segment was a breakout box they did of Ichiro's greatest hits. A couple of these cracked me up at the time and made me chuckle again rereading them, so I want to preserve them here since I know I'll eventually recycle the magazine.

April 23, 2007
On facing Red Sox pitcher and countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka: "I hope he arouses the fire that's dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul. I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger."

June 25, 2007
On Seattle's trip to play the Indians [Which, incidentally, is where I took this photo.]: "I'm not excited to go to Cleveland, but we have to. If I ever saw myself saying I'm excited going to Cleveland, I'd punch myself in the face because I'm lying."

Sept. 17, 2007
On why he ran out of the baseline to escape a potential rundown: "I hate being touched by other people. I'd rather run away from them."

Sept. 7, 2009
Explaining to The New York Times his thoughts on the notion that "chicks dig the long ball": "Chicks who dig home runs aren't the ones who appeal to me. I think there's sexiness in infield hits because they require technique. I'd rather impress the chicks with my technique than with my brute strength. Every now and then, just to show I can do that too, I might flirt a little by hitting one out."

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Harwell's Christmas card

Tiger Stadium is gone and, sadly, Ernie Harwell is going. The legendary Tigers broadcaster was given the front page of today's Detroit Free Press to write a heartfelt thank you column to fans.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tiger Stadium's last (grand)stand

I hadn't seen this photo of Tiger Stadium's demolition before. It may be the most heartbreaking photo in the sad story of the unfortunate end of the ballpark's long, rich history. Deadspin doesn't credit where it stole the pic from, so I don't know who had the keen eye to grab this image during the blue hour. Good shot, indeed.

[Two minutes later ...]
Before posting, I tried looking for the image on Flickr, simply by searching "Tiger Stadium." I couldn't find it in the search results, but then I noticed the Tiger Stadium group link on the right. And there it was, on the first page of photos.

So kudos to you, Pictures of Detroit. Great shot.

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Martin Brodeur and a baseball record (Huh?)

I'm not the biggest hockey fan, but I do enjoy the sport -- mostly live or during the playoffs, because really, why play 81 games when the postseason is about half that (give or take)? But I have had my moments of devotion to the sport, beginning in 1995, when the New Jersey Devils won the first major sports championship in the state's history. That was a lot of fun to watch, except for the part when they had to have the "parade" around the parking lot of the Meadowlands. Now, at least with the new -- and very nice, I must say -- arena, they can have the parade in an actual city. The city's Newark, but still. They can parade from the NJ Performing Arts Center, past the Bears' minor league baseball stadium and over to the Pru for the rally. That'll be nice enough.

In fact, the Devils' three Stanley Cups have come in interestingly regular intervals, at least in terms of my life. The first, in '95, came when I was in college. The second, in 2000, was during my first job, at the Asbury Park Press. I remember sitting on the floor of the newsroom in front of the big TV in the sports department. It was a Saturday night, we'd already put the section to bed and the game was in overtime in Dallas. Basically, we were waiting around for the game to end to put out a late edition -- either saying they were going to Game 7, or that the Devils had won the Cup. When Jason Arnott scored in OT, my arms shot up as I yelled "CUP!" and we got back to work.

And their last title, in 2003, came while I was working for a magazine. I watched at home, then went to Modell's down the street the next morning to buy a championship T-shirt to wear to work the next day.

So the Devils won once while I was in college (a four-year stretch), once while I worked at the newspaper (I was there for four years) and once while I worked at the magazine (I was there 3 1/2 years). March will mark four years at my current job, and though the Stanley Cup Finals aren't until May/June, they'd pretty much hit the mark if they can pull it off. Four Cups in 15 years -- or an average of one not quite every four years -- would be quite impressive.

Anyway, there's a reason I'm writing about hockey on my otherwise erstwhile baseball blog -- Martin Brodeur's NHL-record-setting 104th shutout last night. Marty's excellence and longevity has made him into one of the greatest goalies -- or THE greatest goalie -- in hockey history. I know there's an argument that he's had it easier than others because of the Devils' style of play, that their trapping zone defense puts less pressure on the goalie, but I'm not enough of a student of the game to be able to argue that point one way or the other. And I realize that goalie equipment and training today is much more advanced than it used to be, but that also rules changes in recent years have been to goalies' detriment. Again, that's about the extent of my knowledge of the situation. But that's nothing different than what we have in baseball when we try to compare eras or determine the greatest hitter (Ruth, Williams, Bonds, Pujols?), pitcher (Big Train, Koufax, Seaver, Ryan, Maddux, Clemens?) or team ('06 Cubs, '27 Yankees, '75 Reds, '98 Yankees?).

But now, Brodeur -- and here I'm getting to the baseball tie-in (finally) -- has a chance for the all-time North American sports shutout record. Walter Johnson threw 110 in his Hall of Fame career, and Brodeur is now just six away from that mark. I suppose if we really wanted to pin down the continent's career shutout mark in all sports where individual players are credited with the statistic, we should dig up the record for professional soccer circuits like the North American Soccer League and others like it to see if any of those goalkeepers had more than 110 clean sheets (the Major League Soccer record, as of this writing, is 84). Though the nature of the game makes shutouts much more frequent in soccer than in baseball or hockey, I'm willing to amend this post should someone point me to those stats, but I haven't been able to find them just yet.

So congratulations on your hockey record, Marty. Only seven more to go to set a new mark for the continent.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Mets miss out on a Marquis move

I haven't been as upset as some Mets fans were when John Lackey signed with the Red Sox (I can understand their reluctance at the fifth year) or even when the Phillies got Roy Halladay, mainly because they did have to give up Cliff Lee. And for the most part, I'm OK with Jason Bay and Bengie Molina taking their sweet time to decide (or, probably, hope for a better deal or extra year, which they'd best NOT give to a 35-year-old catcher).

But this, of all things, bothers me: Jason Marquis is going to sign with the Nationals. I realize that the Mets need several things, and a left fielder, a catcher and power -- which Bay and Molina bring -- are at the top of the list, but so is a starting pitcher, or two. A No. 2 starter would've been nice, and that could've been Lackey, but in lieu of the big-ticket right-hander, the Mets were also looking at several lower-tier pitchers, and now two of them -- Marquis and Randy Wolf -- have signed on elsewhere.

I preferred Marquis to Joel Piniero for several reasons: he's pitched well and won when not coached by Dave Duncan, he put up very good numbers in Coors Field (imagine what he'd do in Citi Field -- wait, we'll find out several times in 2010), and he isn't demanding four years at $10 million per. And I thought the fact that he's a Mets fan from Staten Island (and still lives there in the offseason) was a nice touch.

So I'm sad to see the Mets miss out, perhaps without even making him an offer. As illogical as it sounds, I might even be more upset than the Phillies getting Halladay, because I never thought the Mets had a serious shot at Halladay.

The Mets claim that there are no budget restrictions, but the facts remain that they made two known offers two weeks ago and their offseason acquisitions amount to two backup catchers, a re-signed shortstop and reliever, and an import from Japan who signed because two former teammates said the Mets were a good place for Japanese players (but one of them wasn't Kaz Matsui).

The Marquis deal boils down to this: Omar Minaya had better make a move, soon. Christmas may be too late. The Mets are going to start losing out on more and more options to fill their needs, the fans' level of frustration is going to grow (and it won't help season-ticket renewals) and then they're going to be left with another round of Spring Training tryouts for the fifth-starter spot involving the likes of Tim Redding.

Yeah, Pedro Martinez is still an option, but he's a risk/reward signing, as is Ben Sheets, for the same money Marquis got -- and he's more of a sure thing at this point.


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It's always scummy in Philadelphia

And they wonder why people think they're the worst fans in America.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

'Fixing' the game, and not in the Black Sox sense

Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell has a checklist for Bud Selig's new 14-man special committee.

Boswell's thoughts, and mine:

1.) Cut 15 to 20 minutes off the average time of a regular season game.

Yes, absolutely. While there are days -- warm, breezy, 68-degree Saturdays in May -- when I don't want the game to end. But there are nights -- frigid, 40-degree, windy April weeknights -- when the seventh-inning stretch at 9:20 p.m. has me longing for my couch and the remote.

2.) I've "timed" every facet of the game. Okay, I'm a nut. But I'm right. The average "mound visit" wastes 60 to 70 seconds. Ban 'em all. Middle-aged guys stay in the dugout. Mike up the pitcher and a coach. Talk all you want. Use a crackberry. But no visits.

I'm OK with this. Tennis coaches aren't allowed to talk with their players during matches. Let the pitchers work it out themselves. A compromise might be to limit teams' timeouts. Seriously -- they get unlimited chances to ask the ump for time so that anyone can go to the mound -- catcher, third baseman, pitching coach, manager, batboy. Give them -- what else? -- three per game, since three is natural to baseball. And time them, with an actual clock on the scoreboard visible to fans. None of this leaving it to the umpire to take a slow walk to the mound, get there, and then give the coach another 12 seconds to finish his sentence. On a timeout, the umpire walks to the mound with the catcher and stands there watching the clock on the scoreboard. When it reaches five seconds, the umpire tells the coach his time is up. If he has not taken a step toward the dugout by the time it hits zero, it's an automatic ejection.

3.) Putting a clock on mid-inning pitching changes is a must. If it only takes 150 seconds between innings, there's no excuse why "waving for the left-hander" should burn more than three minutes.

Another use for the clock. Put one behind the plate, too, so that the reliever sees how much time he has left to "get loose" -- the quotation marks are needed because he just came in from the bullpen, where he was already getting loose!

4.) Sorry about "God Bless America" at the seventh-inning stretch, but it needs to go. It was a fine idea after 9/11. But it has served its purpose. And it wastes two minutes.

Agreed. Play it before the game, with the national anthem, if you want it in your ballpark.

5.) Yes, of course, wave the hitter to first on an intentional walk.

I know, right? I'm trying to think of an equivalent in another major sport, but I'm unable to at the moment. Maybe the caution flag in auto racing, because "play" continues as the cars circle the track, and if the caution isn't cleared by the time the race is over, whoever leads at that time wins the race. In baseball, I don't think anything is lost competitively in removing these four intentional pitches from the game. Plus, pitch counts would not include them, and pitchers' stats wouldn't include intentional walks allowed. I know teams usually don't count such pitches in their internal count -- or don't weigh them the same -- and there are stats pages that will include a second column for intentional bases on balls, so at least you can subtract them from the total walks. I'd think the players' association would go for this, too, because pitchers would benefit by having fewer walks charged to them. Hitters could still get them listed in their stats. Slightly confusing, I know, but so is the NFL's rule for yards lost on a sack.

6.) A huge time saver, since every relief pitching change eats about four minutes, would be curtailing the plague of relief specialists who now face only one hitter. This isn't "core" to baseball. It evolved. Then metastasized. Change the rules. A relief pitcher must face two hitters. The effect: more offense, and better pace of play, in late innings.

I do like this. It would bring a different type of strategy to the game. And since teams can't sell beer after the seventh and food sales drop off late in the game anyway (there are always stands closing before the final out), those breaks aren't as big, financially.

7.) Stop the insanity: Don't award home field in the World Series on the results of the all-star game. At least go by "better record." The history of the all-star game is a series of long 15- to 20-year streaks of dominance by one league. The last thing any sport needs is an arrangement that reinforces the imbalance between leagues or conferences. You want to hide it.

Yes, yes, a thousand times, YES! Good point about hiding the imbalance between leagues; I hadn't heard that argument before, and it's a valid one. Not necessarily the strongest one (I believe that would be why are you letting an exhibition game play a part in deciding how your championship is won?), but still a good one. And for those who say better record isn't an equal barometer because of the different leagues, well, the Wild Card isn't fair, either, because of the unbalanced schedule. Teams in the AL Central and West tend to have an easier schedule than the Rays, Blue Jays or Orioles, who have to play about 36 games against the Red Sox and Yankees. If Roy Halladay were a Twin, they might not have needed to trade him, because his reason for wanting out was that he wants to win, not that he wanted to get paid. The Twins have been able to win, but if they were in the AL East, they wouldn't have nearly as many postseason appearances this decade.

8.) Make sure no game is ever scheduled for November again.

Amen. November is for football. Boswell mentions the World Baseball Classic's role in this, and a solution might be to schedule it for mid-July. (If I find the Jayson Stark proposal -- I believe it was him -- where I first saw this, I'll include it.) Do what the NHL does when they don't hold an all-star game in seasons, like this one, when the Winter Olympics are held. In Classic years, skip the All-Star Game and put the season on hold for a little longer. Play the Classic then, when player are already in midseason form.

9.) What will never happen is cutting the 162-game schedule. "That idea gets zero votes" from owners, Selig said. Lost games mean lots of lost revenue. Is there a compromise? Could every team schedule one doubleheader per month -- a day-night, split-gate affair?

Don't cut the schedule, but don't insult the fans by allowing for six doubleheader dates (one per month) and have all of them be day-night, split-admission affairs. I'll acknowledge that six traditional doubleheaders is an unreasonable request, too, so how about three and three? Teams can choose the opponents (Pirates? Royals?) and dates, but there must be three traditional twin bills with 30 minutes between games and three day-night doubleheaders on the home schedule. MLB may have to regulate it somehow, though, so that one team isn't playing doubleheaders on consecutive weekends at the end of May and beginning of June, for example. But are teams really benefiting by having two April weekend dates against the Pirates that bring in 15,000 fans each day for about two hours (because they might leave early in boring game) instead of a traditional twin bill on a Saturday that might draw 20,000 or 25,000 for four hours?

10.) Finally, hanging in the air after so many umpiring mistakes in this postseason is the issue of instant replay. As long as Selig is boss, don't expect to see much more of it in the regular season than currently exists. Over 162 games, most baseball people believe the proper attitude is, "It all evens out. Live with it."

However, more use of replay in the postseason appears to be an open subject. Modern fans are driven nutty by the idea of a pennant being decided by an incorrect umpire call that millions of TV viewers realize is incorrect within a minute. Selig gets that.

I found this one the most interesting, because it would mean that baseball has one set of rules for the regular season and another for the postseason. I'm not sure I like that, but I do understand the reasoning behind it. However, while postseason mistakes are highlighted because of the games' importance and the national broadcasts, regular-season mistakes can get national recognition with so many outlets to spread the word: "SportsCenter," "Baseball Tonight," MLB Network, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and blogs. And for teams that win or lose a division or Wild Card by one game, that one win or loss decided by a blown call won't soon be forgotten.

Another compromise might be worth adding here. If replay is expanded in the regular season and visits to the mound are outlawed, maybe a solution to attempt to keep the time of games reasonable is to allow coaches or managers to talk with pitchers during replay review periods. After all, hitters are already allowed to step toward the dugout or meet with the third-base coach to get instruction, why not allow coaches and pitchers to meet at the baseline near the dugout. (Keeping pitchers on the field of play would be a rule to help maintain some order and pacing.)

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The Santa Curse

It happened to Tim Allen's "career," too, but it seems that playing Santa has its drawbacks, as noted in the New York Times:

Jeff Francoeur played Santa Claus at the Christmas party, a role that has often come with its share of misfortune the following season. In 2004, Mike Cameron played Santa, then had a serious outfield collision with Carlos Beltran the following August that put him on the disabled list for the remainder of the season. In 2005, Kris Benson was Santa and was then traded to the Orioles a month after the party. It is believed his wife Anna’s provocative attire at the party contributed to the trade. In 2007, John Maine was Santa and had an injury-plagued season, and last year it was Mike Pelfrey, who struggled in 2009.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Keep an eye on those Red Sox

When the trade that would send Mike Lowell from the Red Sox to the Rangers came to light, one of my coworkers -- a big-time Yankee fan -- rejoiced. "They're going to get Adrian Beltre," he said with a dismissive laugh. "Enjoy that, suckers."

But then I teased him.

"You'll be sorry when they move Kevin Youkilis to third and trade for Adrian Gonzalez," I said.

"Never happen," was his reply.

Not so fast. It could happen. But it might not. At least not yet. It remains to be seen.

And though Lowell has yet to actually be traded, Beltre might not be the target after all

I'm just sayin' -- the Red Sox already brought in John Lackey, this year's CC Sabathia (as the top free-agent pitcher available), and though they won't be getting the top hitter on the market (Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, whichever you prefer), if they get Gonzalez, they may essentially have the kind of offseason the Yankees had last winter.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On Halladay, blue caps and Jose

Count me among those who doesn't think the acquisition of Roy Halladay makes the Phillies that much better. For 2010, at least. They essentially swapped out Cliff Lee for Halladay at the front of their rotation. They went from a lefty to a righty, from one who proved he could do it in that ballpark and in the postseason to one who has yet to prove either. They gave up a pretty durable guy to one who has had some issues in his career -- but one who has also had a more dominating career, and been among the game's best pitchers for some time now. But having Halladay beyond 2010 is certainly significant.

And, I'm sorry, but I just can't kill the Mets for not getting Halladay. They didn't have the pieces, especially after adding Johan Santana. Now, of course, the farm system is a problem, and they need to hire a strong architect to get it up to be among baseball's best. And even the Phillies couldn't do it after getting Lee last year -- without trading Lee as well. So, in the end, to get Halladay, the Phillies gave up three of their top four in the year-end prospect rankings done by Baseball America -- after giving up three of their top four and four of their top 10 prospects at the time to get Lee. So between the start of the 2009 season and the end of the year, Philly dealt away seven top prospects for Halladay. Sure, Lee may have put them over the hump into the World Series, but everyone considered them a strong contender for the NL pennant before they got Lee. Adding him may have just made it easier to get there -- and to avoid a sweep by the Yankees. Had they just given the Blue Jays what they wanted for Halladay in July, they may have made out better, at least in terms of not giving up as much.

What really gets me is that the Blue Jays have to send any money to the Phillies. What the hell is that? The small-market team is giving the big-market team the cash? The are not hurting for revenue, setting a club record for sellouts in 2009 and clearly not bowing out of the pennant race anytime soon. And then the Phillies go and sign him to a $20M per year extension? So they can pay him $2o million in 2011, '12 and '13, but not $16 million in 2010? How so?

And also count me in the Blue Cap Army. I was always a member, even before it had a name or a movement. Here's hoping it picks up steam in the months leading to Opening Day.

I love what Jose Reyes had to say on WFAN, especially the part about other teams taking offense to his celebrations on the field -- because those teams, players, executives, managers are all full of crap. They're hypocrites, because they or their players do it too. I've seen Hanley Ramirez whoop it up pulling into second base on an RBI double in the sixth inning even if the run didn't change the score or significantly close/open the gap. And Shane Victorino is worse than Reyes. Don't get me wrong -- I don't think Victorino should stop, and fans of opposing teams can and should take offense. But the fans can complain without being hypocritical, because we're not the ones who make a point to clap demonstratively on an infield single.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Final evaluation of the 2004 Beltran blockbuster

It has been 5 1/2 years since the Royals traded Carlos Beltran to the Astros in a three-team deal also involving the Oakland A's. Houston, of course, only had Beltran through the 2004 postseason (that amazing eight homer, 14-RBI, .400+ postseason) before he signed with the Mets. The A's got Octavio Dotel in the deal and used him to save 22 of the 45 games he pitched the rest of the way in 2004, but only got 15 games from in 2005 before he had Tommy John surgery. The following offseason, he signed with the Yankees.

And for dealing Beltran, the Royals got right-hander Mike Wood and third baseman Mark Teahen from the A's and catcher John Buck from the Astros. Wood went 11-19 with the Royals through 2006, then signed with the Rangers. After pitching in 21 games for Texas in '07, he's spent the rest of his time on the Rangers' and Marlins' Triple-A clubs. Teahen averaged 14 homers, 70 RBIs and a .749 OPS in his five seasons with the Royals before they traded him last month to the White Sox for Chris Getz and Josh Fields.

Now K.C. has lost the last remaining player from that deal after non-tendering John Buck last night (in favor of new backstop Jason Kendall, who signed a two-year deal) and watching him agree to a deal with the Blue Jays.

So despite having their haul from the deal for the shortest time, the Astros probably made out the best, nearly reaching the World Series with Beltran in 2004 (and perhaps building the momentum or belief for their run to the Fall Classic in 2005). The A's finished second in 2004 and 2005, the only years they had Dotel, but won the AL West in 2006. And the Royals never won more than 75 games or finished higher than fourth in the AL Central with the players the got in return for Beltran.

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