Archive for the ‘White Elephants’ Category

Buying And Selling

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

While Nats bloggers have been going back-and forth about whether the team needs another bat or another arm, Mike Rizzo seems to have made up his mind. They need both. Yeah, okay — that’s the right answer. But if Rizzo was pressed (and trade bait was short), what do you think he’d really want? Given John Lannan’s continued troubles and the uncertainty surrounding the return of any number of potential starters, the answer should be obvious: not only can you can always play Roger Bernadina in right field, but you absolutely need to; we’re never going to find out whether this kid can hit unless we put him in the line-up every day. Which means that the Nats should be looking for a pitcher to supplement their front (and only) two hurlers — Stephen Strasburg and Livan Hernandez. Let’s be honest. You never know what you’re going to get with Atilano and Martin, Olsen is just too tweaky too often to be counted as a stalwart, pitching messiah Jordan Zimmermann is a ways away from rehabbing and Ross Detwiler is still an unknown. That leaves Chien-Ming Wang (who won’t be here until July) and Jason Marquis — who has yet to show the team anything. So . . .

So who’s out there?

There’s Cliff Lee, who will be available once the cratering Navigators figure out that doling out $91 million in salaries for a last place team isn’t going to cut it. Lee is in the last months of a four year deal, and the Nats would have to look to sign him longer term, but our guess is that the Mariners will happily take good prospects for him — including Triple-A pitchers and Double-A position players that have a future. The Nats have either, and both. In exchange, the Nats would get a veteran fastball pitcher who could mentor Strasburg and an absolutely lights out number two starter (number one anywhere else), who can rack up some badly needed wins. The folks in Seattle say they won’t part with Lee without getting a big time power hitter in return, but that sounds like wishful thinking. Lee isn’t going to stay in Seattle after this year, especially to anchor what promises to be a development team of young prospects and remaining big contracts. It’s an ugly but pertinent truth: the Mariners will take prospects — or they can keep Lee and try to catch the fast disappearing Belinskys, White Elephants and Whatchamacallits. They’ll make the trade — maybe Mike will too.

Then there’s Roy Oswalt, but his contract is a nightmare: just over $9 million over the rest of this season, $16 million in 2011, and $16 million in 2012 with a club option buyout of $2 million. The Nats say they have money to up their salary ceiling, but Oswalt’s price might be a little high — particularly if (as expected), the Nats would have to pick up most if not all of the salary and throw in prospects. Bottom line: he won’t be cheap. But then, there’s always Jake Peavy. Don’t laugh: the former Friar has struggled with the Pale Hose and it appears he’s losing patience with wheeling-and-dealing Kenny Williams and the perpetually enraged Ozzie the G. He recently told a reporter that he would rather be traded than go through a rebuilding process in Chicago. Translation? “Get me the hell out of here.”

It’s hard to blame him: Peavy was a part of a rebuilding process in San Diego — and the team only started to rebuild when he left. Then too, the ChiSox probably look at the Peavy trade with some remorse; they dealt prospects to San Diego, one of whom (Clayton Richard) has turned into a front line pitcher — 4-3, 2.71 ERA. That’s a damn sight better than Peavy (5-5, 5.62 ERA). Ugh. The White Sox might try the same magic, trading Peavy for pitching prospects in the hopes of striking gold. The Nats could help. Of course, Peavy sports a huge contract ($52 million, three years), a teensy bit bigger than Oswalt’s which (for paperclip counter Mark Lerner) is always a problem. But in the end (and if you carefully weigh this out), the Nats could find a rental (like Lee) for some front line prospects or they could take the longer view (which is probably what Rizzo wants) and pony up some prospects and some cash. In either case, while none of these pitchers are going to come cheap, bringing any one of them aboard right now (or in the very near future) will probably mean the difference between a club that will continue its slow-but-certain downward spiral and one that might be able to contend — and fill the seats.

Nats, Marquis Fall Again To Phils

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Jason Marquis couldn’t find the strike zone in his first regular season outing, and when he did the Phillies took full advantage. The Phillies chased the free agent righthander after just four innings and went on to an easy 8-4 victory over the Nats. The Nationals have now begun their season 0-2, and probably can’t wait to for the Phillies to leave town. “The whole Phillies lineup is dangerous, but they all can be pitched to,” Marquis said after the game. “They have holes in their swing, you just have to make pitches against this lineup. There is no letup. I wasn’t able to make as many pitches as I wanted to.” What Marquis meant was: I wasn’t able to make as many good pitches as I wanted to. There’s no desperation just yet (heck, it’s only the second game of the season), but to hold their home fans, the Nats cannot afford another 0-7 start — and are growing anxious to notch their first win.(Well, I suppose if it gets really bad, Stan could bus in some people from Phillie or New York.)

If there’s good news, it’s that shortstop newbie Ian Desmond is hitting the ball — if inconsistently. The rookie stroked a beautiful line-drive home run into straight away center field and a double down the left field line. But the good news is more than balanced by the bad: Desmond notched three strike outs (one looking). The kid can hit fastballs (hell, I can hit fastballs), but he needs a tune-up on anything moving over the plate. The other piece of good news is that Josh Willingham seems in mid-season form: he was 3-5 last night with a walk and he looks tough at the plate. Willingham is hitting .571 to start the season. For Nats fans, the post-game was nearly as interesting as watching Cole Hamels (who wasn’t sharp) wrack up his first win. Callers to the “Nats Talk Live” post game show on WFED were in their football mode, telling Phil Wood that it was time to “blow up the team” and “send a message” to guys like Marquis and reliever Matt Capps. “I don’t buy this ‘the season is 162 games and there’s a long way to go,'” an angry caller told Wood. “We need to do something now.” Yeah, like what? It’s not like the Nats can trade a couple of draft picks for a celebrated slinger, then hold a reassuring press conference to sooth their fans. This isn’t that game.

It’ll be okay. The Nats head to New York to face the already-struggling Mets this weekend and there’s no reason to panic. The team that’s on the field at Nats Park (that is, the home team, not the Phillies) is galactically better than last year’s edition: Adam Kennedy and Pudge Rodriguez will make a significant difference, the Nats are finally playing their young players, and the bullpen is not nearly as shaky as it was a year ago (Matt Capps threw well last night, and would have been out of the ninth if it weren’t for an Ian Desmond error). It’s only a matter of time before Lannan and Marquis hit their stride and the quartet of Zimmerman, Dunn, Willingham and Rodriguez put some numbers on the board. Which is to say: the season is 162 games and there’s a long way to go.

In The Land of the White Elephants: The modern version of the double header is to leave Nats Park right after the game (at about 10:45) and arrive at home in time to watch MLB Network’s west coast feed. Without extra innings or fireworks, it’s possible — and rewarding. Then too, you can flip between the west coast game and the thirty minute version of Baseball Tonight and, if the semi-goofy Bobby Valentine isn’t the featured BBT analyst, the games and comments are as entertaining as anything on television (maybe that’s not saying much). Even so, last night’s Navigators vs. White Elephants tilt was a barnburner, a classic match-up between two teams that don’t like each other even a little bit. This is the west coast version of the Boston-New York rivalry and, when the A’s are good (which they’re not, not really) it’s something to see.

While BBT’s on-set announcers go on (and on) about how crucial the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is to the future of humanity, the A’s versus Mariners games have been as entertaining. The two have played two walk-off last-at-bat games in as many nights, with last night’s 5-4 bottom-of-the-ninth victory a model of west coast junior circuit baseball. The hero was Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, who came up to face Seattle fireballer Mark Lowe with newly acquired Kevin Kouzmanoff (who, honest, played like Brooks Robinson) on first. Suzuki promptly lofted a Lowe fast ball into the left field darkness which, for all the world, looked like it would clear the fence. As Suzuki did his Carlton Fisk routine down the first base line and Seattle outfielder Milton Bradley maneuvered vainly to snag a circus catch, Kouzmanoff (head down) circled the bases for the winning run. Suzuki’s shot hit just above Bradley’s glove and the celebration was on. I swear: even with the ninth inning meltdown of the emotionally impaired Jonathan Papelbon in Boston (it came against the Yankees, after all), the A’s dunking of the Navs in Oakland was the most entertaining game of the night.

Purple Reign

Monday, July 6th, 2009

The Colorado Rockies are one of baseball’s classically underestimated teams — deceptively streaky with a strong starting pitching staff and over-muscled outfielders, the Rockies traditionally start slow but then build momentum to seasons’ end. To say they’re streaky is only to state the obvious: the 2007 version of the Rockies rode an improbable late-season streak, winning 21 of 22 games, into the post-season before being swept by “the Nation.” The Rockies’ 2007 run to the World Series marked a transformation for the team — from the big bopper Todd HeltonLarry Walker era of the late 1990s, to a team with a more balanced and younger offense. This core group of hitters (still led by the apparently tireless Helton) is complimented by a cadre of hardthrowing and youthful arms. Helton is still the franchise’s most noted player (and perhaps their first Hall of Famer), but his reputation has been eclipsed somewhat (and even in Denver) by oft-injured but slick-fielding shortstop Troy Tulowitzski, young masher and all star Brad Hawpe, block of granite catcher Yorvit Torrealba (just off the DL — and rumored to be headed elsewhere) and Rocky Mountain handyman Ian Stewart.


If Tulowitzski & Co. are the new faces of a franchise that boasts of being the only major league team that reigns supreme “between Kansas City and the coast,” then the Rockies’ pitching staff is the team’s heart. The Cinderella story for this year is Rockies’ reclamation project Jason Marquis, who has landed a spot on the all star team and has proven a fitting replacement for under-the-knife Jeff Francis. The pitching staff is the team’s strength: Aaron Cook is prima inter pares, but Ubaldo Jimenez is clearly the team’s emerging ace — he carried a no-hitter into yesterday’s match-up against the hated D-Backs before losing out to Arizona ace Dan Haren. His arm might be made of tungsten, in his last complete game he threw 130 pitches.

In spite of the team’s recent run of wins — and their sudden appearance in the rearview mirror of the Los Angeles Dodgers — the Rockies’ front office, and particularly GM Dan O’Dowd are under pressure to produce. In the wake of the 2007 success and this year’s slow start, the Rockies fired long-time manager Clint Hurdle (who was a near institution in Denver), replacing him with Jim Tracy. Tracy has reportedly reconnected with the players, but that might not be enough. O’Dowd is having difficulty living within a budget of his own making (non-producing Garrett Atkins is making $7 million, injured Jeff Francis $13.25), and searching for ways to transform a series of moving parts into a team that can catch both the Giants and Dodgers. The Rockies have been searching for a reliever for weeks, but have been unable to put together a deal that would send Garrett Atkins packing (perhaps to the Red Sox) or land someone of the quality of D-Backs innings eater Chad Qualls or Astros set-up man LeTroy Hawkins, whom they covet.

All of this sounds a bit panicky. O’Dowd has never hesitated to pull the trigger when necessary. He traded long-time pricey Colorado outfielder Matt Holiday (and his $23 million two year deal) to the A’s for closer Huston Street . The A’s added  outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and lefty pitcher Greg Smith (currently in triple-A) to the deal. Street arrived in Denver to high expectations and he hasn’t let anyone down. He has been one of the most effective closers in the majors: posting 19 saves in 20 save opportunities. O’Dowd has also shown that he has an eye for talent — the Rockies have one of the best young outfield prospects in the game in fleet-footed Dexter Fowler (a larger version of Nyjer Morgan) and an inexpensive Holliday semi-replacement in Seth Smith, a former ‘Ol Miss prospect who is hitting with surprising power.

The Rockies are not “the team to beat in the NL West” — that would be the Dodgers — but they are not the slow-starters of eight weeks ago; and they have shown they are capable of putting together a run that could press both the Trolleys and McCoveys. If Tulowitzki can stay healthy and if, somehow, they can find another arm either for the bullpen or (even) for their starting rotation (I would rather eat shards of broken glass than watch Jorge De La Rosa pitch), they could sneak their way into the post-season. It’s happened before.

Steve McCatty and White Elephants

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

My friend and sometime CFG contributor DWilly (here he is) stood to applaud that Nats last night as the team high-fived each other after beating the Giants. “So that’s it for June,” he said. The comment was a corrective to the action on the field and in the stands, where the Nats win was greeted as confirmation that not only is anything possible, but evidence that the Nats can reel-off as impressive a streak in wins just as easily as they can reel-off losses. After all, the Nats had not only beaten the Giants, they had sullied the growing legend of Tim Lincecum: that the righthander just might be invincible. Last night he wasn’t.


The win came after a day of otherwise disheartening news: that Jesus Flores might be done for the season and that Randy St. Claire was being given his walking papers. The news on Flores was a blow to the Nats, who realize that they will now have to rely on the punchless bats of Josh Bard and Wil Nieves, while the St. Claire announcement seemed nominal evidence that the baseball adage (“you can’t fire the players”) just happens to be true. Commentators wondered how it was that St. Claire could be blamed for the performance of an underage and underdeveloped pitching staff. Then too, the challenges faced by St. Claire won’t change simply because his replacement, former Oakland A’s ace Steve McCatty, has taken his place.

Frank Rizzo said the reason that St. Claire was fired was because the pitching staff was not performing — a fairly predictable response. But Rizzo didn’t fully explain the hiring of Triple-A pitching coach McCatty to take St. Claire’s place. Presumably, he didn’t feel he had to: McCatty can coach young pitchers because he once was one himself. Well, maybe … but in truth, McCatty’s career was meteoric: it burned bright for a short if brilliant time, before sputtering out.

MLB Network’s tag-team of Reynolds and “Migraine” went into this a little bit last night, but it bears repeating. Oakland’s front office is notorious for developing good pitching, at the cost of suffering through fallow years with young arms that bring nothing but heartaches. The pay-off can be huge: once the arms develop, championships follow. The template is simple enough — get as much pitching as you can and let the best rise tot he top. The resulting “triumverate” can carry a team for years and perhaps even bring championships.
Steve McCatty was a part of the “second triumverate” of Oakland A’s pitchers that included Rick Langford and Mike Norris. This second triumverate was supposed to be a kind of rebirth of the first triumverate that had dominated the major leagues in the early 1970s. That first powerhouse included Catfish Hunter, Ken Holtzman and Blue Moon Odom. As fate, or talent, would have it, McCatty, Langford and Norris were as forgettable as the Hunter, Holtzman and Odom (and Vida Blue) were memorable. They brought success to Oakland, but that was about it. After seven years (or so), the A’s went back to the drawing board and replaced this second triumverate with a far more talented (and successful) “third triumverate” — of Dave Stewart, Bob Welch and Mike Moore (with Dennis Eckersley as the closer). From 1987 to 1990, Stewart was dominating — winning 20,21,21, and 22 games. Bob Welch, his SP mate, was hardly an amateur: he was 27-6 in 1990.
Langford, McCatty and Norris -- Oakland's Third Triumverate

Langford, McCatty and Norris -- Oakland's Second Triumverate

The White Elephants not only develop front-line pitchers, they know when to get rid of them – using their starters as effectively as possible for as long as possible before trading them off for younger fireballers who then become the next triumverate. As Stewart, Welch and Moore formed a third triumverate, their replacements (Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito) formed a fourth. At the height of their power (not their pitching power, their earning power) Mulder, Hudson and Zito were let go or shipped out for young prospects, who now comprise an emerging fifth triumverate, one of whom (Vin Mazzaro) was on display last night. This new threesome is young and untested, but the potential is startling: Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Vin Mazzaro might not return Oakland to the days of Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue, but they’re as powerful a set of young arms as there is in major league baseball.

Steve McCatty is a part of this tradition and a believer in the Billy Beane template: draft pitchers, sign pitchers, test pitchers and pick the three best. And don’t stick with them forever. And just when they’re about to ask for 16 big ones over seven years, let them slip slowly away Zito-like, to teams outside of your own league — and preferably to the hated McCoveys.

Steve McCatty has been a part of that, has seen it, and knows the model. He gets it. There’s only one other question we need to answer: can he coach?