Four of MLB’s preseason favorites are duds
Maybe we’ve all gotten really bad at predicting baseball races, because there’s no rhyme or reason to some of the things we’re seeing.
Heading into the weekend, four preseason favorites, the Angels, Blue Jays, Dodgers, and Nationals, were all under .500, with a combined record of 106-131. You can see one team not living up to expectations, but four?
Is it as simple as All-Star teams don’t work in baseball? If you say that, you have to see the flip side; the Yankees won the 2009 World Series with essentially an All-Star team. So, if they can do it, why can’t the Blue Jays after they shipped out what seemed like half their farm system to acquire top-of-the-line players? At the time, not many argued with what they did. For years, they had accumulated top draft picks and developed pretty good young players. It really did them no good.
So, general manager Alex Anthopoulos stuck his neck out and dealt for National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets, and Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Emilio Bonifacio from the Marlins. What did Anthopoulos do wrong? Nothing, really. He gave up top young talent for All-Stars.
Didn’t work, but I give him credit for going for it. You accumulate draft picks and good minor league talent to keep or to trade it for established players.
If you’re the Blue Jays and all you’ve been associated with is fourth place and you’re losing your fan base, what else can you do but go for it?
What’s happening in Toronto is a nightmare. People in the organization have no idea if Anthopoulos is going to cut bait or stay the course.
Meanwhile, the Angels went out and signed Josh Hamilton to a very good deal for a superstar (five years, $125 million). Bad move at the time? Of course not. The Red Sox and a lot of teams stayed away because of Hamilton’s baggage concerning past drug use. The decision so far worked out well for those teams, and horribly for the Angels.
Hamilton has been nowhere near the player he was in Texas, hovering around the low .220s all season. He claims to have an equilibrium problem that has led to unsteadiness at the plate. Legitimate, but a tough one to explain to fans.
Manager Mike Scioscia didn’t get dumb overnight. He’s the same manager he’s always been, but underperforming players and pitchers have done in the Angels. To add insult to injury, the Angels recently suffered a four-game sweep to the Astros, baseball’s worst team, after showing some signs of life.
The Dodgers have been as puzzling. They used eight starting pitchers by April 24, which is a legitimate excuse for a poor start, but their All-Star team soon fell apart. Matt Kemp hasn’t been very good, and then got hurt. Andre Ethier has been disappointing, and at one point was benched. Carl Crawford went on the disabled list after a promising start.
The great hope for the Dodgers is Yasiel Puig, a 22-year-old Cuban rookie outfielder who has taken LA by storm. In his first five games, he was 8 for 19 with a double and four home runs. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Puig is the second player in modern history (since 1900) with four homers in his first five games.
If the Blue Jays weren’t the best team on paper, then the Nationals were. They haven’t fallen off the map, but they’ve been mediocre. Perhaps there is a run in them, and that wouldn’t be surprising, but what always comes up is that they decided to shut down Stephen Strasburg late last season. As one NL executive said, “When you have the chance to go for it in the postseason, it’s a tough decision to make because you may never get back.”
The Nationals certainly believe that with a core of Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, and Ian Desmond, they have enough to get back over and over. As an organization, you have to feel that way. But when things aren’t working out, you wonder if you made the right decision.
Now, Harper and Strasburg are on the DL.
“It has nothing to do with trying something different,” GM Mike Rizzo insisted. “It’s putting the best 25 out there at this particular time to help us win baseball games.”
So, the Blue Jays have to decide if they’re in sell mode, because if they are they have pieces that would bring a good haul of younger players and perhaps reverse what they did in the offseason. Just not sure they want to do that. The Dodgers could also sell off some players, such as Ethier, while retaining some of their better players and building around them. The Nationals merely have to stay the course, and hope their injured players come back and perform at their levels. The Angels seem to be stuck with Hamilton and Albert Pujols. Who would have said that three years ago? It seems that the Jays have the toughest call.
Apropos of nothing
1. David Ross revealed that the Rays, Yankees, and Rangers each made him two offers, and that the Pirates would have signed him if they had not landed Russell Martin. Ross said he felt the Red Sox wanted him most, though the Rays made a very competitive offer. The Yankees were also waiting on whether Martin would re-sign, and missed the boat. Ross also said the Braves came in with an offer, but by that time it was too late.
2. Trying to trace back to when backup catcher stopped warming up relievers in the bullpen. Now teams employ bullpen catchers. The Red Sox have two. It used to be that Bob Montgomery would trot out to the pen to warm up pitchers. Jason Varitek used to do it once in a while, as well.
3. Speaking of bullpens, Red Sox bullpen coach Dana LeVangie doesn’t get enough credit for the job he’s done getting relievers ready to come into games.
4. One of the great aberrations this year is that the Tigers have 15 losses in quality starts. Think about that. This is a team with one of the best offenses in baseball. As of Friday, they held a 2½-game lead over the Indians. If they had won, say, five of those games, they’d have a 7½-game lead.
5. Those who have seen the Red Sox’ first-round pick last year, shortstop Deven Marrero, play consistently think he’s a very good all-around player who will be a very good big league player. But, as one American League scout put it, “He’s not [Jose] Iglesias defensively. Nobody is.” Iglesias entered Saturday hitting .435/.486/.581. It’s 19 games, but the sample size is growing. He’s starting to prove he can be a major league hitter to go along with off-the-charts ability at short. He’s also played a great third base in the absence of Will Middlebrooks, currently rehabbing at Pawtucket after a DL stint because of back spasms. Iglesias creates a compelling case by the day to unseat Stephen Drew, but I doubt the Red Sox will do it. Drew is here for a year at $9.5 million.
Clifton can predict union’s strategy
Gregg Clifton, a sports law attorney and longtime player agent, thinks that while Tony Bosch may have a credibility issue that will certainly be challenged in appeals by players who may receive suspensions as a result of their association with the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic, the records Bosch kept will likely not be challenged.
Roger Clemens certainly benefited by his defense team discrediting Brian McNamee in his perjury trial, where he was found not guilty. This, of course, is not a court, but Bud Selig has the power to punish based on evidence.
Clifton believes MLB investigators will try to get corroboration of the records kept by Bosch through his employees, as well as Juan Carlos Nunez, an employee of agents the Levinson brothers who may have been involved in some of the dealings between the players and the clinic. Investigators want enough evidence so everything doesn’t come directly from Bosch.
“If you have four people pretty much corroborating the records or confirming that a player had a certain code number, that’s pretty hard to attack,” Clifton said.
Clifton said part of the union’s strategy in the appeal process would be to attack Bosch’s credibility, especially if allegations that he tried to extort hundreds or thousands of dollars from the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez are accurate.
Clifton also said it will be difficult for any of the accused players to take this to a court, because “first of all the joint drug prevention program empowers the commissioner. The only thing the individual clubs can do is prove that the player was unable to play because of an injury as a result of the drug use.”
Clifton said it will be hard for teams to void contracts. There could be a technicality, such as Rodriguez going to Bosch without notifying the team, but that’s hard to prove. The Yankees or Brewers could claim fraud on Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, respectively, that they lied about steroid use, but that’s also tough to prove.
Updates on 9
1. Bud Norris, RHP, Astros — Quickly moving into the No. 1 spot of pitchers who might be moved now that the draft is over and GMs can concentrate on such things. Norris is 5-5 with a 3.43 ERA on a lousy team. He’s a competitive guy who hates playing for a loser. One concern among talent evaluators is coming out of a noncompetitive situation into a competitive one. The Pirates, who were scouting the periphery of the pitching market, would now have to be interested in a guy who pitched in their division. Another former Astro, Wandy Rodriguez, has gone to the disabled list for the Pirates.
2. Jhonny Peralta, SS, Tigers — Peralta is one of the players named in the Biogenesis scandal, so if he has to serve a 50-game suspension, what will the Tigers do? They could turn to Ramon Santiago, but he’s only hit .138 since last year’s All-Star break. An AL official threw out the name of Stephen Drew, but it would appear the Red Sox would be reluctant to trade with possible playoff competition. There aren’t a lot of available middle infielders, particularly shortstops. Peralta, who will be a free agent, also is tough to replace offensively.
3. Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres — Same boat as Peralta. His name appears on the Biogenesis list, and he could be up for a 50-game suspension. The Padres don’t have much to crow about this season, and Cabrera is their top player, leading the major leagues with 25 steals after leading the NL with 44 in 2012. Catcher Yasmani Grandal is also on the Biogenesis list, but he’s already served 50 games for testing positive for testosterone. The Padres would have to turn to Logan Forsythe, who is concluding his rehab assignment after a foot injury.
4. Roy Oswalt, RHP, Rockies — Oswalt has made four starts in the minors (2-1, 3.50 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 18 innings). His last of five starts before his June 16 opt-out is June 14. It would appear based on how he’s throwing that the Rockies would retain him.
5. Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers — Teams are internally starting to discuss Ethier’s availability, while a couple have already called the Dodgers. The answer would appear to be yes, he is available. There’s no doubt the Red Sox have mulled it, but with Daniel Nava hitting well, Shane Victorino about to return, and Jonny Gomes starting to heat up, there doesn’t appear to be a need. Ethier is a good friend of Dustin Pedroia, and there’s a good chance Pedroia could motivate him and get him out of his malaise. But it’s not a chance the Red Sox want to take at this juncture.
6. David Price, LHP, Rays — As it grows more obvious that Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) is bringing down the Rays’ pitching staff, Price remains recovering from the triceps strain he suffered against the Red Sox last month. At the time, it was thought Price would need to miss two or three starts, but it’s about to be four. The Rays say Price is making progress, but things are going slowly.
7. Jake Peavy, RHP, White Sox — Peavy’s ribcage injury was a huge blow to the White Sox, who probably would have used him as a trade chip had he remained healthy. It’s a six-week injury, though as we’ve seen with Jacoby Ellsbury, it could be longer. Even if Peavy is ready to go by the deadline, it’s risky to make a move unless he’s shown he’s healthy. White Sox pitchers have publicly stated they don’t want Peavy to go anywhere because he’s the leader of their staff.
8. Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers — Martinez had been one of the last Tigers to come around at the plate, but he’s finally starting to get his timing back after missing last season with a reconstructed knee. “He could be a force in that lineup that makes the difference for them,” said one AL scout. “Everyone thought he’d have more impact. It hasn’t happened, but you see signs where he’s starting to make more consistent contact.”
9. Derek Lowe, RHP, free agent — It appears Lowe has hung it up, telling this reporter he told agent Scott Boras not to seek work for him. Lowe pitched 17 years in the majors, and was a big part of the Red Sox’ 2004 championship, pitching three clinching games in the postseason. He was 176-157, and had 10 seasons of 30 or more starts, when he wasn’t a reliever accumulating 86 saves. He was cut by the Rangers last month after going 1-0 with a 9.00 ERA in nine relief appearances.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Adrian Gonzalez has played in 617 winning games and 614 losing games in his career. He has a .995 OPS in winning games and .755 in losses.” Also, “The 3-4-5 batters in the Royals’ lineup have produced eight homers combined this season.” . . . Happy birthday on Monday to Pokey Reese (40).