Buying High, Selling Low: The Boston/LA Story

This past weekend, a trade of Herschel Walker proportions took place in major league baseball. In one fell swoop, the Boston Red Sox unloaded their excess baggage, and the Los Angeles Dodgers picked it up at the baggage claim, showing baseball that they are serious about buying a World Series…I mean, trying to make the playoffs. So I thought I would take a look at this monumental trade and just what it means for the parties involved.

“I hated Boston too, Adrian…”

Adrian Gonzalez is the key to this trade for the Dodgers. They have coveted him for quite awhile, and finally they were able to bring him back to the California sun and drop him into the middle of their batting order. The pluses of having Gonzalez are many and widespread. For one, he is a California boy, born and raised. Bringing him back to Cali can only be a positive, as he loved his time in San Diego and the attitude there fits him better than the one in Boston. In Boston, the media is constantly scrutinizing everything that is done and everyone lives and die by what the Red Sox are doing. California is more laid back, with the joke always being that Dodgers fans wait until the third inning before they show up. Gonzalez’s attitude is more LA than Boston, so just in this regard it should be a plus. Add in stellar defense, and a potent bat in the middle of the order, and you have a guy who can help a team like the Dodgers go the distance. There really only seems two negatives to getting Gonzalez. One, a few scouts have mentioned that Gonzo’s bat speed seems to be slipping. Now, he is still a guy I would want in the middle of the batting order. But normally if bat speed starts to slip, it will never come back. The other negative is the contract he has. It is massive, and still has 5 years left on it. If he continues to slip offensively, those last few years of the contract could feel like an albatross around their neck. All in all, if Gonzalez is what they wanted, they could have done a hell of a lot worse.

“Beer and Chicken on me if we win.”

Josh Beckett might just seem like an addition to the trade, a contract to heave off for Boston. But in reality, it might be a shroud move by LA. Beckett was never going to get the Boston faithful back in his good graces, as he is now perceived by them as a guy who just wants to pitch every fifth day and not care about the team the rest of the time. Chicken, beer, and video games will do that to a guy. But I also feel Beckett is the type who could be angry about the move, and proceed to pitch like a guy with a chip on his shoulder. Add in his postseason experience, and this could be a coup for LA if they make the playoffs. Beckett still has it in him to be a pitcher who can carry a team on his back in the playoffs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened.

“He found out what Pesky’s Pole really means…”

When it comes to players who this trade benefits the most, Carl Crawford has my pick for ‘best in trade'( by the way, I see him as a labradoodle). Crawford, when healthy, is a game changer, as his speed disrupts pitchers and defenses alike. He also is a solid bat in the lineup, despite what his time in Boston has shown. If ever there was a guy who needed a change of scenario, it would be Crawford. He felt uncomfortable from the time he entered Yawkey Way, and add in a struggling bat and injuries, and you have a recipe for disaster. Even if he would have stayed, Crawford would have had a hard time showing the Boston fans what he can really do. Crawford just had the Tommy John surgery, so he won’t be back till early next season. But once he does come back, he will be part of a loaded outfield in LA. How does this sound: Left Field, Crawford. Center Field, Matt Kemp. Right Field, Andre Ethier. If healthy, very few balls would drop in that outfield, and offensively they could be a juggernaut. Crawford gets a new lease on life with this trade, and I can only imagine he will like the view at Chavez Ravine.

“I would take that same picture if I was a fan…Punto is a fan, right?”

Nick Punto. Well, I like him as a backup infielder. But lets be honest, he’s just along for the ride. He will always be referred to as ‘the other guy in that big trade’. I guess that is better than nothing. He is a good replacement for Jerry Hairston while he is out. But Punto is what Punto is; an afterthought. Have fun in Los Angeles, Nick!

“James Loney, making it look easy.”

Now, time to look at the Boston side of this trade. James Loney has been with the Dodgers the last seven years as their First Baseman. Loney is a good, solid hitter with a great glove, but has never shown the power that most teams want from their first basemen. He is a free agent at the end of the year, so there is a good chance his time in Boston will be short. Still, not a horrible job by Boston on replacing Gonzalez, at least for the rest of the year.

The major part of the trade for Boston was to give them flexibility. Having Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford on their payroll, (along with Ortiz, etc.) would have made it hard for the Red Sox to rebuild this upcoming offseason, which they drastically need to do. Boston was able to unload $260 Million in contracts, while giving Los Angeles about $12 Million. Not only does this give the Red Sox room to operate this offseason, it also gets rid of three players that the BoSox fans were tired of. It only made sense to restructure and dump what they could, and Boston did that, along with picking up some prospects as well.

The other four players in the trade are either major league ready or very close. Rubby De La Rosa is the gem of the trade, but won’t be ‘officially’ announce until after the season. He is coming back from Tommy John surgery, but was just up in the bigs for the Dodgers and has electric stuff. Jerry Sands is the other ‘player to be named later’ in the deal, and once he is officially acquired he’ll add some depth to their outfield corps and could even compete for a starting job in spring training next year. Ivan DeJesus, Jr. is an infielder that probably won’t start in Boston, but it does give them more depth and has been up and down between AAA and the majors part of the season. Allen Webster is the last player involved and had a less than stellar start the other day for Boston’s AA team, but he still could be in the pitching discussion for next year in Boston. Overall, not a bad haul of players for Boston in this trade.

This trade is a once in a lifetime trade, and one of the likes we won’t see for a very long time. At the end of the day, this trade did what both teams wanted it to do. For the Dodgers, they get veteran players to help their push for a World Series and to help them win now and for years to come. Boston, meanwhile, needed payroll flexibility and to rid them of players that didn’t fit into the Beantown atmosphere. Payroll was shed and younger, cheaper talent was added. This was a win-win trade for these two teams, and a trade that will be scrutinized for years to come. Time will tell just who gained the most from this monster of a deal. Until then, fire up your gaming system and see if you can do what the Dodgers and Red Sox did; make a trade that my ten year old tries to make with his video games.

Age is but a number…a high number.

Yesterday, Roger Clemens returned to professional baseball(and I am using that term loosely) as he pitched for the Independent Atlantic Leagues Sugar Land Skeeters. Clemens didn’t look bad for a guy who hasn’t pitched professionally in 5 years, as he threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings with 2 strikeouts and one hit, reaching 88 MPH on the radar gun. He even struck out former Kansas City Royal Joey Gathright, who’s claim to fame wasn’t what he could do on the field but for jumping over a car. Really. But all in all Clemens looked impressive for a 50 year old.

So what is the Rocket’s end game here? I tend to think there are multiple reasons for his return. For one, I think he misses the spotlight. Some guys fiend for it. They need it. When it goes away, they don’t know what to do. I think Clemens is one of those guys. I also think he just loves baseball enough that when he is not around it, he doesn’t know what to do. If you think about it, his entire adult life has been spent as a baseball player, so in a lot of ways, this is all he knows. Getting the chance to go back out there, even if it is just in the independent league, is still getting to be around the game he loves. But I think this isn’t the main reason he is back.

“yes, I’m 50 and still have frosted tips…”

No, the real end game here is a return to the Major Leagues, period. Why would a guy, who has accomplished as much as Roger Clemens, want to return to the bigs at the age of 50? It’s really an easy answer, and I am not alone in this thinking. Clemens is eligible to be on the Hall of Fame ballot this upcoming winter, and with all the steroid talk connected to the Rocket for years now, there is a good chance that he will not be voted in, even though he is one of the top ten pitchers EVER. No, Clemens wants to come back to delay the vote, and possibly even leave a different image in the voters minds. Scenario time: What if Clemens comes back, at the age of 50, and pitches at a more than passable level? He could say that it wasn’t the steroids that helped him, that even at 50 he can get major league hitters out. Now, the honesty of the situation is that there are some voters he will never be able to sway. But if he is able to change people’s perception, in his mind it could help his case for the Hall. Clemens has always taken his legacy seriously. For years, he talked about his place in the game, so he understands what is on the line here. It also gives him a chance to separate himself from Barry Bonds, who is also eligible for the Hall of Fame this winter, who himself is the poster boy for the “Steroid Era” in baseball. Being on the ballot the same year as Bonds will make voters tie them together as what was wrong with the game during this period. Distancing himself from that only helps his situation.

So will we see Roger Clemens in a major league uniform this year? I think we will, and I think the Houston Astros will give him an opportunity to pitch sometime in September. Yesterday, the Astros and Kansas City Royals both had scouts at the Skeeters’ game, checking out Clemens’ start. There is a joke within the fact that those were the two teams scouting Clemens, but I’ll make that joke at a later time.¬† If(when?) Clemens makes a start in the big leagues this year, his eligibility for the Hall of Fame will be delayed for another five years.

Even if all he does is pitch a couple games this year, he will get to leave a different impression of himself and his career to the baseball community. It’s sad that we are even discussing this situation, as Clemens should be a no-brainer when it comes to his place in the game. Two twenty strikeout games, the third most strikeouts of all time and seven(7!!) Cy Young Awards are just a few of the Rocket’s many accomplishments in his 23 year career. The fact that he wants to come back and possibly sully that tells you all you need to know. Although to be honest, can his image be more tarnished than it already is? Probably not. Maybe this is the best way to sway public perception of him. Or maybe we’ve all moved on and just don’t care anymore about the players who didn’t want to play by the same set of rules of everyone else.

Perfection (and Why it is Easier to Accomplish)

Yesterday, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners threw a perfect game, the first of his career, the first in Mariners history and the third overall this season. Not only that, it was the sixth no-hitter thrown this year in Major League Baseball. The last two years, pitchers have been all the rave in baseball, and the focus has been more on what happens on the mound than what happens at the dish. When did this happen and why is it good for baseball?

Last year was considered by many to be the year of the pitcher, a nod back to 1968 and a year where pitchers dominated, especially Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson who led the National League that year with an ERA of 1.12, a modern baseball record. It also forced baseball to lower the mound, to give hitters a “fair chance” against the pitchers who were dominating the game at that point. This year seems like a continuation of the Year of the Pitcher, with all of the perfect games and no-hitters being thrown around baseball and pitchers putting up flashier stats than their hitting counterparts. A big part of why this is happening is because of all the young pitchers scattered across baseball. Younger pitchers have sprouted up across the majors the last two years and not only are they young, but they throw harder and seem to have a good grasp on how to actually pitch, not throw. This has led to pitchers gaining an advantage over the hitters, a good sign for baseball after the years of power, which is often referred to as the “Steroid Era”.

The “Steroid Era” is another reason for the pitchers success over the last two years. Major League Baseball’s drug testing has proven to be topnotch, and other than the gaffe in the Ryan Braun positive test, no one has been able to successfully appeal a suspension handed down to them by MLB. With the success rate they have had with their testing, many players have chosen not to even chance it when it comes to trying to use banned substances. Sure, there will be guys like Melky Cabrera who either try to see what they can get away with or just aren’t smart about it, but most players know the testing is improving at a rapid rate and is not worth chancing it. Therefore, less players that are chiseled out of granite and more professional hitters litter the baseball¬† fields of 2012.

With all that drug testing being put into affect, it has made it to where teams focus less on homeruns and RBI’s. Instead, more value is shown to stats like OPS and WAR. Both stats show more of a players full value instead of just focusing on one simple area. While these stats will give you a more patient hitter, which is good, it can also give you a player who strikes out a bit more often, or a hitter who puts the ball in play more. Both are hitters that a pitcher like Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander loves, as both are efficient starters who attack the strike zone and have nasty stuff to back it up. A power hitter can hurt you in more than one way, where as a singles hitter can hurt, but more likely to put the ball in play. Both can hurt you, but more pitchers would rather face a slap hitter than a slugger. Less loaded lineups lead to an advantage to the pitchers.

Maybe the biggest reason for the influx in pitching has been the focus by a lot of teams on pitching and defense. For years, the saying has gone ‘pitching and defense wins championships’. This philosophy was successful for many years, but after the 1994 baseball strike, it seemed many a team got away from this way of thinking. With power going out of vogue again, more teams stocked up on pitching and better defensive players. More teams will get by with a player who isn’t as good offensively if they bring great defense to the table. Ask Felix Hernandez how much it helps having Brendan Ryan playing Shortstop for the Mariners?¬† Ryan might barely hit .200, but he gives Seattle Gold Glove defense. Having that on your team can help, but can also make it easier for a pitcher to attack the bottom of your batting order. Utilizing these methods can both help and hurt your ballclub, leading to some really great pitching performances.

All in all, this wave of great pitching has really showcased the game of baseball. After years of sluggers with Popeye-like arms, we are now in an age focusing more on the little details of the game. No one knows how long it will last, but it probably means we will see more no-hitters and perfect games before it is all said and done. Hopefully it won’t dilute the game, only highlight all the great things that the game of baseball brings to the table.

Perfection be thy name!


The Tipping Point

There has been a lot of talk within the past month of just how much pain us Kansas City Royals fans can take. The Royals just wrapped up an awful 7-19 July, pushing fans even closer to the edge. It’s easy to sit there and just say ‘What’s new? The Royals are always bad!’, but this season goes deeper than that. It’s not just about winning and losing. It now becomes an issue of at what point do we, as fans, say enough is enough. Just what would it take to reach our tipping point?

I still remember the summer of 1994 fondly. That summer, I got my first real job. I also got my first vehicle, even if someone ran me off the road and totaled it less than a month later. It was also the summer of the baseball strike, and before that happened, the Royals were making a push. Manager Hal McRae was leading Kansas City up the standings, eventually getting the Royals to third place in the American League Central, only 4 games out of first place. When the strike happened, the Royals sat at 64-51, and it seemed the sky was the limit for Kansas City, as they were red hot. But it was not meant to be, as the strike forced the commissioner to call the season done, including no World Series that year. To make matters worse, Hal McRae was fired that offseason, being replaced by Bob Boone. That should of been a sign of what was to come, as the slide downward of our Royals began at that point. In fact, since 1995, the Royals have had only one season above .500. One season, 2003. That is it. Outside of that, there has been no joy in Mudville. Seventeen seasons of losing, which is enough to make a normal man hand in his Royal blue hat and find another team to cheer on. But we are a sadistic bunch, as we continue to take the abuse. In 2006, it seemed a ray of light shined on us, as Dayton Moore was hired as the General Manager. Or so we thought.

Dayton Moore coming in gave us faith that he could turn around the Royals. Moore had been a scout in the Atlanta Braves organization for years, moving up the ladder in Atlanta, sitting under the learning tree of former Royals GM John Schuerholz. Moore had the reputation of having a great eye for young talent, which is what the Royals needed. Moore’s first task was to build Kansas City’s farm system back up, as it had been depleted for years. Six years later, it is safe to say that he has done that. But being a GM isn’t just about developing young talent. It’s also about acquiring veteran talent that you can piece together with the youngsters to mold your team. That is where Moore has lacked.

A finger can be pointed at Moore and Owner David Glass for how the past few years have gone for the Royals. Going into this season, the young players were to continue to grow and we would at least see improvement within the team. Unfortunately, the wheels started to come off the cart in February, as injuries started to pile up. More injuries occurred once the season began, and add in bad roster choices and a rotation with 5 bottom rung starters, and you have a team that is back in the basement of the American League Central. Through it all, we fans continue to watch. But what would it take for us to turn our backs on our team?

The easy answer to this is for the team to continue to lose. The Royals have lost a lot of fans over the past eighteen years, and the longer the losing continues, the more fans don’t care anymore. They always gain new, younger fans. My son is the perfect example. He used to not care what happened with the Royals. Now, he wants to know everything that goes in with the team. The team will always gain fans like this, but keeping them will be the hard part, and the best way to do that is to win. Winning gets you more fans than you even need. Ask the Yankees. Winning makes all the bad that we have endured go away. In the end, that is the real answer.

To be truthful, the tipping point would be if the team continued following the path they are now. Continuing to act like nothing is wrong, that all is fine, will make fans even more apathetic, as it gives across the feeling that management doesn’t care about this team, nor does it care about its fans. This is a good way to alienate the fanbase, and it’s doing the trick at the moment. Many a fan has stepped away from this season and is already looking forward to the upcoming Chiefs season. That is not a good sign. If they go into the offseason with that same attitude, and don’t upgrade this team, then next season will not be pretty. Fans will not flock to the K, and David Glass seems to think if the stands are empty, then there is no reason to spend money. It’s actually the opposite; if there are no fans, you need to give them a reason to attend the games. You can’t just hope that they will come on name alone. Not with all the losing we have seen over the years.

The first time the Royals broke my heart was in December of 1991. Longtime team ace Bret Saberhagen was traded to the New York Mets, and I was crushed. Sabs was one of my favorites, and one of the players connected with my initial love of the team. Now he was gone, and no matter what we got back, it wasn’t enough. Trades happen in baseball, and I realize that now. But to a kid, it’s not that simple. Twenty one years later, and I now can’t even count how many times this team has broke my heart, even by management just not trying. I’d like to say I would never walk away and be done with the team I’ve loved since I was a kid. But it’s tough to watch your team lose year after year, with no end in sight. We need a sign, maybe even a miracle. Either way, something has to happen, and has to happen soon.

“Happier Days.”

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