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What’s Next? Historical Collapses for Boston and Atlanta

Boston Red Sox
September 1: (83-54) Led Wild Card by 9 games
September 29: (90-72) Lost Wild Card by 1 game

LOOKING BACK

After signing free agent prize Carl Crawford and trading three unspectacular prospects for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox spent the offseason being touted as the greatest team in Major League history.

Greatest Team Evahhhh!

Their rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka found themselves labeled as Five Aces, despite serious injury or performance concerns on all but one of them. Hundreds of articles were written about the lineup scoring over 1,000 runs in 2011, despite never accomplishing that feat in over 100 years of existence.

Every single “expert” at ESPN picked them to win the AL East and over half of them picked the Red Sox to win the World Series. But then something funny happened—the season started. Boston opened the season by losing its first six games and ten of its first twelve.

No worries, the media said, it was just an adjustment period for a team with so many new additions. And then for awhile it seemed as though they were right. The Red Sox put together winning streaks of five, seven, five, nine and six and headed into the All Star Break leading the division and with the best record in the American League.

They won eleven of their sixteen games following the All Star Break and entered August with the best record in the American League. They lost two of three to the Yankees at the end of August, but still entered September with the best record in the league and atop their division. A 6-0 win over Texas on August 25 left Boston with a 99.989% chance of making the playoffs. But then everything fell apart.

They lost two of three to Texas and two of three to Toronto. Then they lost six of seven against Tampa Bay and three of four to Baltimore, dropping their playoff chances to 80.0%. But the free fall didn’t stop there as they lost four of their last six games, including the last game of the season which let Tampa Bay roll right on by them.

The greatest team ever ended up with the ninth best overall record in baseball and missed the playoffs. In order to completely collapse, everything needed to go wrong for Boston and it did. The offense disappeared with the exception of a handful of games and the pitching and defense were worse.

Boston went 3-19 in September when the offense scored less than 10 runs and received just four quality starts out of twenty-seven September games. Their team ERA was 5.84 for the month and their starter’s ERA was 7.08. Of the six pitchers who started a game for the Red Sox in September, Tim Wakefield’s ERA of 5.25 was the lowest.

LOOKING FORWARD

Boston has a lot of question marks moving forward. With the game’s second highest payroll, someone is going to have to take the fall for the historic collapse. It could be the general manager Theo Epstein, who despite high media praise, has swung-and-missed on several key free agent signings.

John Lackey still has three years and over $45 million left on his contract and Carl Crawford has six years and $122 million. Previous free agent endeavors JD Drew, Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria and John Smoltz has flamed out in spectacular fashion.

In addition to big free agent blunders, Epstein has failed to build any semblance of starting pitching depth and the upper levels of Boston’s farm system are severely lacking any impact talent.

It could be the manager, Terry Francona who seemed unable to motivate his players down the stretch. Or it could be the pitching coach who saw his pitchers succumb to injury and poor performance throughout the year.

More time to enjoy the Shire this offseason

Personnel-wise, Boston has the opportunity to shake things up, but not in their rotation. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka are all under contract for 2012. There are no better internal options, and unless they can find someone desperate enough to take Lackey or Dice-K off their hands, the Boston rotation is full. Boston would have to eat a ton of cash to move either guy, and while I’m sure they’d be willing to, I doubt they could find a taker.

Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia will be back manning the right side of the infield, and will provide MVP-caliber offense and defense. The left side of the infield is less certain. Boston can bring Marco Scutaro back on a team option for $6 million and will probably do so. Kevin Youkilis is under contract for 2012, but the team may consider shifting him to the DH role to try and keep him healthy while replacing him at third with Jed Lowrie or from outside the organization.

If the team moves Youkilis to DH full-time, David Ortiz’s time with Boston is probably up. JD Drew’s definitely is. Drew was never as terrible as Boston fans may have thought, but his playing time was sporadic due to his injuries. Boston will probably cut ties with Drew and look to free agency to fill RF after youngsters Josh Reddick failed to impress. Carlos Beltran is the best available RF option, but Boston may choose to go with someone who has a better track record health-wise, like Oakland’s Josh Willingham. Ellsbury and Crawford will return to complete the outfield.

The biggest turnover could happen in the bullpen. Longtime closer Jonathan Papelbon will be a free agent and could jump ship after some unpleasant ends to seasons recently. If he does leave, Daniel Bard is the likely heir to the ninth inning unless Boston chooses to pick from the plethora of closers that will be on the open market.

Next season doesn’t promise to be any easier regardless of how the Red Sox look to plug their holes. The Yankees will undoubtedly hit the offseason with money to spend and word is Toronto will be looking to raise their payroll as well. With the Yankees and Rays already among the games powerhouse franchises, Toronto’s return to respectability would make the game’s best division even better.

Boston will need to make some smart free agent decisions this offseason while hoping that some of their dead wood can bounce back from atrocious seasons. It’s tough to be successful when your highest paid players put up some of the worst numbers in the game.

Atlanta Braves
September 1: (81-56) Led Wild Card by 8.5 games
September 29: (89-73) Lost Wild Card by 1 game

LOOKING BACK

When play began on September 2, the Braves held a comfortable 9 game lead in the loss column for the NL Wild Card over the Cardinals and the Giants. The Braves were sitting pretty, with a playoff probability of well over 90%. Everything was going right for Atlanta—the starting pitching was strong, the back end of the bullpen was superb and the hitters were finally starting to show signs of life. Dan Uggla was fresh off a 33-game hitting streak and Chipper Jones was healthy and regaining his stroke.

But just around the time when Atlanta playoff tickets went on sale, disaster hit. Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, two of the Braves top three starters went down with injuries. The offense up and disappeared, with four regulars hitting under .250 and no one with over 60 AB hit over .271 in the month of September. The enormous workload of relief duo of Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters finally caught up to them and fastballs down and on the corners started leaking back over the middle of the plate.

The Braves lost 18 of their final 26 games, including their last five contests. They were swept by the Cardinals in mid-September and went 0-6 against Philadelphia. September produced the Braves highest ERA of any month of the season, and their lowest OPS. Seventeen of their last twenty-six games were against teams with losing records, but the Braves managed just an 8-9 record in those games.

LOOKING FORWARD

What does the near future look like for Atlanta? There shouldn’t be too much roster turnover, as many of the Braves core players are under team control for 2012. Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla will undoubtedly return to the right side of the infield and Brian McCann and Chipper Jones are under contract for 2012. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez is the only infielder without a contract for next season, so the Braves may look to bring in a replacement with more offensive upside.

Dan Uggla hopes 2012 is a little kinder than 2011

Jason Heyward (pre-arbitration), Martin Prado and Michael Bourn (both arbitration eligible) should make up the outfield next season and the prospective OF class doesn’t have a clear-cut upgrade available apart from Carlos Beltran.

The rotation and bullpen should stay mostly the same with the returns of Hanson and Jurrjens. Both Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe are in the final years of their contracts and the Braves could look to unload one or both. Hudson should be fairly easy to deal if they choose to do so, but Atlanta would have to kick in a lot of money for anyone to take Derek Lowe off their hands. The Braves have Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado to fill out the rotation and to act as starting pitching depth.

The bullpen should see the normal amount of turnover with the top guys staying locked into their roles and guys like Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill should be replaced either by similar veteran arms or from within the system.

The Braves will return pretty much the same team that missed the wild card by one game this year, but their path to the playoffs might be significantly more difficult. Washington is finally seeing some returns from their high draft picks and finished the 2011 season just one game under .500. I wouldn’t count them as a lock to finish worse than Atlanta next season. The Marlins will move into a new stadium and a new name (Miami Marlins) and the new revenues that come with those. There have been rumors of the Marlins spending that money and I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a shot (however remote) at Albert Pujols. Certainly they’ll be in on the top pitchers (CJ Wilson) and they always have plenty of young homegrown talent.

With the division’s toughest inter-league schedule and the improvements of the rest of the NL East, the Braves will have a more daunting task awaiting them in 2012, without a whole lot of room for outside improvement. Atlanta will once again have to rely on the continued development of its young players and hope to keep its key rotation pieces healthy for a full season.

Realistically, the only major change the Braves could make is to their coaching staff, which despite the collapse seems unlikely. Fredi Gonzalez is a poor manager, but will certainly won’t be let go after just one season.

2011 AL Predictions

1. Boston Red Sox (94-68)
I don’t think Boston will be the ungodly superpower that many are projecting them to be. Sure, they picked up Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford, but the two of them were less productive than Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez were in 2010. Gonzalez and Crawford also play less premium positions, meaning the Red Sox will have to run someone like Jarrod Saltalamacchia out there on a regular basis, he of the 82 career OPS+. The back end of the pitching rotation remains questionable. Josh Beckett was not good last year and Dice-K is about as dicey as they come.

2. New York Yankees (93-69)
The Yankees failed to sign Cliff Lee, leaving them to scramble to fill the back two spots in their rotation. If Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia can be serviceable, the Yankees will be just fine. But if they all flame out early, it could be a long year in the Bronx. The offense will remain prodigious, and the bullpen should be among the league’s best. The Yankees led the league in offense in 2010, and did so with several key players contributing less-than-impressive seasons. A return to normal for guys like Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter could turn an already impressive offense into a run-producing powerhouse.

3. Tampa Bay Rays (85-77)
The Rays have won the AL East two of the past three years, but enter into another transition year in 2011. Gone is pretty much the entire bullpen as well as two of their most productive hitters, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. As usual, the farm system is stacked with plenty of talent ready to start replacing the departed stars, but this year may be too soon to expect full returns on investment. The homegrown rotation will keep the Rays in ballgames and in the division race, but ultimately will miss out on a third playoff berth in four years.

4. Baltimore Orioles (80-82)
The O’s are definitely headed in the right direction, but their touted young talent has failed to develop as well as expected. Matt Wieters has been more average than awesome, and the young outfield has been more ordinary than outstanding. There’s some hope on the way with some pitching prospects, but they’re in the wrong division to be learning on the job. A lot of one year stopgaps in place for the team, with guys like Derrek Lee, JJ Hardy and Vladimir Guerrero looking to rebuild their value off down years.

5. Toronto Blue Jays (76-86)
Trading Roy Halladay hurt, no doubt, but getting rid of Vernon Wells was a fantastic move by the Jays, regardless of how positive an influence he was. His ill-advised contract was a burden on a team playing in a division where every dollar counts if they want to compete. Shedding that salary allows them more financial flexibility going forward.

1. Detroit Tigers (90-72)
Despite his off-the-field antics, Miguel Cabrera remains one of the league’s most prolific offensive players and now has an adequate sidekick to help carry Detroit’s offense in Victor Martinez. The Tigers offense will be better, but they will still rely on their top heavy rotation and shut down bullpen to win ballgames. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello look to build onto their short major league resumes, and Joaquin Benoit will team with Jose Valverde to form an imposing late-inning tandem.

2. Minnesota Twins (85-77)
The Twins have long made a habit of developing their own talent and competing year in and year out with a limited payroll. But the Twins have churned out some rather impressive homegrown players the past few years, and with high attendance numbers and a new stadium generating record revenues, the Twins have raised their payroll into baseball’s top 10. Their park, while detrimental to and infuriating for the Twins home run hitters, is suited perfectly for their “pitch-to-contact” pitching philosophy.

3. Chicago White Sox (82-80)
The Sox are definitely going for it, having taken on a lot of payroll in recent years (Rios, Peavy and Dunn). They’re in the right division to make a run at another playoff berth, but will need their pitching to hold up all season in order to have that shot. They won the World Series because each of their pitchers had a career year and something similar will need to happen for them to be serious contenders again this year. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

4. Kansas City Royals (75-87)
No matter what transpires for the Royals this season, if their young talent continues to develop on schedule the season will be a success. They’ve got some veteran placeholders while that talent approaches the major leagues, and I feel comfortable in saying that the Royals will make the playoffs within the next five seasons. Dayton Moore said that his first priority was going to be rebuilding the Royals from within and he’s certainly accomplished the first step in that process by compiling vast amounts of young talent. The trick now is to develop it and transition it all to the majors.

5. Cleveland Indians (70-92)
In direct contrast to the Royals, the Indians have very few high-upside talents in the minors and look to be mired in a rebuilding stage for a few years. Trading off veterans like Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona makes all the sense in the world if by doing so, Cleveland can replenish their farm system. Although given the poor returns on their recent trades, even that may be too much of a challenge for the Tribe. When the best player you get back for CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez is Justin Masterson, it might be time to reconsider the scouting department.

1. Texas Rangers (89-73)
I can’t see them being that much better than they were last year, when they got a career year from Josh Hamilton, a pleasant surprise from CJ Wilson and a resurgence from Vladimir Guerrero. The starting rotation doesn’t look to be overly impressive so the Rangers will have to mash their way to a second consecutive division crown, which they are more than capable of doing.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (84-76)
In 2011, the Angels will pay over $50 million for three centerfielders—none of which will play centerfield for the Angels. Gary Matthews Jr is still owed $11 million this season despite being dumped last season, while Vernon Wells ($23 million) and Torii Hunter ($18 million) will play the corner outfield positions this year for the Halos. The Angels are a collection of a lot of overrated offensive and defensive players with a pitching staff that doesn’t have much depth beyond Dan Haren and Jered Weaver.

3. Oakland Athletics (80-82)
Perhaps one of the league’s best kept secrets is Oakland’s starting rotation, which is five deep and five strong. With a very good bullpen, even a passable offense could allow the A’s to make their first playoff run since 2006. But additions like Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui probably won’t help an offense that ranked eleventh in the American League last season enough to jump to the top of baseball’s smallest division.

4. Seattle Mariners (63-99)
Typically I don’t like to pick teams to lose 100 games, but the Mariners did it last season and very well may do it again in 2011. The offense was historically futile last season and doesn’t figure to be much better this time around. The pitching, apart from Felix Hernandez, isn’t very good and there’s not much minor league talent behind Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda. The forecast looks just as bad for the Mariners as it does for America’s dreariest city.

Each Team’s Best Offseason Move

The completion of the World Series each year brings a time of reflection and planning for MLB front offices. They must assess the state of their team and determine a course of action to follow.

What follows is a compilation of what I believe to be each team’s best move of the offseason thus far. This list may be somewhat premature with players like Johnny Damon, Orlando Hudson, Erik Bedard, and Felipe Lopez still unsigned.

Atlanta Braves—Reconfiguring Their Bullpen

The two pitchers that shut down the last two innings for the Braves in 2009 were quickly gone from Atlanta: Mike Gonzalez as a free agent to Baltimore and Rafael Soriano traded to Tampa Bay. Naturally, the Braves needed to reload the back end of their bullpen to continue their attempts to return to October baseball.

Both Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito are coming off impressive returns from injury with Boston and will handle the eighth and ninth innings for Atlanta after serving as more of middle relief options in 2009.

Florida Marlins—Locking Up SP Josh Johnson

Two weeks after the new year, the Marlins quieted any and all trade rumors about their young ace by locking him up to a four-year, $39 million deal.

Following Tommy John surgery in 2007, Johnson has established himself in the same class as fellow young hurlers Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez, and Zack Greinke. With the Marlins loaded with young talent and Johnson leading the way, the Marlins should be considered as serious playoff contenders.

New York Mets—Signing LF Jason Bay

For a team that ranked dead last in home runs in 2009 and bottom five in slugging percentage, adding a big bat was the Mets’ number one priority this offseason. Bay is coming off a big season with the Red Sox in which he put up 24 more homers and 47 more RBI than the Mets leaders.

New York’s pitching must perform well for the Mets to make a run at the playoffs in 2010, but Bay must also spark a moribund offense that just replaced their best hitter (Carlos Beltran) with the league’s most overpaid fourth outfielder (Gary Matthews Jr.).

Philadelphia Phillies—Trading for SP Roy Halladay

The Phillies traded the ace they rented for six months and eventually turned that into arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Regardless of what else you do in any given offseason, if you can obtain the one of the game’s five best pitchers without surrendering your top prospect, that’s your best move.

Halladay moves from a division that contained three of the top seven offenses in baseball, to one that had only one in the top 12 offenses—and that one is the one that now supports him. Expect Halladay to tear through the National League and expect the Phillies to once again be a title contender.

Washington Nationals—Signing RP Matt Capps

The Nationals, owners’ of the game’s worst record in 2009, had a lot of problem areas to address, and the bullpen was arguably the most glaring. They signed relievers Eddie Guardadoa and Tyler Walker, and traded for Brian Bruney early in the offseason but saved their best acquisition for last.

After the Pirates surprisingly didn’t tender Matt Capps a contract, the Nationals swooped in and handed the reliever a one-year deal in which he’ll be the favorite for saves in the nation’s capital.

Chicago Cubs—Signing OF Xavier Nady

Signing Nady, who’s coming off a second Tommy John surgery, carries with it a good deal of risk but, being only a one-year deal for low money alleviates some of that risk.

When healthy, Nady has proven to be a more than adequate bat and his power should play well in Wrigley Field, although to be fair, Rafael Belliard’s power would have played well in Wrigley with the wind blowing out.

Cincinnati Reds—Signing LHP Aroldis Chapman

While the risk with the Cuban phenom may have been too high for a big spender, the middle-market Reds needed to take a chance on Chapman.

Talent like his doesn’t grow on trees, and usually it has to go through the amateur draft.

Free to negotiate with whichever team he chose, Chapman landed himself a pretty impressive deal for a player who’s never thrown a pitch for an American team at any level.

Houston Astros—Trading for RP Matt Lindstrom

Realizing that stud closer Jose Valverde was most likely on his way out of Houston, the Astros addressed their vacancy at closer by trading for Marlin reliever Matt Lindstrom.

Lindstrom, who’s production has never quite matched up with his talent, is an excellent project for the Astros to experiment with. They should overlook the ridiculous deal that they gave to Brandon Lyon and let Lindstrom close out their games.

Milwaukee Brewers—Signing SP Randy Wolf

Milwaukee needed pitching, and Randy Wold was one of the better options on the open market for the Brewers to go get. They might have slightly overpaid, in dollars and years, but with Los Angeles declining to offer the hurler arbitration, the Brewers were able to keep their first round pick.

The Brewers have lost some high-end pitching talent in the last few years, and outside of Yovani Gallardo, haven’t been able to adequately replace it using their own farm system. Wolf provides a veteran presence and a strong arm to a young Milwaukee rotation.

Pittsburgh Pirates—Trading for 2B Akinori Iwamura

Iwamura was an inadvertent casualty of Ben Zobrist’s breakout campaign in 2009, but finds himself with an opportunity for playing time in Pittsburgh. All the Pirates forfeited to gain Iwamura was Jesse Chavez, who wasn’t anything more than bullpen fodder.
Iwamura gives the Pirates an able bat that can handle just about any spot in the batting order in addition to a very quality glove at second base.

St. Louis Cardinals—Resigning Matt Holliday

The Cardinals bid against themselves to keep their postseason goat, but Matt Holliday is a good fit for this team. He provides the Cardinals with a dangerous bat not named Albert Pujols.

He lengthens a lineup that without him, doesn’t seem all that imposing. He’s a smart ballplayer and seemed to fit in well in his few months in St. Louis. One fielding gaffe does not a player make, and Matt Holliday’s first 63 games with St. Louis are more indicative of his talent level than his second to last.

Arizona Diamondbacks—Three Way Trade With Tigers, Yankees

Arizona certainly gave up some promising young talent, but got back enough to validate the trade. Edwin Jackson remains under team control for two more years and is coming off quite an impressive season with Detroit.

Ian Kennedy never really found his niche in New York, battling injuries and unfair expectations. But he’ll be given an opportunity to compete for a regular starting job in Arizona and he should lock that job up and perform well at the back end of what promises to be an impressive Diamondback rotation.

Colorado Rockies—Extending RP Huston Street

Huston Street performed well for Colorado after being obtained from Oakland, converting 35-of-37 save opportunities in the regular season. A Division Series meltdown did little to dissuade Colorado from locking up their stud bullpen arm.

Street gives Colorado some stability at the back of the bullpen, something they’ve lacked in recent years. He should provide quality value over the course of the deal if he stays healthy.

Los Angeles Dodgers—Trading OF Juan Pierre

The Dodgers had been looking to unload Juan Pierre almost immediately after they signed him to that ill-advised year-year, $44 million contract back before the 2007 season.

Shipping off to the White Sox, who seem perfectly content taking on big money, freed up some cash for the Dodgers to extend some of their younger players, like Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton.

San Diego Padres—Collecting Hairstons

The Padres brought back Scott Hairston in a trade that saw Kevin Kouzmanoff head north to Oakland and then signed brother Jerry to come in and play jack-of-all-trades.

Both Hairston brothers are solid, fundamental ballplayers that play hard and produce. They’ll offer versatility and flexibility for San Diego as the Padres try and turn their franchise back around.

San Francisco Giants—Signing UT Mark DeRosa

The Giants have some of the more impressive pitching in the National League, but the offense needed several upgrades to become respectable. DeRosa doesn’t solve the entire problem, but it’s a start.

But the DeRosa signing is trumped for this type of list if the Giants are able to come to a long-term agreement with double Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum.

Baltimore Orioles—Trading for SP Kevin Millwood

In a classic salary dump, the Orioles brought in Millwood from Texas for disappointing reliever Chris Ray. Millwood will front a young rotation and eat innings.

For a team that’s loaded with some impressive young positional talent, but short on Major League-ready pitchers, Millwood makes for a nice stopgap until young guns like Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman are ready to take on larger roles.

Boston Red Sox—Replacing Jason Varitek

Boston has had a very impressive offseason, making a handful of smart moves to improve their already impressive club. But their biggest improvement and offseason decision is internal. Moving on from Jason Varitek will do wonders for the offense.

Victor Martinez is an elite offensive player who plays an premium defensive position. While the additions of Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro, and John Lackey will undoubtedly improve the club, replacing Jason Varitek with Victor Martinez is the biggest upgrade and smartest move.

 

New York Yankees—Trading for SP Javier Vazquez

Replacing Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui with Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson was an important focus this offseason, but the addition of Javier Vazquez is the biggest reason that the 2010 Yankees might be better than the 2009 Yankees.

Vazquez strengthens a rotation that didn’t have a fourth member that Joe Girardi trusted enough to start a playoff game. Vazquez gives them that arm and allows the Yankees to continue to carefully monitor young guns Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.

Tampa Bay Rays—Trading for Rafael Soriano

Tampa Bay had an unsettled closer situation in 2009, with 12 different pitchers receiving save opportunities, tops in the league. Using Jesse Chavez, the pitcher they received from Pittsburgh for Iwamura, the Rays brought Rafael Soriano south from Atlanta.

Soriano was lights-out for the Braves saving games in 2009 and should receive the majority of opportunities in Tampa Bay. He’ll be joined by former Atlanta teammate and new Baltimore closer Mike Gonzalez in the AL East.

Toronto Blue Jays—Trading for SP Brandon Morrow

The Blue Jays swapped proven reliever Brandon League for the potentially great Brandon Morrow. Pitchers of League’s quality are fairly easy to find, but Brandon Morrow has the potential to be something special.

Mishandled in Seattle, Morrow was shuffled back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen, and was never given an opportunity to properly develop. If the Blue Jays give Morrow the chance to develop as a starter, this deal could end up becoming highway robbery.

Chicago White Sox—TBD

The White Sox made most of their moves during the 2009 season, bringing aboard Alex Rios from Toronto and Jake Peavy from San Diego. Those two players will earn just a shade under $25 million between them in 2010, which has somewhat hindered the White Sox ability to make any major moves this offseason.

They made some minor moves, trading for KC’s Mark Teahen and signing outfielder Andruw Jones, but nothing that I’d label as a great move for them. But they’re certainly in the right division to withstand the inability to make great moves.

Cleveland Indians—Signing Shelley Duncan

Much like the White Sox, the Indians have avoided making any major moves this offseason, but the Jan. 5 signing of former Yankee farmhand Shelley Duncan is a smart move. Duncan has shown immense minor league talent, amassing 55 home runs and 178 RBI over the past two minor league seasons.

He’s flashed some power in his brief stint with the Yankees in 2007, slugging .554 in 36 games. For a Cleveland team that has a wide-open outfield position alongside Grady Sizemore and Shin Soo Choo, Duncan makes sense as a low-cost, high-reward option.

Detroit Tigers—Signing Jose Valverde

Valverde was excellent as Houston’s closer last season, and with the departure of Fernando Rodney and the unreliability of Joel Zumaya, Detroit had to upgrade. Rodney was shaky but serviceable during his tenure as Detroit’s closer, so Valverde will represent a considerable upgrade for the end of games.

They cut some costs by trading Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson but also used those savings to bring in some good replacement talent. The Tigers have been hamstrung by some poor financial and personnel decisions but have made some smart decisions regarding the future of the club.

Kansas City Royals—Trading Mark Teahen

Mark Teahen was what he was. An versatile fielder who brings a little bit of pop to the table, but not much else. Moving him for the more promising Josh Fields and useful Chris Getz was a sensible move for a franchise not known for recent sense-making.

The move is somewhat canceled out by the questionable signings of Rick Ankiel, Brian Anderson, and Jason Kendall. The Royals are going to have an uphill battle, but Fields and Getz should help.

 

Minnesota Twins—Trading for SS J.J. Hardy

The Twins swapped underachieving outfielder Carlos Gomez straight up for the underachieving JJ Hardy. I like this move for the Twins because I believe the probability of Hardy bouncing back is greater than that of Gomez.

Both are outstanding defensive players, but Hardy offers more upside with the bat than Gomez.

Los Angeles Angels—Trading Gary Matthews Jr

GMJ2 parlayed his one good season and one fantastic catch into a five-year, $50 million jackpot following the 2006 season. When the Angels learned that he wasn’t a very good player, they quickly replaced him with better talent, and he went largely unused on the LA bench.

They were able to move him when the Mets lost Carlos Beltran, and the Angels agreed to pay a large chunk of his remaining salary. Moving Matthews Jr. allows the Angels to move forward playing their best players and not worry about a cumbersome contract.

 

Oakland Athletics—Signing SP Ben Sheets

The Athletics have been historically good at determining pitching talent, and the year off may very well have done Sheets a world of good. On his A-game he’s a dominating ace, but there is the huge injury risk still at play.

Best case scenario, Sheets heads a promising rotation and the team rides that momentum into competing for a division crown. Worst case, Sheets injures himself early and becomes a non-factor. Somewhere in the middle lies the scenario where Sheets pitches decently, but Billy Beane spins him for prospects when the A’s fall too far out of the race.

Seattle Mariners—Extending SP Felix Hernandez

Not much trumps trading for a Cy Young winner and playoff hero. Extending a better and younger pitcher on a team-friendly contract is one of them. Felix Hernandez has established himself as one of the premiere arms in all of Major League Baseball and he’s still just 23.

He’ll make just $6.5 million this year and $10 million the next and is coming off a Cy Young-caliber year. In each season since his first full season in the majors (at age 20), he’s started at least 30 games and significantly lowered his ERA each year.

Hernandez is already one of the game’s best, and he’s yet to enter his prime.

 

Texas Rangers—Signing SP Colby Lewis

Lewis may be an unfamiliar name to even some of the more die-hard baseball fans, and that’s certainly understandable. Lewis was drafter 38th overall in the 1999 draft and eventually made his MLB debut with the Rangers in 2002.

He moved to Japan in 2008 after dealing with obscurity, mediocrity, and injuries on his way to playing for five different MLB teams. He posted two extremely successful seasons in the land of the rising sun and signed back on with the Rangers.

For two years and around $5 million, it’s a pretty decent risk for Texas to take.

Identifying Each Team’s Best Offseason Move

The completion of the World Series each year brings a time of reflection and planning for MLB front offices. They must assess the state of their team and determine a course of action to follow.

What follows is a compilation of what I believe to be each team’s best move of the offseason thus far. This list may be somewhat premature with players like Johnny Damon, Orlando Hudson, Erik Bedard and Felipe Lopez still unsigned.

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Atlanta Braves – Reconfiguring their bullpen

The two pitchers that shut down the last two innings for the Braves in 2009 were quickly gone from Atlanta, Mike Gonzalez as a free agent to Baltimore and Rafael Soriano traded to Tampa Bay. Naturally, the Braves needed to reload the back end of their bullpen to continue their attempts to return to October baseball.

Both Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito are coming off impressive returns from injury with Boston and will handle the eighth and ninth innings for Atlanta after serving as more of middle relief options in 2009.

Florida Marlins – Locking Up SP Josh Johnson

Two weeks after the new year, the Marlins quieted any and all trade rumors about their young ace by locking him up to a 4-year, $39 million deal.

Following Tommy John surgery in 2007, Johnson has established himself in the same class as fellow young hurlers Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke. With the Marlins loaded with young talent and Johnson leading the way, the Marlins should be considered as serious playoff contenders.

New York Mets – Signing LF Jason Bay

For a team that ranked dead last in home runs in 2009 and bottom five in slugging percentage, adding a big bat was the Mets number one priority this offseason. Bay is coming off a big season with the Red Sox in which he put up 24 more homers and 47 more RBIs than the Mets leaders.

New York’s pitching must perform well for the Mets to make a run at the playoffs in 2010, but Bay must also spark a moribund offense that just replaced their best hitter (Carlos Beltran) with the league’s most overpaid fourth outfielder (Gary Matthews Jr.)

Philadelphia Phillies – Trading for SP Roy Halladay

The Phillies traded the ace they rented for six months and eventually turned that into arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Regardless of what else you do in any given offseason, if you can obtain the one of the game’s five best pitchers without surrendering your top prospect, that’s your best move.

Halladay moves from a division that contained three of the top seven offenses in baseball, to one that had only one in the top twelve offenses – and that one is the one that now supports him. Expect Halladay to tear through the National League and expect the Phillies to once again, be a title contender.

Washington Nationals – Signing RP Matt Capps

The Nationals, owner’s of the game’s worst record in 2009 had a lot of problem areas to address and the bullpen was arguably the most glaring. They signed relievers Eddie Guardado, Tyler Walker and traded for Brian Bruney early in the offseason, but saved their best acquisition for last.

After the Pirates surprisingly didn’t tender Matt Capps a contract, the Nationals swooped in and handed the reliever a one-year deal in which he’ll be the favorite for saves in the nation’s capital.

Chicago Cubs – Signing OF Xavier Nady

Signing Nady, who’s coming off a second Tommy John surgery, carries with it a good deal of risk but, being only a one-year deal for low money alleviates some of that risk.

When healthy, Nady has proven to be a more than adequate bat and his power should play well in Wrigley Field, although to be fair, Rafael Belliard’s power would have played well in Wrigley with the wind blowing out.

Cincinnati Reds – Signing LHP Aroldis Chapman

While the risk with the Cuban phenom may have been too high for a big spender, the middle-market Reds needed to take a chance on Chapman.
Talent like his doesn’t grow on trees, and usually it has to go through the amateur draft.

Free to negotiate with whichever team he chose, Chapman landed himself a pretty impressive deal for a player who’s never thrown a pitch for an American team at any level.

Houston Astros – Trading for RP Matt Lindstrom

Realizing that stud closer Jose Valverde was most likely on his way out of Houston, the Astros addressed their vacancy at closer by trading for Marlin reliever Matt Lindstrom.

Lindstrom, who’s production has never quite matched up with his talent, is an excellent project for the Astros to experiment with. They should overlook the ridiculous deal that they gave to Brandon Lyon and let Lindstrom close out their games.

Milwaukee Brewers – Signing SP Randy Wolf

Milwaukee needed pitching, and Randy Wold was one of the better options on the open market for the Brewers to go get. They might have slightly overpaid, in dollars and years, but with Los Angeles declining to offer the hurler arbitration, the Brewers were able to keep their first round pick.

The Brewers have lost some high-end pitching talent in the last few years, and outside of Yovani Gallardo, haven’t been able to adequately replace it using their own farm system. Wolf provides a veteran presence and a strong arm to a young Milwaukee rotation.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Trading for 2B Akinori Iwamura

Iwamura was an inadvertent casualty of Ben Zobrist’s breakout campaign in 2009, but finds himself with an opportunity for playing time in Pittsburgh. All the Pirates forfeited to gain Iwamura was Jesse Chavez, who wasn’t anything more than bullpen fodder.

Iwamura gives the Pirates an able bat that can handle just about any spot in the batting order in addition to a very quality glove at second base.

St. Louis Cardinals – Resigning Matt Holliday

The Cardinals bid against themselves to keep their postseason goat, but Matt Holliday is a good fit for this team. He provides the Cardinals with a dangerous bat not named Albert Pujols.

He lengthens a lineup that without him, doesn’t seem all that imposing. He’s a smart ballplayer and seemed to fit in well in his few months in St. Louis. One fielding gaffe does not a player make, and Matt Holliday’s first 63 games with St. Louis are more indicative of his talent level than his second to last.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Three Way Trade With Tigers, Yankees

Arizona certainly gave up some promising young talent, but got back enough to validate the trade. Edwin Jackson remains under team control for two more years and is coming off quite an impressive season with Detroit.

Ian Kennedy never really found his niche in New York, battling injuries and unfair expectations. But he’ll be given an opportunity to compete for a regular starting job in Arizona and he should lock that job up and perform well at the back end of what promises to be an impressive Diamondback rotation.

Colorado Rockies – Extending RP Huston Street

Huston Street performed well for Colorado after being obtained from Oakland, converting 35-of-37 save opportunities in the regular season. A Division Series meltdown did little to dissuade Colorado from locking up their stud bullpen arm.

Street gives Colorado some stability at the back of the bullpen, something they’ve lacked in recent years. He should provide quality value over the course of the deal if he stays healthy.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Trading OF Juan Pierre

The Dodgers had been looking to unload Juan Pierre almost immediately after they signed him to that ill-advised 5-year, $44 million contract back before the 2007 season.

Shipping off to the White Sox, who seem perfectly content taking on big money, freed up some cash for the Dodgers to extend some of their younger players, like Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton.

San Diego Padres – Collecting Hairstons

The Padres brought back Scott Hairston in a trade that saw Kevin Kouzmanoff head north to Oakland and then signed brother Jerry to come in and play jack-of-all-trades.

Both Hairston brothers are solid, fundamental ballplayers that play hard and produce. They’ll offer versatility and flexibility for San Diego as the Padres try and turn their franchise back around.

San Francisco Giants – Signing UT Mark DeRosa

The Giants have some of the more impressive pitching in the National League, but the offense needed several upgrades to become respectable. DeRosa doesn’t solve the entire problem, but it’s a start.

But the DeRosa signing is trumped for this type of list if the Giants are able to come to a long-term agreement with double Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum.

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Baltimore Orioles – Trading for SP Kevin Millwood

In a classic salary dump, the Orioles brought in Millwood from Texas for disappointing reliever Chris Ray. Millwood will front a young rotation and eat innings.

For a team that’s loaded with some impressive young positional talent, but short on major league ready pitchers, Millwood makes for a nice stopgap until young guns like Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman are ready to take on larger roles.

Boston Red Sox – Replacing Jason Varitek

Boston has had a very impressive offseason, making a handful of smart moves to improve their already impressive club. But their biggest improvement and offseason decision is internal. Moving on from Jason Varitek will do wonders for the offense.

Victor Martinez is an elite offensive player who plays an premium defensive position. While the additions of Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro and John Lackey will undoubtedly improve the club, replacing Jason Varitek with Victor Martinez is the biggest upgrade and smartest move.

New York Yankees – Trading for SP Javier Vazquez

Replacing Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui with Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson was an important focus this offseason, but the addition of Javier Vazquez is the biggest reason that the 2010 Yankees might be better than the 2009 Yankees.

Vazquez strengthens a rotation that didn’t have a fourth member that Joe Girardi trusted enough to start a playoff game. Vazquez gives them that arm, and allows the Yankees to continue to carefully monitor young guns Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.

Tampa Bay Rays – Trading for Rafael Soriano

Tampa Bay had an unsettled closer situation in 2009, with twelve different pitchers receiving save opportunities, tops in the league. Using Jesse Chavez, the pitcher they received from Pittsburgh for Iwamura, the Rays brought Rafael Soriano south from Atlanta.

Soriano was lights-out for the Braves saving games in 2009 and should receive the majority of opportunities in Tampa Bay. He’ll be joined by former Atlanta teammate and new Baltimore closer Mike Gonzalez in the AL East.

Toronto Blue Jays – Trading for SP Brandon Morrow

The Blue Jays swapped proven reliever Brandon League for the potentially great Brandon Morrow. Pitchers of League’s quality are fairly easy to find, but Brandon Morrow has the potential to be something special.

Mishandled in Seattle, Morrow was shuffled back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen, and was never given an opportunity to properly develop. If the Blue Jays give Morrow the chance to develop as a starter, this deal could end up becoming highway robbery.

Chicago White Sox – TBD

The White Sox made most of their moves during the 2009 season, bringing aboard Alex Rios from Toronto and Jake Peavy from San Diego. Those two players will earn just a shade under $25 million between them in 2010, which has somewhat hindered the White Sox ability to make any major moves this offseason.

They made some minor moves, trading for KC’s Mark Teahen and signing outfielder Andruw Jones, but nothing that I’d label as a great move for them. But they’re certainly in the right division to withstand the inability to make great moves.

Cleveland Indians – Signing Shelley Duncan

Much like the White Sox, the Indians have avoided making any major moves this offseason, but the January 5 signing of former Yankee farmhand Shelley Duncan is a smart move. Duncan has shown immense minor league talent, amassing 55 home runs and 178 RBIs over the past two minor league seasons.

He’s flashed some power in his brief stint with the Yankees in 2007, slugging .554 in 36 games. For a Cleveland team that has a wide-open outfield position alongside Grady Sizemore and Shin Soo Choo, Duncan makes sense as a low-cost, high-reward option.

Detroit Tigers – Signing Jose Valverde

Valverde was excellent as Houston’s closer last season, and with the departure of Fernando Rodney and the unreliability of Joel Zumaya, Detroit had to upgrade. Rodney was shaky but serviceable during his tenure as Detroit’s closer, so Valverde will represent a considerable upgrade for the end of games.

They cut some costs by trading Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson, but also used those savings to bring in some good replacement talent. The Tigers have been hamstrung by some poor financial and personnel decisions, but have made some smart decisions regarding the future of the club.

Kansas City Royals – Trading Mark Teahen

Mark Teahen was what he was. An versatile fielder who brings a little bit of pop to the table, but not much else. Moving him for the more promising Josh Fields and useful Chris Getz was a sensible move for a franchise not known for recent sense-making.

The move is somewhat canceled out by the questionable signings of Rick Ankiel, Brian Anderson and Jason Kendall. The Royals are going to have an uphill battle, but Fields and Getz should help.

Minnesota Twins – Trading for SS J.J. Hardy

The Twins swapped underachieving outfielder Carlos Gomez straight up for the underachieving JJ Hardy. I like this move for the Twins because I believe the probability of Hardy bouncing back is greater than that of Gomez.

Both are outstanding defensive players, but Hardy offers more upside with the bat than Gomez.

Los Angeles Angels – Trading Gary Matthews Jr

GMJ2 parlayed his one good season and one fantastic catch into a 5-year, $50 million jackpot following the 2006 season. When the Angels learned that he wasn’t a very good player, they quickly replaced him with better talent, and he went largely unused on the LA bench.

They were able to move him when the Mets lost Carlos Beltran and the Angels agreed to pay a large chunk of his remaining salary. Moving Matthews Jr. allows the Angels to move forward playing their best players and not worry about a cumbersome contract.

Oakland Athletics – Signing SP Ben Sheets

The Athletics have been historically good at determining pitching talent, and the year off may very well have done Sheets a world of good. On his A-game he’s a dominating ace, but there is the huge injury risk still at play.

Best case scenario, Ben Sheets heads a promising rotation and the team rides that momentum into competing for a division crown. Worst case, Sheets injures himself early and becomes a non-factor. Somewhere in the middle lies the scenario where Sheets pitches decently, but Billy Beane spins him for prospects when the A’s fall too far out of the race.

Seattle Mariners – Extending SP Felix Hernandez

Not much trumps trading for a Cy Young winner and playoff hero. Extending a better and younger pitcher on a team-friendly contract is one of them. Felix Hernandez has established himself as one of the premiere arms in all of Major League Baseball and he’s still just 23.

He’ll make just $6.5 million this year and $10 million the next and is coming off a Cy Young caliber year. In each season since his first full season in the majors (at age 20) he’s started at least 30 games and significantly lowered his ERA each year.

Hernandez is already one of the game’s best, and he’s yet to enter his prime.

Texas Rangers – Signing SP Colby Lewis

Lewis may be an unfamiliar name to even some of the more die-hard baseball fans, and that’s certainly understandable. Lewis was drafter 38th overall in the 1999 draft and eventually made his MLB debut with the Rangers in 2002.

He moved to Japan in 2008 after dealing with obscurity, mediocrity and injuries on his way to playing for five different MLB teams. He posted two extremely successful seasons in the land of the rising sun and signed back on with the Rangers.

For two years and around $5 million, it’s a pretty decent risk for Texas to take.

You Stay Classy, Dustin Pedroia

The Boston Red Sox, despite being heavily favored, were swept out of the American League Division Series by the Angels this past weekend. Boston scored one run combined over the first two games of the series, and then proceeded to blow a 6-2 lead over the final two innings of the series-clinching Game 3.

Dustin Pedroia took the loss in stride like a man, by blaming the loss on Boston’s inability to get big hits and the similar inability to put Anaheim’s betters away late in games.

Oh wait a minute. No he didn’t.

Instead, Pedroia decided to rip the Boston grounds-crew for the problems that the Red Sox ran into in Boston for Game 3.

In the eighth inning, with runners on first and second, and one out, the slow-footed Kendry Morales hit a hard grounder toward the hole between first and second.

Pedroia hustled to his left, but the ball bounced up on him. He could only knock it down and throw Morales out at first. Both runners then scored on Juan Rivera’s single.

Two costly runs that Pedroia knows would not have scored if he fielded the grounder cleanly.

“It took a bad hop,” Pedroia said. “Our infield (stinks). It’s the worst in the game.”

“I’m not lying about that. That is true. I think about those things. That stuff upsets me,” Pedroia said. “My job is to take 1,000 groundballs a day. Other guys’ job is to get the field perfect so we can play baseball.”

I guess Pedroia had already fielded his 1,000 groundball-quota before Morales’ innocent grounder in the eighth inning and was therefore unable to field the 1,001st one cleanly.

There’s no mention in his little hissy fit that the Angels’ second baseman, Howie Kendrick, had no problem fielding his position on the worst infield in the game. It’s good to know that in order for Pedroia to perform as he’s paid to do, every possible aspect needs to be perfect.

In his next contract, I think it may be beneficial for Pedroia to work in clauses that prohibit him from playing if the weather isn’t to his liking, if the infield grass isn’t properly watered or if the opposing team isn’t setting the ball up on a tee for him.

A bad hop (which happen regardless of infield quality) didn’t lose the series for the Red Sox. They were heartily outplayed over the course of three games in every aspect. Boston’s supposed pitching advantage didn’t show as Jon Lester and Josh Beckett were unable to deliver lockdown performances they’ve had in the past.

The Boston offense, outside a Victor Martinez RBI single was non-existent for the first two games. And Boston’s unhittable playoff closer, Jonathan Papelbon was touched up for three runs on four hits and a pair of walks in an inning of work. Pedroia didn’t do much to cure Boston’s offensive doldrums, collecting a single and a double in twelve at-bats. He drove in a pair of runs and scored one during Boston’s three consecutive losses.

So the Angels, who outworked, outhustled and all-around outplayed the overconfident Boston club will move on to take on the Yankees in this week’s American League Championship Series.

MLB Playoffs

The Colorado Rockies wrapped up the fourth and final National League playoff spot Thursday night when they beat Milwaukee and eliminated the Braves. With all four National League spots accounted for, all that remains to be determined is the order in which they finish, and who plays the Yankees over on the American League side of the bracket.

The Tigers take their 2-game lead and host the Chicago White Sox for the final three games of their season while the Twins welcome Zack Greinke and the Royals to the Metrodome for what could be the final three games in that godforsaken stadium.

Since 2000, eight major league teams have won the nine World Series titles. Hockey isn’t too far behind in parity as seven teams have won the nine Stanley Cups (although one was canceled due to a labor strike), and the NFL has seen seven teams win the ten Super Bowls since 2000. The NBA is by far the worst, with five teams winning championships in the last ten years. The Lakers have four titles, the Spurs three.

So what is it that makes baseball such a crapshoot and how do teams set themselves up for postseason champagne showers? It’s partially the make-up of the playoffs, as baseball allows the lowest percentage of teams into the end of season tournament. There are eight spots for the thirty MLB teams to fight for over the course of the season, or 26.7%. The NFL takes twelve of it’s 32 teams (37.5%), the NHL and the NBA both allow a whopping 16 of their 30 (53.3%) to become eligible for the postseason.

The Major League Baseball playoffs feature the smallest amount of games from major sports that utilize the “series” method in the playoffs. The MLB playoffs however, are the only sport that is drastically changed once the playoffs begin. Because of the drive for primetime TV ratings, instead of playing every day like they do in the regular season, teams will receive an off-day for nearly every game they play.

There are three main areas that World Series champions tend to excel in.

FRONT-LOADED STARTING PITCHING
The change in scheduling shifts the advantage from teams with starting pitching depth to the teams that have front-loaded starting rotations. Because of the off-days, teams can get by in a series, especially a short 5-game one, utilizing only their top three starting pitchers. Baseball is really the only major sport that uses something like a starting rotation.

Over the course of a regular season, you’d want to have five and preferably a few extra quality starting pitchers. If you’ve got that, then you’ll most likely ride their arms right into the playoffs. But once there, your six above-average guys are trumped by the team that has two absolute studs.

SOLID DEFENSE
Runs are typically at a premium in playoff games, so preventing as many as you can is crucial. Every out in the playoffs is important, and most of the batters are the better ones in the league, so giving up outs by making boneheaded plays just gives those hitters one more chance to scratch out a run.

Defensive fundamentals save runs, and although preventing runs is important in the regular season, it’s more so in October. Knowing which base to throw to, hitting cutoff men executing defensive game plans are of extra import in the playoffs. Good defenses keep your team off the field and gives you a chance to do something at the plate.

GUTS-OF-STEEL CLOSER
Getting a lead in a postseason game is hard enough, but holding onto it is even harder. The last three outs are still just three of twenty-seven outs you need to get in order to win the game, but for some reason, getting them has become the most impossible feat in sports to accomplish.

If you’ve got a guy sitting out in the bullpen that you know is going to jog in, toss a few warm-up pitches and then mow down the other teams 3-4-5 hitters, you can afford to start worrying about other stuff, and there’s plenty for managers to think about.

***

All it really takes is for a team to get hot for a couple of weeks at the right time and you can walk away with a championship, leaving better all-around teams behind you (2006 Cardinals).

But there really is a way to build for playoff success. Set yourself up with a solid start to the game, play good defense behind your pitchers, take a few timely hits and then have your closer ready to slam the door. With all the off days, a team is only as good as it’s best pitchers.

Offense really takes a back seat in the playoffs as so many great pitchers take the ball so often. That juggernaut offense will get you into the playoffs, but the good pitching beats good hitting mantra is more truth than fiction for a reason.

The NBA and NHL playoffs are too long and have too many teams in them to be any good and there just aren’t enough games in the NFL playoffs. Major League Baseball has a goldmine of a playoff system set up and it’s getting ready to start. And I can’t wait.

ESPN’s Lack Of Professionalism

I’ve never taken upper-level journalism courses. I switched out of that area of study before I really got to the meat of the curriculum, but I know bad journalism when I see it, and the past week has been brutal for one particular station. No it’s not CNN and no it isn’t FOX News.

It’s ESPN.

It started several days ago when the news broke that David Ortiz had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs back in 2003. ESPN’s response towards this breaking news was nearly nonexistent. Whether ESPN liked the fact or not, having one of Boston’s best sluggers during their championship years outed as a PED-user is big news. It’s important and newsworthy.

Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with the limited coverage had they set this precedent with previous players. ESPN managed to have round-the-clock coverage about Alex Rodriguez when he got nailed for the same positive test. They called Bob Ley off his vacation to anchor the coverage of the Barry Bonds indictment. Two minutes of Eduardo Perez (who?) telling viewers that he believes Ortiz’s story about “carelessness” doesn’t quite count in my book as coverage.

Additionally, where was the analysis following the David Ortiz news conference? Almost immediately after the conference had ended, ESPN rebroadcasted the 2009 Home Run Derby. I want to hear what you think of an integral part of Boston’s championship teams being caught cheating. But I suppose your demonstrated ignorance of the subject speaks louder than John Kruk ever could.

It’s not as if this is a new thing. I’ve put up with Peter Gammons preaching each Boston prospect as the second coming of whichever Hall of Famer shared the position. And Buster Olney’s articles including ludicrous trade proposals such as Brad Penny for anything.

But when a network intentionally skates over a major news story (and that’s definitely what David Ortiz testing positive for PEDs is) that’s completely unacceptable. At some point, ESPN needs to get back to covering sports news from an unbiased perspective and become a professional operation again. Maybe their lack of professional reporting stems from the fact that they lack any serious competition. I don’t know, but ESPN’s become an unchecked tyrant in recent times.

You also might have heard that Alex Rodriguez hit a walk-off homer in the fifteenth inning to give the Yankees a 2-0 win over the Red Sox the other night. However much it pained ESPN to run those highlights, they did although anchor John Anderson decided it would be funny to pair A-Rod’s dramatic homer with a chant of “boli, boli, boli”. (Boli, by the way is a banned substance that A-Rod admitted to using during his time with the Texas Rangers).

This is something that a drunk 23-year old fan might yell as A-Rod rounds the bases, not an anchor for the “worldwide leader in sports”. Anderson’s behavior that night was unprofessional and despicable. Even ESPN agreed as they edited out Anderson’s supposed funny for the morning editions of Sportscenter. That type of behavior goes beyond comedy or even the usual Sportscenter wise-guy routine. It reeks of unprofessionalism, even for a network whose work seems to be falling apart bit by bit each day.

ESPN is located in Bristol, so it’s not too terribly surprising that they employ a workforce that’s overwhelmingly Boston fans. It’s not something that becomes a problem until it starts infiltrating it’s way into your final product. ESPN does a pretty decent job staying neutral everywhere else, but the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics get their little hearts all a-flutter.

Today’s Idiot: Curt Schilling

I realize that I haven’t done one of these in a while (April 16, to be exact) but I figured that Curt Schilling’s recent comments deserved some attention.

Recently, it came out that both Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz tested positive for performance enhancing drugs during the 2003 season. It’s not unreasonable to say that 2003 wasn’t the only year that either of these players were using, especially since Manny Ramirez was nabbed again just a few months ago – talk about an idiot, huh?

Well, our favorite loudmouth load, Curt Schilling, who never makes private his opinion on everything and anything related and unrelated to him, decided he’d offer up his thoughts on the matter. In the past, Curt Schilling has had some extremely harsh words for those players caught using performance enhancing drugs.

On Jose Canseco’s admission:

Jose Canseco admitted he cheated his entire career, everything he ever did should be wiped clean. I think his MVP should go back and should go to the runner-up.

On Roger Clemens:

…the numbers were attained through using [performance-enhancing drugs]. Just like I stated about Jose [Canseco], if that is the case with Roger, the 4 Cy Youngs should go to the rightful winners and the numbers should go away if he cannot refute the accusations.

On Barry Bonds:

If you get caught using steroids, you should have everything you’ve done in this game wiped out for any period of time that you used it.

So what does our bigmouthed behemoth have to say about David Ortiz, his former teammate testing positive for the same thing that the players he so publicly demonized did, when asked if David Ortiz’s accomplishments should be judged differently?

That’s for you to decide. It seems to be an area of immense debate, but I am not sure how this could/should/will be resolved.

Well, isn’t that quite the change of pace from a guy that was all for wiping out the stats of people that cheated the game. He does not believe that David Ortiz’s stats, awards and accomplishments should be wiped out, as he thought Canseco’s, Clemens’, Bonds’ and others should. He simple says he’s not sure. How ironic.

And then when they asked him if he thought Boston’s accomplishments of late should be judged differently, he responded simply.

This makes me laugh.

MLB Trade Deadline

Some people may say that the 2009 trade deadline was relatively calm in comparison to past years, but I disagree. It’s not every year that the defending World Series champs trade for a reigning Cy Young award winner, and that’s not the only Cy Young winner that changes teams.

Both the Tigers and the White Sox made big moves to take a run at the up-for-grabs AL Central. The Tigers picked up Jarrod Washburn from Seattle for a pair of prospects while Chicago shipped a package of minor-league talent off to San Diego for Jake Peavy (second times a charm, eh?)

The nosiest team at the deadline was Cleveland, who traded away nearly every major talent except for Grady Sizemore. Ryan Garko to San Francisco, Cliff Lee to Philadelphia and Victor Martinez to Boston. Let’s take a look at how some of the major moves affect the teams involved.

CLEVELAND INDIANS: A very disappointing season left them in the unenviable position of having to call it quits this year. They moved a lot of major pieces, and surprisingly didn’t get a whole lot of top talent in return. Cliff Lee brought back some nice pieces from Philadelphia, but the Phillies managed to hold onto their best pitching prospect and their best position prospect.

Single-A starter Jason Knapp is the headliner of the deal for Cleveland, a tall righty that has been called by some as a “Roy Halladay clone”. If he ends up with a Roy Halladay type career, then Cleveland wins this deal easily. More likely however, is that Knapp eventually becomes a back-end rotation guy. Triple-A right hander Carlos Carrasco, shortstop Jason Donald and catcher Lou Marson round out the deal, which also sent outfielder Ben Francisco to Philadelphia.

None of the last three have superstar potential, but all three could eventually become serviceable major leaguers. But all three are young and cost-controlled which is just what the Indians need as they rebuild a broken team.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: Already the class of the NL East, they became the favorite in the entire league by beefing up their rotation with Lee, in addition to adding a solid reserve outfielder. With not much serious contention from within their own division, this is a move that addresses not only their August and September needs, but their October ones as well.

Lee gives the Phillies a one-two punch at the front of their rotation that matches up well against any other NL team. Offense has never been a problem for the homer-happy Phillies, and now they have a rotation to let that offense relax a little. The move allows the Phillies a chance at repeating as champions without mortgaging the future. They held on to their best prospects and improved their current standing.

Kyle Drabek and the freshly promoted Dominic Brown both remain in Philadelphia’s impressive farm system and they’ve added Cliff Lee to their major league roster. He’s not Roy Halladay, who they were in on for several weeks, but in the end, he’s still Cliff Lee and that’s pretty darn good.

BOSTON RED SOX: The Sox were certainly busy the past few weeks, starting by dealing for Pittsburgh’s Adam LaRoche (the Pirates seem to be the AAAA-affiliate for both the Red Sox and the Yankees the past two or three years). Only a few days after getting LaRoche, they decided he wasn’t what they were looking for and spun him off to Atlanta for Casey Kotchman.

In between, they grabbed the best bat available in Victor Martinez. The Red Sox needed offensive help sure, but trading for Kotchman and Martinez doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Kotchman can only play first base and Martinez is a first baseman who can somewhat masquerade as a catcher. With David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis on the roster, there’s going to be a crunch in everybody’s at bats.

Unless the Red Sox plan on drastically cutting Jason Varitek’s time, who, while slipping offensively is still an above-average defensive catcher, Mike Lowell will probably see the most bench time. While the additions of Kotchman and Martinez allows Francona flexibility in allowing his players to rest, is it smart?

While it’s hard to quantify a catcher’s defensive contributions, statisticians and scouts continuously rate Victor Martinez as well below average defensively. Is the upgrade his bat provides worth whatever they’ll lose on the other side of the ball. Every Boston fan tells me how great Jason Varitek is calling games and guiding pitchers through no-hitter after no-hitter.

And is Martinez really the answer to Boston’s offensive woes? He’s hitting reasonably well for the season, but most of his numbers are due to a torrid start. He’s batting .211 since the calendar hit June and only .175 in July. He has a decent track record but he’s also a catcher on the wrong side of 30 and they don’t age particularly gracefully.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX: General Manager Kenny Williams traded for Peavy several months ago only to have Jake Peavy nix the deal. But persistent devil that he is, he tried again this week and Peavy approved. They gave up pretty much the same package they initially offered, headlined by Aaron Poreda and Clayton Richard.

With Peavy, the White Sox suddenly have a deep and dangerous rotation but they also have the financial obligation of Peavy’s contract. While it seemed like a bargain a few years ago, in the current economic climate it’s a lot for any team not the Red Sox and Yankees to take on.

But the thing is, Jake Peavy’s hurt. He’s currently rehabbing an ankle problem and it’s the type of injury that could become a recurring problem. Peavy’s a Cy Young caliber pitcher when healthy, but he’s had problems staying that way. The White Sox may have shipped off a boatload of young talent for a chronically injured star.

DETROIT TIGERS: The emergence of Edwin Jackson (epic trade fail by Tampa Bay, btw) in addition to Justin Verlander rediscovering his ace stuff gave the Tigers a pretty devastating 1-2 rotation punch. But after them the rotation was a little patchwork.

Trading for Jarrod Washburn was a smart move. Sure he’s having a career year, getting a little lucky and had Seattle’s insanely good outfield defense backing up his flyball tendencies, but he’s a solid buy for Detroit. He’s moving to a similar situation in Detroit (spacious outfield, decent outfield defense) and gives the Detroit the legitimate third starter they can run out in the playoffs.

Luke French, a decent but not blue-chip prospect went the other way in the deal, along with a relief prospect. About the best the Mariners could expect for a two month rental of Washburn.

SAN DIEGO PADRES: Jake Peavy was a San Diego icon, but his contract was holding the organization back from any real improvement. Getting low-cost prospects back from Chicago was just a bonus to getting out from under the albatross of a contract.

The Padres still won’t be any good for awhile, but at least now they have a little more financial flexibility to construct a team, and not just stick a group of players around one guy.

In 10 Words Or Less – 05/05/09

Happy Cinco de Mayo! In celebration of this wonderful Mexican holiday, this week’s In 10 Words Or Less will be brought to you by the language, Spanish! Feliz Navidad de Mayo!

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Arrendajos azules (18-10): Golpear dudoso contestar.
Calcetines rojos (16-10): 4-0 contra yanquis siempre agradable.
Yanquis (13-12): Primero 5 en corre a pesar de ningún Rodriguez, desplomándose Teixeira.
Rays (11-16): Evan Longoria el trato verdadero.
Las oropéndolas: Adam Jones hace valor de comercio de Bedard cada vez.

Real (15-11): Zach mutha freakin’ Greinke.
Tigres (13-12): Verlander, Willis girando aparentemente cosas alrededor.
Gemelos (13-13): Joe Mauer sano y rastrillar.
Calcetines blancos (12-13): Los cántaros han permitido sólo cuatro Homers.
Indios (10-16): Victor Martinez que produce como normal otra vez.

Navegantes (15-11): Golpear oportuno, el cabeceo Regio llave al plomo de la división.
Guardabosques (13-12): El alumbre de Mizzou Kinsler: yendo en bicicleta como Lance Armstrong.
Angels (11-13): Bobby Abreu que firma bueno hasta ahora.
Atletismo: (9-14) ¿Por lo menos Matt Holliday no es dolido, el derecho?

Marlins (15-11): Los jóvenes que echan tienen oponer azota la pesca.
Phillies (13-10): Ryan Howard grande.
Mets (11-13): La espalda de Beltran, no soplado guarda para Rodriguez más cerca.
Afronta (11-14): Jeff Francoeur no tan terrible como el año pasado.
Nacionals (7-17): Ryan Zimmerman y Adam Dunn impresionantes 3-4.

Cardinales (17-9): Comenzar cántaros tienen MLB-ALTO 14 victorias.
Cachorros (14-11): Es su época del año.
Cerveceros (14-12): Ryan Braun para pasar por encima de a bateadores menores.
Rojos (13-12): Johnny Cueto que se da cuenta de potencial.
Piratea (12-13): ¿Oye, ellos no están en último, el derecho?
Astros (11-15): El terreno no denominó Enron.

Marrulleros (19-8): Invicto en casa.
Gigantes (12-12): Lincecum que consigue caliente.
Espaldas diamantadas (11-15): No en posición terrible, golpear aún dado infortunios.
Capellanes (11-15): Comenzado 10-6, quizá hay más de ese juego.
Montañas rocosas (10-14): Imparmente, que rayó más corre que ellos han permitido.