Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Domino, melonfarmer!

Shortly after failing to land slugging firstbaseman Carlos Delgado, Whitney's Mets went 180 degrees in another direction, grabbing slick-fielding Doug Mientkiewicz from the Sox in return for Single A firstsacker Ian Bladergroen (can't we sign a Smith to play first?). While I won't miss having to hunt and peck Mientkiewicz, I did enjoy watching Dougie M play his position - and so will Whit, meaning as it does that he won't have to suffer through the improvisational fielding stylings of Mike Piazza.

Today's blogtitle refers to both the chain of events that led the Mets to settle for Mientkiewicz, and one of the most sublimely ridiculous dubbed movie lines in history. You may remember the famous line from Die Hard, when Bruce Willis' John McClain tells his adversary, "Yippee-ki-ay, motherfucker." What you likely don't remember is how broadcast TV cleaned up McClain's naughty words, turning a great line into the grince-inducing (that's grin/wince), "Yippee-ki-ay, melonfarmer". Melonfarmer? Indeed.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Random Idiocy

Slow news day here at the office, what with the entire Federal government shut down in an effort to counterbalance the waste of taxpayer dollars that is the presidential inauguration. While we're taking thinly veiled political shots, I found it noteworthy that Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council expressed disappointment in the President's reduced emphasis on gay marriage, stating that, "I believe there is no more important issue for the president's second term than the preservation of marriage." Holy lack of perspective, Batman. Thousands of angry, radical religious zealots want to kill us and destroy our way of life, we're blowing hundreds of billions of dollars in a war that nobody wants, and my property taxes just went through the ceiling, but gays marrying each other is the most critical public policy issue of our time. Great. Good to know that this pack of brainwashed morons were the ones that keyed the election of the most powerful man in the world. (Hey, wait a minute. When did we get political in this space? - Ed. That's what happens when the Hot Stove Season drags into its final weeks - MLC starts blathering about family values and red states.)

Deep, cleansing breaths before noting that the Sox signed Mark Bellhorn and Bronson Arroyo to 1-year deals worth $2.85m and $1.75m, respectively. Bellhorn was, by nearly all objective standards, the best 2nd baseman in the American League last year, so that contract is a bargain. Arroyo finished in the top 20 in the AL in a number of important categories, including ERA, Strikeouts, WHIP (5th in the league at 1.22), K/9 and K/BB. I don't think very many people realize how good this guy is right now, let alone how good he could become. He's a steal at $1.75m.

That's the big difference between the Sox and the Yankees. New York's assembling an all-star team, with no apparent concern for budgets. The Sox have a significant economic advantage over most of the league, but at least they're leveraging it intelligently. Under Theo Epstein the Sox have not burdened themselves with long-term, vastly over-market deals. While the Sox may have overpaid for Jason Varitek and Edgar Renteria and (leaving aside Manny Ramirez' bloated deal, which was Dan Duquette's handiwork, and which Theo famously tried to give away), both of those guys are critical cogs and can be expected to produce at top levels. Contrast that with the millions that the Yankees will spend on Bernie Williams' corpse and Kevin Brown's temper and you start to wonder how long the Yankees' can legitmately remain competitive when the current crop of aging stars begins to decline. Might not happen this year, but common sense says that the day of reckoning is approaching, especially when pennant hopes are pinned on a 41 year-old pitcher with knee trouble.

We note with interest that Whitney's Mets are closing in on Carlos Delgado. This space will be a lot more fun next year if the Mets are as competitive as it appears they might be. And, even better, I think...wait, I'm sure that the Mets will be favored to win more games than the Sox in 2005, so I'll be accepting 4 games from Whitney in our annual case bet. Which reminds me - I think you owe me 24 Harpoons, my friend.

And finally, we note with sadness that the Cubs signed Scott Williamson to a minor league deal this week. If not for an epic managerial brain fart, it's very likely that Williamson would have been on the mound when the Sox won the ALCS and World Series in 2003. Timlin in the 8th, Williamson in the 9th would have gone down in baseball history as the sweetest refrain since Tinker to Evers to Chance. Godspeed, Scotty. Hope the arm comes back in all its glory.

26 days, 26 minutes to pitchers and catchers. Giddyup.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Pitchers and Catchers in One Month

Stuck at work on a pretty (if a bit chilly) Saturday, so I'll take a moment to stretch my bloglegs and start easing my way back into baseball. Of note:

1. The Boston Red Sox are the reigning world champions. That'll just never stop sounding sweet.

2. Number 1 above colors everything that happens in the coming season in a hazy pastel of reduced urgency. The seat of the pants, end of the world tones by which every Sox fan painted his or her personal canvas in years past are now a quaint memory - but that particular box of crayons is what made the mural of 2004 so particularly sublime.

I can be a baseball fan now, not some Sisyphean character in a passion play. Will I care? More than I should. Will I rant, rave and fulminate? Less than I used to, but as sure as the salmon flock to Capistrano, the first time Millar swings through an eye-high fastball for strike 3, or Wakefield walks 3 straight Yankees, the ire is sure to follow. It's hard to unlearn 34 years of mania.

But here's the thing: this team is going to be good, very good, again in 2005. If they stumble into September 8 games behind the Yankees, let the record show that this corner of MLC will be steaming.

3. And here's why they'll be very good this year. Despite losing Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, the pitching staff may be even better this year than last. The acquisitions of Matt Clement, David Wells, and Wade Miller (especially Wade Miller, if he's as healthy as the Sox think he is) give the Sox a potentially dominant rotation, in combination with holdovers Curt Schilling and Bronson Arroyo. If Miller is healthy, Wells can give Boston 30 starts, and Arroyo continues his development, this rotation might be the best in baseball. But even if those things don't happen, Tim Wakefield waits in reserve and the offense and bullpen are both good enough to carry this team. Theo Epstein's done a great job of taking acceptable risks and having a fallback plan in the event the wrong ifs become reality.

On offense, the Sox replaced Dave Roberts and Gabe Kapler with Jay Payton, welcome Edgar Renteria in place of Orlando Cabrera, and resigned Jason Varitek. There's still some speculation about which of Kevin Millar and Doug Mientkiewicz stay with the club to man first base, which matters, but not that much. In short, the offense will be as good as last year's, and the defense will be close, depending on who plays first.

Can the Sox recapture last year's idiot-driven chemistry, especially if Millar moves on? Who knows? Will it matter? Tough to say, knowing that this team doesn't have to establish an identity based on overcoming 86 years of angst. They are the World Series Champions, after all. (Have I mentioned that? Couldn't remember.)

Pitchers and catchers in a month. Can't wait. Can not wait.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Dusting Off the Keyboard

Dusting Off the Keyboard

Okay, so it's been a while since Rob and I had anything to say about baseball. Correction: we are never at a loss for opinions both trite and cockamamie, we just haven't been in a sharing mood since the holidays. What'd we miss?

Ignoring my plea to pass on Pedro, Minaya-cal Omar inked him to a deal that should provide us with ample fodder over the next few years at MLC. That said, it seems the move gave Minaya and the Mets the necessary street cred to draw Carlos Beltran. It's still stunning to type that -- CARLOS BELTRAN, CF, NEW YORK METS. Not bad. Yes, they threw an insane amount of money at Beltran, perhaps a great deal more than he's "worth." (I'm still not sure how other writers act like there's an exact math to players' worth.) But it's a great, great signing, at least from this early vantage point.
  1. Carlos Beltran was, without question, the single best player available in the 2004-5 offseason.
  2. He's a Met.
  3. See #2.
It's really all you need to know. The Mets finally recognized what we've been harping on for years now -- they are a New York franchise in an lopsided, capless, money-equals-wins league. That this could have eluded them as they signed Tier 2 players for Tier 1 money over the past few years is baffling, but apparently that's in the past. Perhaps it was the finalization of the cable station that ushered in this new era of "hey, wait, we have more money that other teams" epiphany, but it had to happen. By making the "splashy" signings, the Mets have made themselves pertinent again, and in New York City pertinent is solvent. As we've seen, you can't have Mike Cameron be your big name free agent signing, blather on about "meaningful games," trade away your star prospects for questionable, mid-range talent, and come out much better than they did. (In case the holidays dulled the pain, I'll rip off the Band-Aid: 71-91.)

So, the notion that you have to spend money to make money (and oh, yeah, win ballgames) has finally registered in Flushing, with even crazier (in the good way) rumors swirling that the dominoes haven't yet stopped falling -- Carlos Delgado might also come aboard. It's another long shot, but the Mets were apparent long shots in both the Martinez and Beltran auctions, too. And in this scenario, everything I said about the wisdom of abstinence where Pedro Martinez was concerned is out the window -- waaay out the window, it's down the 17 stories, squashed on the pavement, and scraped up by a street sweeper. If Pedro (plus his $53 million dollar inking) was the catalyst to Beltran and possibly Delgado, then this was shrewd beyond any credit ever awarded to Omar Minaya. If this was rushing the dork to get his cool friends into the fraternity, so be it. (Hmm. Pedro's been called many things over the years, but that maybe the first "dork" reference.) Anyway, even if it's just Beltran . . . yeah, that's the first time this winter "just Beltran" has been uttered, too. [It's a day of journalistic firsts here at MLC! Almost as thrilling as chicken sandwich day at the cafeteria.]

You get my point.

Some folks are still taking aim at my boys for overpaying all the way. (By the way, did you catch how I claim this team again once they've taken steps in the right direction? A month ago I was auditioning for Washington Nationals mascot. Nice.) Between the contracts of Kris Benson, Martinez, and Beltran, the Mets have overpaid more money than the president wanted to send for tsunami relief. (As an aside, will it ever be politically correct to refer to the Mets' middle relief this season as "tsunami relief"? You look at the current roster and tell me it isn't fitting. Okay fine, it's uncool.)

The Mets have not overpaid a dime, in reality. They paid precisely what it would take to wrest these players from the clutches of other waiting, wanting ballclubs. Market value is whatever it takes to land the player, and that's what Fred is paying. People blame the Mets for Benson's deal, saying it had a ripple effect to free agents everywhere. That's asinine. Benson's deal was what he could wrangle out of the Mets and only affects other salaries if other clubs give in to other players' equally ludicrous demands. Other .500 pitchers saw Benson's deal and used it as a template, but if other GM's and owners had stood their ground and simply said, "You might be Kris Benson, but we aren't the New York Mets," the rash of similarly mediocre arms would have had to back off the demands and be jealous of Benson (for more than just a voluptuous wife). As it turned out, the teams were so afraid to come away empty-handed, they started throwing out the same offer to 90mph-fastball, two-pitch artists all over the place, and it was easier to justify by blaming the Mets.

In truth, the other execs are less to blame than (hold on, let me grab my sopabox again) this preposterous financial system of MLB's. The same scenario will happen every year, and the same bitterness will exude the way it has for the past few years. It's just that now the Mets will start receiving some of the potshots for their payroll,too -- something on which the Yankees previously had the market cornered.

At last.