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      What is "fiscal responsibility"?
    Another story out there about the apparent increase in spending this offseason:

    GMs throw cash to the wind

    Read my thoughts on this fallacy below first, but I would tend to argue that when the dust finally settles, the average salary for a player in the Major F. League will probablly not increase by much.

    Consider that the avearage player salary decreased last season, for the first time since 1995. Now consider that player salaries should be increasing because baseball revenues are increasing. Then take a rough estimate. I don't trust the ESPN salaries against the database I have, but its updated, so if we take all the MLB salaries listed there, and find the average, then the average salary has only increased by 0.6% so far in 2005. Even if we take all the remaining free agents and say they will combine to make $100M in 2005 (which will never happen even with Beltran's $15-20M), player salaries would still only increase by 5.5%.

    I don't see a problem with that. After decreasing by 3% in 2004, I would EXPECT player salaries to increase by 3-5% in 2005. Where's the problem?

    Not that I want to reduce myself to a fact-checker for ESPN (they obviously don't have one) but Sean McAdam sees it another way,
    Don't look now, but baseball is spending like sailors on shore leave.
    Tired cliches aside, I don't think increasing the wages you pay your employees by 5% is revolutionary.
    "It just goes to show that there are so many people out there who can't control themselves," sighed one general manager. "They talk a good game, but it doesn't last. I'll tell you what -- this game is in trouble. It needs a salary cap, and fast."
    Why? The money has to be coming from somewhere, right? Baseball franchises surely are making money, if they're spending it on players (which they're really not) where is the problem? Even if player salaries increased by 10%, or 20%, why would that doom the sport of baseball? Wouldn't it just bankrupt the teams that were foolish enough to spend outside their means?

    McAdam cites the oft-used Detroit Tigers as an example,
    The Detroit Tigers, for example, have been one of the most aggressive bidders in the market....Thanks to the NHL lockout, Tigers owner Mike Illitch doesn't have the operating costs for his Red Wings, so he can afford to free more capital for his baseball club.
    Wait a minute. Can people stop this nonsense. The Tigers are aggressive in the free agent market because they are finally seeing the end of some horrendous contracts signed during the Randy Smith debacle. Detroit is a pretty large market, and while it may be Hockey Town, the Tigers can still support a payroll of more than its current $46M. I'm sure that with a decent team the Tigers can support a payroll of about the $60-$70M they were spending not five years ago. That's why they're aggressive on the free agent market. Would people rather Mike Illitch pocket that money? Or invest it in his pizza chain?

    Same goes for the Mets, the D-Backs, and the Mariners, other teams seemingly aggressive. The other teams out there making moves are like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Angels: large market teams with plenty of money to toss around anyways.

    But this is what really gets me,
    Said another front office executive: "Everybody wants to talk about the betterment of the game, but at the end of the day, everyone covers their own ass. A team like the Mets wants to win; they don't care about setting the bar for everyone else."
    Doesn't that sound like implied collusion to anyone else? Read between the lines. Members of baseball management are talking about the betterment of the game. Contrary to the betterment of the game (in management's eyes) runs an increase in player salaries. So owners have this idea of practicing "fiscal responsibility", which is most accurately called collusion.

    Here we have an anonymous baseball executive lamenting the failure of other teams to adhere to the unspoken owner code to keep the help's wages under control. That's collusion, or at least implies collusion. Not that this is news or anything...
    "Here's a guy [Glaus] who was injured for most of the last two seasons," offered another general manager, "and a team that everyone thought had enormous debt problems. And yet, somehow, (the Diamondbacks) give him $45 million over four years. How does that happen?"
    It's because the Diamondbacks never had enormous debt problems. Its also because if they did, then even after signing Glaus (and Ortiz), their payroll still increased by less than a million. Ridding the $30M tied up in Sexson, Mantei, Finley, Dessens, and Bautista will do that for a franchise. No wonder they spent money. No contradiction here.

    When you look only at the surface, as most good ESPN writers do, the executive is upset at the Diamondbacks for letting the cat out of the bag. "Listen D-Backs, you're supposed to be going bankrupt. How can we convince the players union that we need a salary cap if our best example of a team losing money is blowing four year deals on middle of the road free agents?"

    Look, owners have been complaining about not making money since the beginning of sport. Baseball owners are no different and during the contraction talks, they were fond of citing that most teams in MLB were losing money. Then Forbes came out with a study of the financials of baseball and concluded that maybe one team out of thirty had lost money.

    Who would you trust?

    The money is there. It's being made, so it ought to be spent on the people that make it. I see absolutely no problem with a 5% increase in player salaries. I wouldn't even have a problem with a 20% one-year increase in player salaries. None. It would only tell me that the owners were making 40% more money this year.
    Email Curt to ask him why he cares so much.
      What is the point of a monopoly?
    Yanks, Red Sox, Angels to pay tax

    The Associated Press released that story about this year's luxury tax. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels exceeded the player salary luxury tax of $120.5M in 2004. That tax threshold increases to $128M in 2005, and it looks certain the Yankees and Red Sox, and maybe Angels will blow through it again.

    I don't see how this can be overlooked, (considering its an AP article) the AP suggests,
    Many midlevel teams appear to be spending money on free agents this offseason, possibly because of the shift in economics created by increased revenue sharing. That could push the average salary higher next season.
    I'll believe that when I see it.

    Listen, the cry heard round baseball, initiated by the owners, and propagated by their media puppets, is about "competitive balance". It always has been about competitive balance and it always will be about competitive balance. That's what revenue sharing was supposed to help, and that's what the luxury tax was supposed to fix. There have been a number of free agents signed to large deals, but I don't see how that is different from any other season. And which midlevel teams is the article referring to?

    I am, once again, confused. Who has actaully increased their payroll this offseason? I realize I am jumping the gun, with some free agents still to be signed, but it still needs to be said: revenue sharing and the luxury tax have not increased competitive balance.

    But that's not to say these new measures haven't had an impact on the business of baseball, they certainly have. The revenues of "small" market teams has increased. Unfortunately, very few of those teams have re-invested this money, and instead the Yankees and their sidekicks are creating profit for the owners of mediocre franchises.

    The AP article reveals a common misconception that I've heard quite a bit this offseason. It's true there have been some rather large contracts given out, and its true that some teams have been active in the free agent market. But lets look a little closer.

    The most active teams this season, as in most offseasons, has been the high-payroll teams. The Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, Dodgers, Phillies, and Cubs. All teams above a $90M payroll, and all teams spending money. Check in Seattle and its ~$85M payroll right behind them.

    The Braves, Cardinals, and Giants, three higher-payroll teams have maintained their current payrolls, and the Rangers have continued to slash payroll, trying their hardest to become a mid-payroll team.

    So are any mid-payroll teams spending money? I don't see many. Have the Blue Jays, Royals, Twins, Marlins, Pirates, Reds, Rockies, Brewers, Devil Rays, Nationals, or Astros spent any more money this year?

    I'm sure a lot of people would point to the Orioles, Tigers, Diamondbacks, or Mets. Not that the Mets (or the D-Backs) are mid-payroll teams, but despite some free agents signing, and an apparent payroll increase, all four teams will see their payrolls decrease (barring a major signing) in 2005. Payrolls for these four teams will decrease because some bad contracts they signed in the late 90's FINALLY come off the books. So don't look at these teams' signings as anything other than keeping payroll constant.

    Which teams have actually increased salary?

    Well, I'm sure the A's would suprise people, considering the rap they have for letting free agents walk, but they've now guarranteed a payroll increase in 2005, and it will be for the fourth consecutive year.

    The White Sox have increased salary, but it comes on the heels of two straight years of decrease. Maybe they are the example the commissioners office should be using, but they are sadly short on company.

    The only two good examples of (wisely) increased salary are the Indians and Padres, who have both begun to spend money as they prepare for the next step in two very well laid out rebuilding plans.

    I get four. Four mid-payroll teams that have increased spending thus far. And two of those four teams play in large markets. Now things could change, but can anyone really imagine Carlos Beltran or Carlos Delgado anywhere but New York next season?

    So there are four mid-payroll teams that have increased spending in 2005. What about the rest? Are they pocketing the cash from revenue sharing? Are they taking their share of the luxury tax and re-investing it in the minor leagues, as some have claimed.

    One example familiar to many is the Brewers. Milwaukee has not only cut player salaries, but has also cut their total operating budget for three years running. So they've spent less despite increasing their total revenue for each of the three years, and Milwaukee is not alone. Where is all this money going?

    If the goal of revenue sharing and a luxury tax has been to increase competitive balance, as the owners have claimed, then where is the evidence? Shouldn't we see some financial evidence to suggest that money has been re-invested to help lower income teams compete, neccessarily hurting higher income teams?

    There has been no evidence to suggest this. In fact, the exact opposite has been true. Most of the teams investing money in their product are teams that already make the most money. The large majority of teams who benefit most from revenue sharing are either cutting or maintaining player salaries. Concurrently, the three teams paying the luxury tax (Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels) have continued to increase spending.

    I know its a real dumb question, but am I missing something? Does nobody out there notice this? Does anyone have hope next year that any of the mid-level payroll teams other than A's, Twins, Padres, or Indians will have a chance at the playoffs next season? I don't. Where is the competitive balance?

    Now to answer my own question: what is the point of a monopoly? Well, of course it's to make truckloads of cash. Baseball owners operate a monopoly, and they make truckloads of cash. Whenever you hear financial news about baseball teams, remember one thing. Anything said, done, or implied by the owners is with the single, solitary intention of making more money. There are very few owners in baseball who care about winning, so long as people show up to the ballpark. Its the way it is, and I'm not complaining. I just can't take the constant references to owners doing things in the "best interest of baseball".

    "Competitive balance" is simply owner-speak for "hey its not fair George makes all the money."
    Go ahead and email Curt to complain.
      What does "formidable" mean?
    Oh this is too good. The Reds have added Eric Milton to an already "formidable" rotation.

    Now, I am aware that articles on MLB.com are intended to get casual fans excited about their teams chances in the upcoming season, but this one is just too much.

    for·mi·da·ble adjective
    1 : causing fear, dread, or apprehension
    2 : having qualities that discourage approach or attack
    3 : tending to inspire awe or wonder

    Lets throw out definition #2 for a second, and concentrate on the first and third. Eric Milton hasn't been formidable since he was a left-handed prospect in AA. Even then its debatable.

    Wait. Eric Milton is formidable. He certainly causes fear, dread, AND apprehension in his homea fans. Unintended formidability. And I'm not sure how he inspires awe, but he at least inspired wonder in me as to how he finagled a 3-year $25.5M contract for being the exact opposite of a formidable starting pitcher.

    The Reds are referred to as taking "yet another step toward contention". Let's instead talk about how this signing takes the Reds completely out of contention. They just signed Eric Milton to a 3-year $25.5M contract. That's the same exact contract Matt Clement got a few days earlier from the Red Sox. Who would you rather have?
    Matt Clement
    2002 32 12-11 205.0 162 215 85 18 3.60 1.20
    2003 32 14-12 201.6 169 171 79 22 4.11 1.23
    2004 30 9-13 181.0 155 190 77 23 3.68 1.28

    Eric Milton
    2002 29 13-9 171.0 173 121 30 24 4.84 1.19
    2003 3 0-0 17.0 15 7 1 2 2.65 0.94
    2004 34 14-6 201.0 196 161 75 43 4.75 1.35
    No, that 43 home runs in 2004 is not a typo. And before you get all crazy saying Citizens Bank was a hitters park, it sure played neutral in 2004 (101), while Clement pitched in the friendly confines of Wrigley (105).

    Reds GM Dan O'Brien on the signing,
    "Eric is only 29 years old and, in our opinion, is just reaching the peak years of his career,"
    Oh good, I'm glad you think a 4.75 ERA and 43 home runs given up is the peak of his career. In that case I'm sure you'll enjoy blowing $25.5M. If Milton was a hitter, that $25.5M would be a bargain for 43 home runs a year.

    Thankfully, O'Brien continues:
    "But, in truth, I couldn't envision that the ultimate conclusion to our offseason plan would culminate today with the addition of a legitimate upper-tier Major League starting pitcher like Eric Milton."
    Well Dan, thanks for letting us know you're done with offseason moves. Let me be the first, but not last, to tell you that your team will not contend in 2005. Let me also be the first, but not last, to tell you that there is no way in heaven Eric Milton is a "legitimate upper-tier Major League starting pitcher". What could possess a man to get up in front of a podium and delude himself and his team's fans into thinking that?

    Now to be fair, Milton is talented. He's a lefty. He was once a big time prospect. He looks to be fully healthy once again. He could, conceivably, take a huge step forward an actually be worth $8.5M a year, but he hasn't done a single thing to establish himself as the type of pitcher who deserves this contract.

    Eric Milton deserves an incentive-laden 2-year $8M contract, similar to whats being handed out to Woody Williams and David Wells. This contract is just insane and confirms the doom of 2005 (and beyond) Cincinnati Reds baseball. It's like Dan O'Brien is trying to recreate the 2004 Texas Rangers: some great young bats and several mediocre starting pitchers.

    But I'm not sure if Dan O'Brien paid much attention to the American League last year, the Rangers faded miserably down the stretch. They got lucky to get such flukey good starts from such a horrible pitching staff.

    The Reds will be going into 2005 attempting to ride a team similar to the 2004 Rangers, they'll have a decent offense around a few great young stars, and some mediocre pitching that they'll hope to get lucky on.

    If the Reds do get lucky, and a few of their pitchers have good years, they've got a chance to do exactly as the 2004 Rangers: fade miserably down the stretch. Considering two of the pitchers the Reds are counting on (Ramon Ortiz & Paul Wilson) have already had their flukey good career years, it doesn't seem likely that they caught lightning in this bottle. Oh well, at least they have the Bengals.
      Is 58 Wins Good Enough?
    Sure, why not. If you're the Kansas City Royals, anything is good enough.

    Every once in awhile (okay, a lot) I like to browse through the team pages over at MLB.com. I like to check up on some minor moves I missed, the AAA Rule 5 draft, or maybe the progress of Will Ohman in the Mexican Leagues. You know, the usual.

    I come across some interesting stories, and then, for some teams, I laugh. Like the Royals. Go to the Royals team page, check up on the flurry of moves Allard Baird has made.

    Or listen to the crickets chirping. Nothing. No news for a bad, bad, bad Royals team, that won 58 games in 2004 and has so far done nothing. They haven't signed anybody, haven't lost anybody, and have no obvious help from within on the way, other than maybe 3B Mark Teahen, who looks to be a good bet to be about as good as the departed Joe Randa.

    Their rotation is awful. Four of their five starting pitchers had an ERA over 5.00 last season. And they add nobody.

    Their offense was afwul in 2004, only three teams were worse, and their big addition is Eli Marrero.

    Wait, their only addition was Marrero, and they wont have a half-season of Carlos Beltran keeping them respectable. If Mike Sweeney is hurt again. I mean WHEN Mike Sweeney is hurt again, they might not have a single player on the team with an OPS above .800. And they add Eli Marrero.

    The only hope for the Royals is their young players. They have quite a few, and I expect quite a few to get better. Zack Greinke, Mike Wood, and Jimmy Gobble could all be decent, Greinke could be great. I really like Jeremy Afeldt, but I think the Royals should concentrate on teaching him a third pitch, and not banish him to the bullpen. David DeJesus will get better, Angel Berroa couldn't possibly be worse, and its possible Mark Teahen, Ruben Gotay, and/or John Buck could contribute in '05.

    This team will improve, if only by regressing back to 65 wins, but this isnt a club that even has the pieces to put up a fluky .500 season. They wont be a better team in 2005. They may win more games (its suprisingly difficult to lose 104 games), but the Royals are awful. I have no idea why an organization this awful would be sitting on their hands watching other teams get better.

    At least do something. Make a trade, make it look like you're working. On a construction site, when you have no work to do, you're supposed to pick up a broom and sweep. You may not actually be sweeping up any dirt, but if the super walks by it looks like you're doing SOMETHING. Allard Baird isn't even doing that. He's sitting on his ass staring at the clouds, while other teams at least put up some semblance of improving.

    The Royals payroll sits at $47M, about where it was last year. I don't expect that to rise, so I wouldn't expect much more activity. If I had to expect something, I would expect the Royals to be the worst team in baseball next season.
      How did this organization ever win the World Series?
    Yes, the Diamondbacks. How indeed? Some teams do all the right things and fall, oh so short but once (Braves). Some teams do half right, but spend enough money to cover their mistakes (Yankees). Some teams wait for a collective career year (Anaheim), and some teams just roll the dice enough times, figuring its bound to happen eventually (Red Sox).

    Then there are the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks were inaugurated in 1998, spent an unconcious amount of money, and got hella hella lucky, winning the World Series in 2001.

    That's the story of the Diamondbacks franchise. I didn't make it sound very exciting, did I? They won the World Series on the backs of Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and a career year to top all career years from Luis Gonzalez. Wasn't that obvious to anyone else?

    The fact that concurrent to winning the World Series, the Diamondbacks wasted tons of money on the likes of Brian Anderson, Jay Bell, Todd Stottlemyre, and Tony Womack is forgotten, especially by management. The D-Backs were the exception to a rule, not the example of how to run an organization. Overspending on bad or old or injured players handcuffed the new franchise and caused the ugly nadir we witness today. Basically nobody's wasted that much money since MC Hammer.

    Does Joe Garagiola realize that he paid a 37 year old Matt Williams $10M for 135 ABs in 2003? You think he would have learned? Not a chance. He won the World Series at the same time he was throwing money around like a rap star, so he didn't notice the repercussions.

    Well, the repercussions for the Diamondbacks are here, gift wrapped for the holiday season. They overspent, had to dump payroll, dumped the wrong payroll (Schilling), and ended up with a pathetic 51 win team in 2004.

    I don't mind when someone screws up. I absolutely have to understand because I screw up everything I touch the first time too. But I have no tolerance for someone who doesn't learn from his mistakes. Joe Garagiola--or whoever the hell is pulling the strings to that puppet theatre--is walking through the same desert, with the same pieces, only missing the three reasons they actually won.

    Now, I know the Randy Johnson deal looks like it fell through, so Randy might be around one more year, but the D-Backs don't have a Schilling or a Gonzalez (v.2001) to make them competitive.

    What they do have is.......

    another Matt Williams: Troy Glaus is coming off major shoulder surgery. Add that to wrist and back problems (am I missing anything?) and he is all but unable to play 3B anymore. So the D-Backs go and toss 4 years and $45M at him. Sound a little familiar?

    another Tony Womack: Like Womack, Royce Clayton is not good. Like Womack, he is in Arizona for his defense, with the D-Backs giving up on Alex Cintron at short because of his mediocre D. Also like Womack, he is 35, and couldn't hit a round ball with a round bat at age 25. Hell, Clayton couldn't even top .279/.338/.397 in Coors Field. Plus, do you want that haircut/doorag combination as your starting shortstop? Only in the desert.

    another Todd Stottlemyre: Russ Ortiz got a 4 year $33M deal. Ortiz isn't bad, I'll give him that. He eats innings consistently at about or a little better than the league average. Is that worth $8M a season for his age 31-34 seasons? Only in the desert. Only in the desert.

    Maybe they're not done, maybe the D-Backs have more in them, but with a payroll now passing $70M, one would have to wonder what else? Heh. To make this team less of a laughing stock, and more of a serious example of what not to do with $70M, take a look at this list of free agent targets. Shawn Estes, Jeromy Burnitz, David Dellucci, and Craig Counsell. And the Diamondbacks were mentioned as "rolling out the red carpet" for these players. Oh my.

    With Randy, this team may sniff .500. Without Randy, this team finishes last. Some franchises just don't deserve rings.
      El Chiquito
    Presented without comment. None needed.

    El Chiquito
      Have the A's thrown in the towell? Part II.
    It wasn't too long ago that I was talking about the A's throwing in the towell. Turns out, they were. Go figure.

    After rescinding on the reported trade of Tim Hudson to the Dodgers, the A's turned around and got what they must have thought of as a better deal from the Braves. On Thursday, the A's flipped Hudson to Atlanta for OF Charles Thomas, pitching prospect Dan Meyer, and the long forgotten Juan Cruz.

    I'll agree, the A's got more in this deal than basically netting only Edwin Jackson from the Dodgers. So for one year of Hudson (and the draft picks they would have received when he left in free agency) the A's got an excellent pitching prospect who may be ready next year (Meyer), a competent 4th outfielder (Thomas), and a solid arm in the pen, who could possibly make it as a starter (Cruz). Three very useful parts, all will help the A's stay competitive.

    If they had stopped there, I would have been okay with it. The A's have enough depth in the rotation to still win, even after losing Hudson, and there would be at least a decent shot that Meyer is as good as Hudson in a few years. Unfortunately, the A's didn't stop there.

    Just three days later, the A's traded Mark Mulder to the Cardinals for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero, and catching prospect Daric Barton. Take a step back for a minute. Without question, the success of the Oakland A's (91, 102, 103, 96, 91 wins) has centered exclusively around the big three of Zito, Mulder, and Hudson. Now, within a span of three days, two-thirds of that success has been jettisoned.

    For what? That's the big question. It almost looks like the A's got discouraged watching the Angels jump on and off the gravy train in an insane attempt to become Yankees-West. Did they give up?

    It's not as bad as it may seem, because the A's got a considerable amount of talent in return for the two big names, but they also netted a hell of a lot more uncertainty. Rather than give it one more shot with the big three still in place, the A's have committed to being competitive in 2005, but not a contender.

    Although the names might not be household yet, Dan Haren and Dan Meyer have a chance to be as good as Mulder and Hudson. A chance.

    Its a chance you take with a team out of contention. In that case, with a star eyeing free agency, your best bet is to recount as much as you can, and at least try an net a player with the potential to be as good as the one you are giving up. In some cases (c.f. Randy Johnson, more on that later) this isn't possible, but you at least try. The A's tried, and succeeded, in netting enough potential to replace their two departed stars.

    The problem I see is that the A's aren't a "team out of contention". The A's are a couple of breaks away from winning a World Series. Let's not forget so fast that this A's team missed the playoffs by ONLY ONE GAME last season. One break and they are in. Their staff gets hot in the playoffs, and they've just won the World Series.

    I would have rode out the season and let Mulder and Hudson walk. The A's chose to go another route, and I can't fault them for the trades they made, which both make sense. I do, however, fault them for misunderstanding the position their team was in. I'm not sure they understand how close they are/were. Letting Hudson and Mulder play out the season would have given them the best chance for taking the next step. This trade seems to suggest the A's have more interest in remaining a 90 win team for eternity, rather than taking a shot at winning the big one.

    Still, the 2005 A's are in no way out of the race. This is still a very good team. Their weakest area, the bullpen, is a lot better today. I think Dan Haren is going to be very good. I don't know so much about Meyer, but he's got a chance. Zito could rebound, Harden could learn some control, and Joe Blanton could be as good as advertised.

    No matter how many of those magical 'ifs' come true, the A's will be a competitive ballclub next year. If most of them come true, the A's will be no worse in 2005, but I don't see them getting any better. They were in a position of stability, with a decent shot to win it all and they just took the biggest risk of any team this offseason.

    Lets just say that before Thursday, the A's were a 93 win team, +/- 4 wins. Today they are an 85 win team +/- 8 wins. They could do better, but they could do a lot worse. Personally, I would like to be in the first situation, but the second isn't all that bad a place to be. It all depends on the performance metrics of an organization. The A's value 90 wins, the Angels want the rings.
      But I don't live there anymore.
    Unfortunately for my non-baseball related free time, I still like the Damn Cubs. Why? I have no idea. Its a team, and a fan base, that grows on you.

    They re-signed Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Walker for 1-year $8M and 1-year $2.5M respectively. Walker's deal has an option for a second year, and Nomar's deal could earn him as much as $11M if he meets these incentives,
    Garciaparra would make $500,000 each for 535 and 550 plate appearances. He also gets $400,000 each for making 130, 135, 140, 145 and 150 starts.
    Now if this were Montreal, the Cubs would bench Nomar after game #129, but they'll probablly be in a pennant race. So considering Nomar has EVERYTHING to prove, you'd have to imagine the Cubs know this. There's no motivation quite as effective as a dollar bill in this country, and the Cubs now get a Nomar that will probablly come into spring training in the best shape of his life ready to try and show he can still hit .360/.400/.600 before it's too late. While I don't think Nomar will be that good, I wouldn't be suprised to see him be the best SS in MLB next year.

    In fact, I'd be willing to bet that Nomar will be the best SS in MLB next year.

    Todd Walker did a great job for Chicago last year. They couldn't have asked for more out of ol' stone hands, so its no question they brought him back for a full time gig. The best news for Cubs fans: This means no Tony Womack sigtings in Chicago. Phew.

    The Cubs now have their infield set for 2005. Their outfield on the other hand.....

    Moises Alou: gone. Sammy Sosa: will be gone. Corey Patterson will be there, but where do the Cubs go for help? Carlos Beltran? Not with Sosa and his $17M anchor weighing the Cubs down. Its amazing how fast one man can fall. Remember when people liked Sammy Sosa?

    Wait, lets talk about what's really important to the Cubs:

      Will David Wells have a heart attack in 2005?

    The votes are in. They're counted. The winner of the award for the worst timing in the history of the world, ever, goes to.....the Red Sox.

    Why would you have a press conference to announce David Wells as your "big" free agent signing on the same day that Pedro Martinez signs the dotted line for the Amazing Mess v.2005?

    Could the timing be any worse? Why not just have David Wells sit on my chest and end the pain? Well, in fairness, since I like Wells more than most, I think I ought to say that this is like replacing Halle Berry with Jeanine Garafolo as the next Bond Girl.

    Regardless of how much I love Pedro, there still is good news. The good news is that Pedro had his worst year in 2004, and for those of you who missed it, the Red Sox won the World Series. Considering the biggest mass of innings the Red Sox have to replace is 400 innings of 4.50 ERA from Pedro and Derek Lowe, they aren't that far behind.

    And with the $13M they were planning to pay Pedro, the Red Sox have no excuse not to improve next year. Sure, they would have improved with Pedro, there is no way he posts an ERA of 3.90 in 2005, but I still have a lot (probablly too much) faith in the Red Sox front office. When I heard the news of Pedro signing, I rubbed my W.W.T.D. bracelet and set out a plan. Actually a few. Flexibility is nice.

    Sign Clement, Varitek, and Renteria. Easy. Work a deal for another reliever (not named Matt Mantei, thank you very much). Dont trade Dave Roberts. The Red Sox are a better team, and I don't even have a law degree from USD.

    Or: Package Bill Mueller with Manny to the Mets for Floyd, some cash and oh, lets say, Jose Reyes. Then sign Clement and J.D. Drew, and then trade Floyd for a petrified turkey turd.

    Or maybe let Varitek rot in L.A. and sign A.J. Pierzynski for peanuts, then use Varitek's money to sign Clement, Renteria, Drew, leaving Manny in left. Then the kicker: use Pedro AND Varitek's money to trade peanuts (Doug M) for Todd Helton (who is more untradeable than Manny or even Chan Ho Park at this point). Piece of cake. All I needed was my bracelet.

    The Red Sox will win more regular season games with that team. Which team? I don't know, but it sure would be fun to be a GM with a very good team and $30M to spend.
      Have the White Sox been watching Indians games?
    ....because it sure looks like they haven't been paying the tiniest bit of attention. The Indians are getting better. Quickly. If they sign Matt Clement, as has been rumored, they will be one step closer. By himself Clement won't be enough to push them over the top, but it will put the Indians a starting pitcher and a couple of solid bullpen arms away from being World Series contenders.

    So what do the White Sox do to counter?

    Tread water. At best.

    The White Sox are going to lose Magglio Ordonez. Granted, Mags didn't give them all that much last year, but it was greatly offset by a career year by Aaron Rowand. I see Rowand as more of a .280/.320/.450 hitter: solid in an everyday role, but not enough to replace Mags.

    Speaking of career years...
    Has anyone defined the term to White Sox GM Kenny Williams?

    He also went out and traded for Scott Podsednik, a career minor leaguer who (predictably) went from being a very good leadoff hitter (.314/.379/.443) to being a bottom of the order guy (.244/.313/.364) who will hit leadoff because (and only because) he can steal bases.

    It will be popular in fantasy leagues to split the difference when projecting Podsednik, but I'd lean towards the latter year being more predictive. I wrote about Podsednik in his likelihood to continue his success of 2003, and I'm sticking to my guns. In nine minor league seasons he hit .265/.344/.347, and I figure he'll be closer to that number. I certainly wouldnt expect him to slug over .400 any time soon.

    So Podsednik replaces Carlos Lee in the outfield. Lee has quietly flown under the radar as a very good player. He wont hurt you in the outfield and he has been a pretty solid hitter. Certainly much better than Podsednik. Lee has one more year on his contract for $8.5M and an $8.5M option in 2006. Podsednik is cheap, he'll only be making about $4M over the next two years, so based on the talent disparity, I have to think Kenny Williams is doing this to cut salary. I've just been so unimpressed by Williams that I refuse to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    The Wrong Sox also got relief pitcher Jose Vizcaino in the deal, which helps make up the gap. But Vizcaino, while good, has been inconsistent and isn't nearly good enough to make up the difference.

    In other bullpen news, the Wrong Sox signed Dustin Hermanson to a 2-year $5.5M contract. They actually have a pretty solid bullpen with Marte, Takatsu, Vizcaino, and Hermanson. My only problem: $5.5M. Huh? I know, I talked about the market for relief pitchers being really tight, but this is a little crazy. Apparently if you are designated a closer (Percival, Benitez) you make $7-9M, and if not, you make $3M. Cormier, Hermanson? There's not much better out there. Who cares, Hermanson might be solid, but he hasn't had a good season since 1998. He's talented, but ultimately replaceable, and now expensive. So Kenny Williams is cutting Carlos Lee's money to fill the roster with mediocrities like Hermanson.

    Speaking of talented mediocrities....
    The White Sox also felt the need to throw 2-years and $10.2M at Jermaine Dye. This completes the White Sox outfield trifecta of overrated career years. I'd be suprised to see Dye put up anything more than .280/.330/.460 next year. Hell, you could get Craig Wilson, Raul Ibanez, or Jose Cruz Jr. to give you that next year. I fearlessly predict Cruz will sign for about $2-3M a season and be the better player.

    None of these moves suggest the Wrong Sox will improve next year. They need to, in order to re-invest in a fanbase that finally started showing up to The Cell. It's just too bad they lost their chance to compete in a weak AL Central and are watching the Cleveland Indians pass them by.

    and now for the Brewers perspective.....
    .....because everybody loves the Brewers. Wait.

    Well, good trade for the Brewers, they finally look to be investing some of that luxury tax money scammed from the Yankees in an actual payroll increase. It's just too bad for Brewer fans that they don't still play in AL, they might have been able to compete in the Central next year.
      Have the A's thrown in the towell?
    I go away for a few days, and look what happens. Chaos in the major leagues, lots of stuff going down. The biggest of what is an apparent deal involving Tim Hudson.

    In a deal that hasn't yet been finalized, Hudson will be dealt to the Dodgers in return for Antonio Perez and Edwin Jackson. Perez is a good hitting second baseman who fills a organizational hole for the A's. He has a decent chance to play second in the bigs in the next few years, but the real name here is Jackson. Before last season, Jackson was considered one of, if not THE, top pitching prospect in baseball. He had a rough 2004, which included some bad pitching in the majors and an injury to his pitching arm, so his status has fallen somewhat.

    Getting Jackson is great, from the A's point of view, but they gave up Tim Hudson. I mean, they gave up Tim Hudson, one of the best few pitchers in the bigs, and their best. For a contending team, its a confusing move. It has been widely reported that the A's would not be able to re-sign Hudson after the season, but wouldn't it be better for a contending team to take the one year of Hudson at a bargain price of $6.5M and let him walk after the season?

    This move suggests that the A's are looking to the future a lot more than they should be. It also would appear to conflict with the acquisition of Jason Kendall, which increased their payroll in 2005. If, in order to keep their payroll at the $60M level, getting Kendall means losing Hudson, then why bother? And if you don't plan on competing in 2005, which trading your best pitcher would suggest, then going out and getting a catcher like Kendall makes no sense.

    It wouldn't suprise me to see the A's turn around and flip Jackson for some help on the offensive side of the ball. In that case, the trade would look to make a little more sense. The Reds have, in the past, made offers to LA for Jackson that included Austin Kearns or Adam Dunn. Keep an eye out for some deal of that sort, which would give the A's a middle of the order bat that they desperately need. In that case they'd be trading one cheap year of Hudson for a big time bat and a mid-level 2B prospect. Depending on the bat they get back, it could make this deal decent-to-good for the A's. After all, the A's have Rich Harden and Joe Blanton, who offset the loss of Hudson.

    We'll see about this deal when/if it gets finalized, but for right now it looks like the A's trade for Jason Kendall has forced them to lose their best pitcher.
      This article is not about steroids.
    Enough about steroids already. For those of you who, like me, are sick of the steroids talk and want some real baseball content, I have to suggest a bit of baseball research that has been going on over at a place I haunt, Baseball Primer.

    This is the reason why I spend a lot of time over there, because of this type of discussion that basically gets spawned out of idle talk. Little suggestion to all you out there: when you accept that there are smarter people than you out there, go and find those people. And if you like baseball, and the research that surrounds it (trying futilely to explain an unexplainable game), Primer is a good place to be.

    It started with a thread dedicated to a study done at Sabernomics.com (December 3rd post) about the effect of Leo Mazzone on pitchers. Now, Mazzone is highly respected, but how good? JCS (another Primer poster) tells us,
    So, what's the veridict? Leo Mazzone is a damn good coach! Working with Leo is shaves off between .55 and .85 points of a pitcher's ERA. And I promise you, the results are not some artifact of some manipulation of the numbers to prove a point. In fact, my bias when I started this project was that Leo was a bit overrated.
    Now that statement struck a chord with me, because for the few that remember it, I took a look at the effect of Leo Mazzone a while back. What got my attention was that JCS started with the same the same goal, he wanted to prove that Mazzone was, in fact, overrated as a pitching coach.

    I wanted to do the same, but like JCS, I failed. In Building a house out of three 2 x 4's and a bunch of straw, I took a look at Mazzone's effect on pitchers. Read it if you want, but the main conclusion I came to is that, very roughly, Leo Mazzone improved pitchers by 26%, lowering their ERA from on average 4.34 to 3.45. Now, my study was a hell of a lot rougher than JCS's, but I figure that after adjusting for park, the numbers would be pretty similar.

    So I think we're on to something here. On the Primer thread, a discussion popped up about the relative effects of pitching coaches, managers, GMs, etc. It includes JCS, an appearance by Rob Neyer, some research by MGL (more of a celebrity in my book than Neyer), and most impressively, some excellent work by dks, another Primer poster.

    dks is running many analyses similar to what I did with Mazzone, only much much better. They are still ongoing, so I don't want to come to any conclusions that will remain in print long after they're proven false, but it looks like Mazzone is the Babe Ruth of pitching coaches. The primitive study by me is backed up by three much better studies by JCS, dks, and MGL. Leo Mazzone is damn damn good.

    dks is even separating the effects of Mazzone from Schuerholz and Bobby Cox, finding both Schuerholz and Cox to have NO EFFECT on pitchers. So its all Mazzone, or more probable, all three together combine to make the dream factory for ressurecting pitchers careers.

    Leo Mazzone is damn, damn good, and I encourage everybody to check out the discussion in this thread. But I have to say that the only logical conclusion one can draw from all this is:

    Leo Mazzone is on steroids!
      Jason Giambi has a mancrush on Barry Bonds? And I have a mancrush on Jose Lima. Up is down once again.
    MLB news is picking up. The hotstove season is starting to really get going. Don't think I'll be able to keep up, but thats okay.

    If you're looking for a comment on the Jason Giambi statement, you can go elsewhere. I got an email asking about it, and I figured I'd blurt out a quick statement here, to sum up my position.

    I don't care.

    Not entirely true. He's a Yankee. I smile internally when he comes down with benign tumors. While I'm not proud of that fact, I can't deny it. So seeing Jason Giambi at the center of controversy does make me smile a little, and I am hoping against hope that the Yankees are not able to weasel their way out of the rest of his contract.

    But what goes on "outside the lines" is about as interesting to me as the proceedings of the House of Representatives. If you all knew how little non-sports related TV I watch, you'd probablly freak out and try to build a time machine to move me forward past the 50's. I don't care about celebrities, and anything "outside the lines" is exactly that, its exactly what I hate, its reducing athletes to the status of celebrity. Which is bad. For athletes.

    To me, Giambi is missing next season. Or maybe he's not, I don't know, but talking about the possibility is as exciting to me as if he had an ankle injury. Is an ankle injury exciting?

    On that note, this other story would be funny regardless of who it was. See there is a difference. Jose Lima is a funny guy. He's one of only two or three heroes that I have (the others being Toussaint L'Ouverture and a ex-IRA Roxbury Cop named Gallagher I met at a Wu-Tang Clan concert and who taught me the inherent beauty of the double ear clap). To see Jose Lima add another chapter to an already rich story is just too much to pass by.

    A jury is actually making Jose Lima pay $500,000 to a woman he gave herpes to. Is that the going rate? I think I could deal with herpes for a half million. Any old dirty women out there want to have one last fling?

    Er, I'm kidding. Guys, I'm kidding.

    Anyways, if Jose Lima ever wants to write a book about his story, I'd love to be the ghostwriter. Not to mention I'd get a chance to meet his wife (who obviously also has herpes, maybe I can sue her).

    I'd like to take this moment to point out Jose Lima's wife:

    Well, regardless of real or not, the good news is there's still hope for all you STD carrying dirtbags out there.

    Okay, no more of that, from now on its all inside the lines. I heard the Yankees are after another pitcher older than dirt.

    Relatively clean STD carrying dirtbags and Jason Giambi's mom can email Curt to complain.
      Another risky Cuban. For six more years?
    Okay, so maybe this one is a little less risky. The Angels signed Kendry Morales to a six-year deal.

    By the way, he's not 21 like MLB is saying. He was 21 a few years ago. But whos counting? We'll have to wait and see if he's ready for the majors but he is supposed to be real good. He was clearly the best player in Cuba.

    The Angels offered him a six-year deal. Six years? They haven't disclosed the terms of the deal, so it may not be for that much money, but do the Angels really want to risk a six-year major league deal on a prospect? If he's good, it will certainly be worth it, and since the Angels are attempting to become Yankees-west, they're probablly not worried in the least.

    Lets go over a list off the top of baseball-reference's head of semi-recent Cuban defectors who played significant time in the MLB,
    Rolando Arroyo
    Danys Baez
    Jose Canseco
    Jose Contreras
    Livan Hernandez
    Orlando Hernandez
    Eli Marrero
    Rey Ordonez
    Rafael Palmeiro

    Don't forget the immortal Ozzie Canseco either. What do you notice about that list? Well besides the fact that its probablly not all-inclusive. The only thing I notice is that outside of Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro, there hasn't been a good position player to leave Cuba in a long time.

    Tony Perez, Minnie Minoso, and Tony Olivo were good back in the 70's, but on the surface, Cuban baseball looks very bleak when compared with the players coming out of the Dominican-Republic. It also looks like the stereotype about Cuban hitters being free swingers is correct; there are only eight Cuban born players with a over 500 games played with a career OBP over the 2004 league average of .333. Interesting.

    Not that any of that affects Kendry Morales at all. Its just fun to look at. Well, it is for me at least, leave me alone already.

    It will be great to watch this kid fight for a spot on the Angels next year. My fearless prediction: he will outhit Darin Erstad.
      One more reliever off the board.
    I just finished talking about the extreme shortage of good relievers. Well, take another one off the list. A team looking for bullpen help better start getting creative.

    The Giants signed Armando Benitez to a 3yr/$21M contract. Considering Troy Percival got 2yr/$12M, this is probablly about market value for a pitcher of basically the same value in a body three years younger.

    The Giants needed real help in the bullpen. Last season they combined for a 4.53 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP. Only three teams were worse, one of which plays in Colorado, and the other two, Cincinnatti and Arizona both play in hitters parks. Those three teams also lost 86, 94, and 111 games last year. For a playoff contending team like San Francisco, that plays in a pitchers park, having such a poor excuse for a bullpen is unacceptable.

    Benitez will certainly help, and with the list of good relievers dwindling fast, San Francisco needed to make this signing. The bad spin that people will try and put on it is in the constant reference to Armando Benitez's struggles to close out games. Those struggles have been pretty well documented. Benitez has mysteriously (Mitch Williams-like) lost his control, or at other key times, has given up game winning bombs.

    It's true, but most people would be very suprised to learn that Benitez has actually been a pretty reliable closer in his career. And what a lot of people probablly don't realize is that Benitez has saved 86% of his games. Considering this includes some blown saves "earned" as a setup man, its pretty damn good. If you count the 52 holds he has, he's gotten the job done 88% of the time.

    Any guesses on "THE GREATEST CLOSER IN THE HISTORY OF THE GAME"???? Any? Well, Mariano Rivera has also got the job done 88% of the time. Go figure.

    The difference is that Benitez has blown some big games, and has the reputation of a big game choker. Okay, fine they were some REALLY big games, and there were quite a few of them, but his reputation as a choker is still a little unfair. Was there no pressure during the regular season?

    UPDATE: Well, ignore that part about park factors, I was pretty wrong. Thanks to James for pointing that out, but did you have to be so mean about it. I have feelings, you know.