Great Expectations: A Spring Training Preview

Written by :
Published on : February 23, 2016

 

Oh no. This is a really weird feeling for a Cubs fan to have. For the first time that I can ever remember, the Lovable Losers on the North Side of Chicago seem to be both the unanimous pick to win their division and also a trendy choice for the 2016 World Series. And on paper it even makes sense. Last year, they proved that their young squad was ahead of their projected timeline, won 97 games and then went deep into the playoffs until they ran into a freakishly overachieving Daniel Murphy and a young Mets pitching staff that seems to remind everyone of the nineties Atlanta Braves. And then they went out in the offseason and got the best healthy pitcher and the best position player from their hated Cardinal rivals, and also added a guy who led the majors in WAR in 2009. Oh, and the rest of their seemingly-all-rookie lineup from last year is back and probably better than ever and still way too young and dumb to comprehend how a jaded, cynical asshole like me can still hesitate to be bullish on the prospects of a Thousand Year Cubs Dynasty.

 

This has to be too good to be true, right? There’s too much pressure. The Cubs never follow up a good season with another good season. Look at 1985, 1990 and every other year since The Year That Shall Not Be Named. And Jake Arrieta has to regress. Because he just has to. And John Lackey is 137 years old. And their bullpen isn’t quite there. And Jason Heyward isn’t a natural center fielder. And because they’re the fucking Cubs. Right? Like, why should I get my hopes up just to have them crushed again and again like I have my whole life? Why? Well… Because of Theo Epstein. And because of Joe Maddon. And because of that offense. Oh, that offense. And Kris Bryant. And Addison Russell. And Kyle Schwarber. And Anthony Rizzo. And the fact that Heyward is actually younger than Anthony Rizzo. And the fact that Heyward could win a Gold Glove in center. And because Arrieta may have pitched an assload of innings last year, but he famously stays in excellent shape. And because of how great of a story it would be if they actually did do it. And because, on paper, the Cubs just so happen to have the best team in baseball by a decent margin. Oh no, indeed.

 

 

The Rest of the NL Central

The Cubs may have kicked their ass and stolen their girlfriend, but the Cardinals are still the Cardinals. You just kind of assume they’ll be playing in October, no matter what. But even with Adam Wainwright back, the mystique feels like it’s gone, with a bad offseason and Yadier Molina needing to grow another thumb. Maybe their insane luck will finally run out. I also thought that about the Alabama football team back in September. Not that I should talk about football in the same breath I talk about St. Louis. Anyway… Then there’s the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s not like they sucked last year either. But nobody likes to talk about them because they’ll probably just get to the Wild Card and lose again, if they do anything at all. And the only fun thing about that is if Sean Rodriguez goes HAM on another water cooler. This division will inevitably be drowned out by the tidal wave of Cubs expectations. And the Reds and Brewers have probably already
drowned in it.

 

The NL East

According to EVERYONE, the Mets have the greatest pitching staff of all time, ever. And, yes, it’s horrifying. Matt Harvey is another year removed from Tommy John surgery. Jacob deGrom is a floppy-haired pitching monster. Noah Syndergaard actually is Thor. Big fat Bartolo Colon doesn’t age. Steven Matz would be a #1 starter on every other non-Mets team. And Zack Wheeler will be back in July to seal the already-done deal. Plus, all of them except Colon are 19 years old or something. The only problem is that nobody knows what type of hangover these guys will have from all those innings they ate up against Kansas City in the World Series. Or if they’ll even stay healthy. But if they do all bounce back, holy shit. Plus, they re-signed Yoenis Cespedes, which all makes for an excellent case for them to go back to the World Series. No matter how much I hate that.

 

 

Overall this division is horrible. But Bryce Harper and the dysfunctional Nationals should contend. Even though Dusty Baker is their new manager. And nobody knows what to make of the Miami Marlins quite yet. Don Mattingly is their new manager. Barry Bonds is their new hitting coach. Giancarlo Stanton will be healthy. So will Jose Fernandez. But we’ll have to see what all that means, if anything. Or if those guys can even stay healthy in the first place. And anyone looking to make a bold prediction on the division a la the 2015 Cubs and Astros might want to keep their eye on the Atlanta Braves, who are building a monster farm team, even though they’ll most likely be just slightly less shitty than the Phillies in 2016.

 

The NL West

I hate to say it, but 2016 is an even year. So we can probably throw all the analytics out the window and just hand the San Francisco Giants their fourth world title seven years. Their pitching staff picked up two possibly-great/possibly-hugely-disappointing acquisitions in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. And that could give them an edge in what everybody seems to think will be a three team race with the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks.

 

The Dodgers lost Zack Greinke. To the Diamondbacks. They also have a rookie manager in Dave Roberts. In a market that wore out Mattingly and sent him to Miami. They also didn’t do anything with their gigantic payroll in the offseason. And any time you need to rely on Yasiel Puig for anything other than drama, it’s a pretty scary predicament. But this is a deep team with a crazy-good farm system. And they’ll probably be in enough contention by the time the trade deadline rolls around to throw money at whatever problems they have (that don’t involve lack of team chemistry). Plus they still have Clayton Kershaw. At the end of the day, as a resident Angelino, I just want to see Vin Scully go out in style. And if that means the Dodgers have to be good for that to happen, I can accept that.

 

 

Yes, Arizona got Greinke. And Shelby Miller. And they still have unrecognizable superstar, Paul Goldschmidt and equally unrecognizable AJ Pollock. But their projections aren’t too high as of now because of a lack of offensive depth (sup, Yasmany Tomas?). And it seems more likely they could be this year’s Padres and/or White Sox. As for the 2016 Padres and Rockies, I’m not wasting my time. It is an even year, after all.

 

The AL East

Every team in the division not named the Baltimore Orioles seem to have a chance this year. But the overall consensus comes down to the rebounding Boston Red Sox and the reigning division champion Toronto Blue Jays. Personally, I don’t know how acquiring David Price and Craig Kimbrel turns a 78-win last place team into a division favorite, but that’s just how the east coast media bias works. But it will be fun to see how fat Pablo Sandoval is. And if Hanley Ramirez can play first base. And it’s also the swan song for Big Papi. Plus, David Price is actually really fucking good. So I don’t know.

 

 

The Blue Jays have the best offense in baseball. And reigning MVP, Josh Donaldson. And their offense might be even better than last year since Troy Tulowitzki never got comfortable in Toronto in 2015. They’ll just have to stay healthy. And hope somebody on their team can pitch. As for the Yankees, they’re really old. And look how that worked out for them last season. Plus, you never know about that staff. And as good as their bullpen looks right now, we still don’t know what’s going to happen with Aroldis Chapman’s domestic abuse suspension. And the Rays have Chris Archer and the rest of their great starting five, but they’ll basically need everybody else on the lineup to be awesome to compete. Oh, and also the Orioles are in this division too, I guess.

 

The AL Central

The Royals won the World Series last year, no big deal. And they were one Madison Bumgarner away from being back-to-back World Series champions. Yet for some reason, Baseball Prospectus has them projected to be in last place in the Central in 2016. What gives? Maybe you can’t project things like ‘putting the ball in play and its positive consequences’ or ‘playing with a chip on their shoulder’, but whatever they did the past two seasons worked, so I don’t know why it wouldn’t work again. They have the defense. They have the bullpen. It’s just so hard to make a good enough argument for or against a team with relatively zero stars, that’s this mediocre on paper, going to three straight Fall Classics.

 

 

The hot pick in the AL Central continues to be the Cleveland Indians because of an extremely good pitching staff. Add Francisco Lindor’s defense behind them and they could be a powerhouse. Or Michael Brantley could be hurt and their offense could struggle and they won’t have the money to make acquisitions at the trade deadline to compete. And while I have a soft spot for the Detroit Tigers, they’re also getting a little long in the tooth. They got Justin Upton to aid a pretty good, but aging offense. And they picked up Jordan Zimmermann and K-Rod to help out a healthy, but aging Justin Verlander-led group of arms. Health is the key here. And if they have it, they might compete. The White Sox might also compete, even though nobody outside of Bridgeport is talking about them. They got Todd Frazier. They have Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and a full season from Carlos Rodon. It’s just that everybody is distracted by the heat of a thousand suns ™ on the North Side. And the Twins have Miguel Sano, who is going to hit 40 dongs this year. Even though they were so terrible last year, that even when they were in first place for a while nobody bought it. If that makes any sense. Not that it should. Why would anything in this division make sense? I mean, Royals went to the World Series the past two years.

 

The AL West

Even though the Astros are the unanimous choice to win the division, everybody would rather talk about the Texas Rangers. Their 2015 playoff run was nothing short of a miracle. And now they’ll have full seasons from Cole Hamels and a healthy Yu Darvish. It’s just that nobody really expected the Astros to be where they were last season either. And now nobody expects them to regress. And the former hot choices in the division seem like yesterday’s newspaper. Mike Trout has no talent around him in Anaheim. Nobody wants to get fooled by the Mariners ever again. And the A’s need too much to get anything done.

 

 

So there you have it. Now you’re ready for the baseball season. And now you know why your team probably sucks and why you should switch allegiances to the Chicago Cubs. Or at least that’s how everything looks right now. Spring training, when nothing counts. And before the actual season comes with all its shitty reality to break hearts, launch new stars into the stratosphere and ruin every expectation, rendering long-winded predictions like the one I just spent way too long typing on a nice afternoon completely worthless. But hey, that’s baseball.

 

What else were we gonna talk about, Donald Trump?

 

 

 


6 Things I Learned From Watching the Baseball Hall of Fame Coverage

Written by :
Published on : January 9, 2016

 

 

Announcement Day for the Baseball Hall of Fame is one of my favorite days of the year. The kid in me loved seeing an impossibly aged, 46-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. – a guy who I idolized and whose posters were all over my bedroom walls growing up – get the official phone call from the Baseball Writers Association of America. I also loved seeing the elation of a guy like Mike Piazza, who had to wait years because of the dark cloud of PED speculation swirling over his head, finally getting in as well. But mostly, like I said in my last blog, the baseball nerd in me loved seeing guys like Bob Costas, Peter Gammons and other baseball writers and experts weigh in on the candidates and spark debates that I could watch all day. And so I did. I watched the pre-pre shows. I watched the four hours of coverage. I watched the post-coverage and the post-post coverage. I watched it all. And here’s what I learned.

 

1. Everyone But 3 Writers and Tom Seaver Wanted Griffey to Get 100% of the Ballots.

 

Ken Griffey Jr. was on 100% of the early ballots reported and everybody seemed really giddy about it because that’s never happened before. Not with Willie Mays. Not with Hank Aaron. Not with anybody. The highest vote total ever was actually Tom Seaver’s 98.84% in 1992. But when all of the ballots were finally in, Griffey ended up at 99.30%. Which means that three people didn’t vote for him. There are already all kinds of theories as to why that would be, and witch hunts for who those three people are, but my best guess would be that two people accidentally voted for David Eckstein and one person accidentally voted for Garret Anderson. The math works and so does the logic. Otherwise, holy shit.

 

Also, one thing that I found really interesting after Griffey and Piazza were elected, there were get-well wishes from Johnny Bench and Tom Seaver. And if you’re thinking, “How nice. Seaver congratulated the guy who surpassed his vote total and Bench congratulated the guy who surpassed him as the greatest hitting catcher of all-time,” then you’d be wrong. Bench congratulated Griffey, who grew up around Bench’s Big Red Machine because of his dad and Seaver congratulated Piazza because they were both on the Mets, decades apart. I mean, they could have said other stuff. But this is all they showed. And it’s way more fun to be catty.

 

Another fun moment was when they dug up Griffey’s first manager, Jim Lefebvre, to congratulate him. First of all, Lefebvre had no idea how the voting process worked and kept saying, “For this young man to get 100% of Hall of Famers to vote for him is truly a remarkable accomplishment.” And that’s just no. And second of all, Griffey seemed slightly confused and annoyed as to why he had to talk to Lefebvre to begin with. Plus the show’s host, Greg Amsinger, basically had to get a shepherd’s hook to shut Lefebvre up every time he was rambling. It really made no sense to have him there. Jim Lefebvre only managed the Mariners for three years. So Lou Piniella must have been too busy angrily tossing bases around on some Little League diamond or something to be bothered.

 

 

2. Griffey is Only the 4th Center Fielder to Be Elected Since Duke Snider.

Griffey

 

And that’s counting Robin Yount (who was a shortstop) and Andre Dawson (who, as a Cub’s fan, I consider a right fielder). So really, Ken Griffey Jr. and Kirby Puckett are the only center fielders since Willie, Mickey and the Duke to get elected to the Hall of Fame. That sounded like it had to be wrong, but it isn’t. And the weird thing is, since 1964 (the year Snider retired) nobody else has really been in the conversation. I mean, are you actually going to argue for Jimmy Wynn and Chet Lemon? Sure, this was used as more of a devil’s advocate argument for Jim Edmonds than anything. But Kenny Lofton was one-and-done on the ballots. So was Bernie Williams. And, unfortunately for him, so was Edmonds. The position is currently highly underrepresented as it is. But after Griffey, we’ll have to wait and see the fates of Andruw Jones, Carlos Beltran and Torii Hunter. And then probably just hope Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen can keep it up.

 

3. This is the Class of #1 and #1,390.

Piazza

 

Griffey was the first pick of the 1987 Draft. Mike Piazza was the 1,390th pick in the 1988 Draft. So that makes for a good story. Especially since Griffey was also the first number one overall to go to the Hall of Fame. Not Harold Baines in 1977, not Darryl Strawberry in 1980. Certainly not Shawon Dunston in 1982. But that feat will soon be equaled by Chipper Jones. Possibly A-Rod. Possibly Joe Mauer. And (dare I say) possibly David Price. Plus it gives hope to down-on-their-luck guys like Bryce Harper and Carlos Correa who nobody ever talks about like they’re any good.

 

4. Trevor Hoffman Will Get In. Because Mariano Rivera.

Hoffman

 

I want you to listen to me. Trevor Hoffman getting more votes than Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina is INSANE. Schilling pitched 3,261 innings in his career. Mussina pitched 3,562. On the other hand, the two new relievers to the list (Hoffman and Billy Wagner) only pitched 1,089 and 903. That’s not even close to the same thing. And don’t tell me how they were used was not their fault. If either Hoffman or Wagner were good enough to start, they would have. Clayton Kershaw isn’t a relief pitcher. You want him going seven instead of one. When John Smoltz started to suck, they sent him to the pen. When Kerry Wood started to suck, they also sent him to the pen. And then they were both somehow good again. Like, do you know what Curt Schilling would have done as a one inning relief man? He would have made everybody in question, Rivera included, look like fucking chump change. Rivera was a failed starter. Wagner was a failed starter. Hoffman was a failed shortstop who could throw hard for one inning. The logic of voting for Hoffman over any starter is so stupid to me. But since everyone blindly decided that Mariano Rivera (and his 1,283 innings) was this infallible super god, then we have to deem the #2 guy with almost the same respect. But the fact is, if Rivera was just slightly better, he could have been a mediocre #3 starter. Give me a break.

 

 

5. I Changed My Mind on Larry Walker and Fred McGriff.

McGriff

 

Larry Walker isn’t getting in, period. I think they said the lowest vote total anybody has gotten and still eventually been elected was Duke Snider’s 17%. Walker is currently sitting at 15.5% and wasn’t even covered in any of the discussions leading up to the announcement. And that’s because his home/road splits are bananas. No pun intended. So I guess I’ll have to give up on Walker for now. Your move, Todd Helton. On the other hand, I’ve come to the realization that the 1994 strike completely fucked Fred McGriff. And somehow that argument had never occurred to me. Maybe because I don’t like thinking about the strike. But McGriff is just seven home runs shy of an automatic Cooperstown bid. And through 113 games in 1994, he had 34. So yeah, he would have gotten seven more if they’d played the season out. So I’d switch my votes out for those two if we were ready to play the game all over.

 

 

6. There’s a Real Movement to Soften on Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Bonds

 

They’re different than the rest of the steroid guys, you see. And they might well be. So we’ll have to see if people are willing to forgive and forget over the next six years. Or if they’ll be banished to Mark McGwire/Rafael Palmeiro Island. And while we’re at it, there seems to be another real movement to let the BWAA vote on Pete Rose. Just to be clear, Shoeless Joe Jackson was on the first ever Hall of Fame ballot in 1936. He got two votes and was never back on. But Rose has never gotten that opportunity. And aren’t being banned from baseball and being in the Hall of Fame two different things?

 

 

Okay. That about wraps up my excitement from Hall of Fame Announcement Day. See you next year when Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines finally get in. And I complain even more about Trevor Hoffman.

 

 


Eric Wedge Needs Another Chance

Written by :
Published on : September 9, 2015

 

When looking at the problems surrounding his old team, former Mariners manager, Eric Wedge, can feel at ease that his managing was not the issue. The team hired Lloyd McClendon to replace him last year, and they still stink. During his time running the organization, Jack Zduriencik hired three different managers and they produced five losing seasons with only two winning ones. For that reason that Zduriencik was fired on August 28th.

 

The men he hired to run the team never had a chance to succeed because Zduriencik never provided them with good players to work with. Poor drafting was a big culprit, as demonstrated by disappointing first round picks, Dustin Ackley, Nick Franklin, Danny Hultzen and Mike Zunino.

 

The brains behind the Mariners roster, Jack Zduriencik

 

When he resigned, Wedge criticized Zduriencik and you have to wonder if that is why he is currently unemployed. The fact is that no boss wants their employee ripping them in public and it’s not a good look to show prospective employers. Another reason teams might be shying away from Wedge is his losing record (774-876). I don’t believe he should be punished for that because the man can straight up manage. He masterfully rebuilt the Cleveland Indians and had them one game away from the World Series in 2007.

 

There’s no way the Mariners problems should be held against him because the issues with the team were out of his control. He deserves one last shot to manage a major league club. One that is ready to win now.

 

Joe Maddon did it for the Cubs. Wedge can do it for some other team.

 

If he could step into the type of situation Joe Maddon did in Chicago this year, with a team that is ready to win, then I think he could really make something happen. The Cubs will make the playoffs this year because they finally found a manager that knows what he’s doing. If another team with some good pieces in place hired Wedge, they could do the same. He knows how to lead. He commands respect. He gets things done and he knows how to develop players. He can win.

 

We can’t hold his losing recored against him because he was either managing rebuilding projects with the Indians or leading a terrible team with the Mariners. It’s time he is judged on what he can do with a good squad.

 

His teams will never get outworked and he will never get out managed. They will play fundamentally sound baseball and will be disciplined. He calls it like he sees it and will hold his guys accountable when they don’t perform up to his standards. As a result his players will get better and the team will win.

 

They could use this kind of passion and leadership in Boston or Detroit.

 

Two teams I can think of that could use Wedge’s services are the Red Sox and the Tigers. They both have young talent and can win now, they just need the right manager. Something they do not have at the moment in John Farrell and Brad Ausmus, respectively.

 

These teams, or any team in need, would be better for hiring him and he would immediately command respect in the clubhouse. The players would want to play for him and it would be an absolute joke if he didn’t get another gig after what he had to endure in Seattle. He has put the time into his craft and he knows what to do. It’s time for him to get another shot and prove that he can get it done.

 

 


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