The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Hurricane Baseball Season Opens

There’s one night every January that’s my favorite. It’s typically the last Saturday of the month. This particular night is my favorite of all of January – and possibly of all of the year – because it marks the start of baseball season.

Most fans count down the days until “pitchers and catchers report” to major league camps. But for those of us in the South, college baseball season usually starts even sooner than that (at least it has in the past and continues to do so – and it will until the Northern teams garner enough votes to move the start of the season back another month or so).

Baseball season started on Saturday night for me and for all of us in Miami, as the University of Miami men’s baseball team opened up its 2005 season with a scrimmage against its Alumni.

Here are some highlights and tidbits from Saturday night’s game:

Current Players
Danny Figueroa led off and played centerfield for the Canes. This was a very encouraging sign, as Danny missed nearly all of last season due to various injuries. Reports throughout the offseason – even from head coach Jim Morris – had given Danny’s progress mixed reviews, and it wasn’t clear how much of a contributor Figueroa would be to the 2005 club. He made good contact, showed good speed, and reached base multiple times – all of which was encouraging. On the flipside, Danny did not throw much before the start of innings with the other outfielders, and even deferred to the right fielder on a fly ball early in the contest. While the ball was hit into the right-center field gap, normally it was a ball that the center fielder would take. However, it seemed that the two fielders talked about the play while the ball was in flight, and the right fielder caught the ball. This was apparently done as there was likely a play on the base paths after the ball was caught (and the right fielder would be in better shape to make the throw than Figueroa.

The lowlight of Figueroa’s performance was getting picked off of first base in the first inning by a lefthander with a tough pick-off move. Actually, it wasn’t just that Danny was picked off, it was that the normally speedy Figueroa was run down before reaching second base by the bulky former Cane, Jim Burt.

The other starters for the game were Danny Valencia at 1B, Paco Figueroa at 2B, Roger Tomas at SS, Ryan Braun at 3B, Jon Jay in LF, Brendan Katin in RF, Eddy Rodriguez at C, and Alex Garabedian at DH.

Dan Touchet started for the Canes on the mound. Touchet was worked back into the rotation last season following arm surgery and he was an effective starter for the Canes. In my casual observation of Saturday’s outing, I felt his delivery causes him to be overly dependent on his upper body to generate velocity. Given that he appears to have a strong lower body (and has had arm troubles in the past) this is somewhat worrisome.

Highly touted freshman recruit Alex Garabedian, who was a seventh round pick by the Yankees in last year’s draft, started at designated hitter. While his role for the Canes is likely increased as long as former starter Gaby Sanchez is suspended, given the reputation that Garabedian has earned in his career up to this point, it seems that he might take this opportunity to solidify his place in the lineup for the next three years. Despite being highly touted and well known even amongst fans, Garabedian appears to be a team player with a good attitude. Before the game he was in the bullpen warming up pitchers and came out to the field between innings to help warm up the right fielder.

Ryan Braun homered to right-center field in his first at bat.

Aubrey Huff simply looks like a major leaguer. He carries himself differently from nearly everyone else on the field. Also, despite hitting with a wood bat (as nearly all of the alumni did), Huff somehow gets nearly the same sound out of the bat when he makes contact with the ball that a normal person gets when using an aluminum bat. There simply is a difference between a major league quality hitter and the rest of us. You might not be able to tell the difference from the swing, but you can certainly hear it.

At one point while Danny Gil, younger brother of former Cane David Gil (who also played for the alumni Saturday night), Huff called over to Gil in the bullpen (Huff was playing right field). He playfully asked Gil when he was entering the game. After Gil responded, Huff said something to the effect of “Good – I’ll get to hit against you.”

Fortunately for Gil, Huff's swing and timing are not yet in mid-season form. During their encounter Huff grounded out. While it's been awhile since I've watched Huff bat in person, it seemed to me that Aubrey had a very long stride (and this was starting from a wide stance). This, combined with the relatively poor lighting (certainly by major league standards) at Mark Light Field, did not make for great hitting conditions for Huff or anyone else.

Jim Burt (Junior of course – and yes, he’s the son of the former 49er of the same name that you probably remember; and yes, he’s the same son who paraded around the Super Bowl field on his father’s shoulder pads twenty or so years ago) started at first base for the alums. While Burt was surely not the most talented Cane baseball player ever (he may have done better professionally if he’d played football in college instead of baseball) and he didn’t have the gaudiest statistics of all time, you have to applaud Jim Burt’s hustle (well, and his defensive ability too). If you just watched Burt and the effort he puts into each play of each game, you wouldn’t know if you were watching the College World Series, a key game in a playoff race, or a friendly game of current Canes versus Alumni. Jim Burt plays the game as it was meant to be played.

Julio Solis started for the alums behind the plate. While Solis has been out of the competitive game for awhile, he still impressed me with his strong arm from behind the plate. Granted, he may need a different chest protector to help cover his belly, but at times he seemed to be daring Canes to run on him by dropping the ball.

It was announced before the game that former Cane Russ Jacobsen had been traded on Saturday to the Devil Rays organization. Out of respect for Aubrey Huff, no snide remarks were made and no condolences were given to Jacobsen.

Marcus Nettles flashed his trademark speed and what seemed to be a much more compact stroke at the plate.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Praise for Marlins Pursuit of Delgado Misguided

The Marlins are being widely praised of late for their efforts to land free agent slugger Carlos Delgado – at least that’s how it feels locally, as the Marlins seem to have improved the sentiment from the media and the fan base around town. While on the surface, the Marlins recent efforts are laudable, after taking a somewhat deeper look at the reality of the situation, what the Marlins are doing might not be so great after all. Let’s rewind a little…

After winning the 2003 World Series the Marlins made a half-hearted effort to keep Ivan Rodriguez as their catcher. They also off-loaded Gold Glove first baseman Derrek Lee, who would be due a large pay increase. At the time, payroll limitations were cited as the primary reasons for letting these players go. It all made sense, and the post-2003 fire sale was far less severe than the post-1997 fire sale, so fans were relatively pleased. Emerging stars like Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett, and A.J. Burnett would all be back, so there was nothing to worry about.

In exchange for losing Rodriguez, the Marlins received some compensatory draft picks. It will be years before we know how those prospects turn out. Derrek Lee was traded to the Cubs in exchange for Hee Seop Choi and another minor leaguer.

While Choi paid immediate dividends for the Marlins (homering on opening day), he did not stay with the club for very long. By late July, with the Marlins still in the playoff hunt, and in need of a catcher, he was traded to Los Angeles – along with, at the time – at least arguably, staff ace Brad Penny and Bill Murphy, a highly regarded pitching prospect (if there is such a thing). In exchange, the Marlins received all-star catcher Paul LoDuca, relief specialist Guillermo Mota, and outfielder Juan Encarnacion.

In the end the Marlins ended the 2004 season with Paul Lo Duca, Juan Encarnacion, and Guillermo Mota after all these wheelings and dealings. Other players were moved around to fill out the roster and the rotation, but by taking Rodriguez and Lee off the books and replacing them with the players they did, the Marlins saved more than $5 million.

Even though the Marlins didn’t make the playoffs in 2004, they did come close to earning a wild card berth – and we were all under the assumption that they did so while being fiscally responsible.

Then the offseason began. First the Marlins signed Al Leiter to an eight million dollar contract (with much of the money, as has been the case with possibly all of the Marlins recent big ticket contracts, deferred for many years).

In a move that made more sense, at least financially, the Marlins resigned Paul Lo Duca to a three year contract, which will pay him $18 million. They are now, as has been widely reported, in the bidding for Carlos Delgado. Reportedly their latest offer is for four years and $50 million.

Instead of simply praising the Marlins for moving after a high-priced free agent (as they’re doing with Delgado here), let’s break it down and see what the Marlins could have had:

Option A – Reload after the 2003 season
Acquire 1B Carlos Delgado – 4 year deal, $50 million guaranteed (some money deferred)
In Delgado’s absence during 2004, use Hee Seop Choi, or minor league equivalent in his place ($300,000)
Acquire C Paul Lo Duca – pay portion of 2004 $3.9 million salary; next three years for $18 million
Acquire P Al Leiter – pay $8 million for 2005
Acquire RP Guillermo Mota - $1.5 million in 2004; $2.6 million in 2005

Option B – Keep the players that won 2003 World Series
Keep P Brad Penny - $3.7 million in 04, $5.1 million in 05
Resign C Ivan Rodriguez – 4 years, $40 million
Resign 1B Derrek Lee – 3 years, $24 million

Option A, the path that the Marlins have actually pursued up to this point, is actually more expensive and is focused on older players and exclusively on players in the decline phase of their careers.

Option B, on the other hand, centers around two players (Penny and Lee) who are young and have significant upside remaining, as well as it includes a future Hall of Famer at catcher, who was the heart of the team on it’s run to the 2003 World Series.

At the time, particularly as the excuses regarding the financial constraints they were facing, the moves that the Marlins were making made sense. However, looking back at it now, it is clear that the excuses the Marlins were using were simply rhetoric and were not based in fact.

So go ahead, praise Jeffrey Loria and David Samson for going out and trying to lure a big free agent. Just be cognizant of the fact that the Marlins didn’t have to be in a position to go after him. They put themselves in this place. Instead, they could be set for the remainder of the decade at first base with Derrek Lee. It wouldn’t cost them much offensively, and it would be a tremendous upgrade defensively. Most importantly of all – well, if you believe what the Marlins normally tell us – Lee would have come much more cheaply than Carlos Delgado.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

What Games are the Marlins Playing with this Stadium Financing Plan?

Over the weekend, Sun-Sentinel columnist Mike Berardino penned a nice column debating the merits of the Marlins pursuit of free agent slugger Carlos Delgado compared to using that money to fund a new ballpark.

What’s lost in all the discussion of whether or not the Marlins really have the financial ability to lure a player of Delgado’s caliber instead of building a new ballpark for themselves is that the Fish – or their owners really – don’t have as much incentive to have a new ballpark built as one might think. Well, at least they don’t have that incentive right off the bat.

When Jeffrey Loria bought the Marlins back in early 2002, he took out a loan from Major League Baseball for $38 million. That’s all well and good, and was necessary to get the deal done at the time. However, some of the fine print of the deal could be causing some snags now:

The person who spoke about the loan said Loria would pay no interest the first
couple of years. If the Marlins do not get a new park within five years, $15
million of the loan will be forgiven, and Loria will owe baseball only $23
million with no interest on the balance. But, said another person familiar
with the transaction, if the team gets a new park, baseball would receive 20
percent of the Marlins' profits for the first five years. (Link)

So, at this point, the Marlins are in year three of the Loria ownership. They’re about halfway to the point of being able to have $15 million of a loan forgiven, and halfway to not having to share the profits of their new ballpark with MLB and the league’s other owners.

What isn’t clear here is what “if the Marlins do not get a new park within five years” means. Sure, this is a little bit like Bill Gates stating, “Well that depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.” But without access to the specifics of the contract, we do not know if to have the loan forgiven and to not have to share their profits if the Marlins would have to agree to the deal more than five years after they took ownership of the club, or if the five year period includes the team being moved into the new ballpark.

Given the Marlins’ owners history of questionable dealings in the past (ask the former minority of the owners for their opinions), there seems to be much more to the story here than we can piece together from what’s being reported in the media.

On the one hand, Dolphins Stadium owner Wayne Huizenga wants the Marlins, tenants of his stadium for 81 days per year, off the premises as soon as possible. Instead of hosting the Marlins, Huizenga instead wants to host cricket and soccer matches, as well as trade shows.

At the same time, the Marlins regularly cry poor. They allegedly lost money even during their 2003 World Series season. The Marlins also claim that under the terms of their lease agreement Huizenga and Dolphins Stadium, they can’t realistically expect to make money. Thus they can’t afford high priced talent (even retaining their own players), so they won’t be able to remain competitive over the long haul.

Then the Marlins go out and raise the ante for a slugger coming off an injury plagued season (not to knock Delgado here – I like him as a player and think he’s due for a monster 2005 campaign; the money is the issue here).

So what’s the deal? Are the Marlins and Loria really committed to winning? Why are they willing to shell out $35 to $40 million to Carlos Delgado and not willing to contribute $30 million to their new stadium? Is it because if the agreement about a new stadium is delayed for another year or two that they’ll have $15 million in debt forgiven and not have to share 20% of their profits with Major League Baseball?

There’s more going on here than meets the eye folks. The A’s may have taken first dibs on the relocating to Las Vegas, but don’t go getting your hopes up about seeing the Marlins in Miami for a long time either.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Option B for Marlins: Magglio Ordonez?

It has not been this widely speculated yet – actually, I haven’t heard it speculated about at all – but after Carlos Delgado signs, arguably the best free agent left on the market will be Magglio Ordonez, and acquiring him would make sense for the Marlins.

While Delgado is surely the safer bet (check out Delgado’s second half stats if you’re concerned about his healthy), Ordonez could come at a discounted price, and if his health is better than some have speculated (i.e. the White Sox, who were content to let him get away over concerns stemming from his repeated injuries), he could turn out to be quite a bargin for the Marlins.

Like Pudge Rodriguez prior to the 2003 campaign, Maggs could probably be had for a one year deal (if he remains on the market for a few more weeks), and possibly even a one year, incentive laden and/or deferred money contract. Acquiring Ordonez if the Mets swoop in and land Delgado could be a pretty nice second prize on a number of levels:

First, Maggs brings a big bat. He hits for power. He hits for average. Second, he forces one of the Marlins weaker bats to the bench. This would likely be either Jeff Conine or Juan Encarnacion (my guess is that if they were able to sign Ordonez, Encarnacion would be traded for a prospect or two – if a taker could be found – and that Conine would play first base).

Another valuable, although much less quantifiable attribute that Ordonez would bring is in the clubhouse. The Marlins have an emerging superstar in Miguel Cabrera. While Ordonez hasn’t risen to the level of superstardom in the United States that many believe Cabrera will, he is a four time All-Star who is revered in Venezuela as a baseball legend. This influence could teach Cabrera, who is also a native of Venezuela, well and help keep him on the path to the perennial all-star type of career that many experts forecast for him.

About the only thing that Ordonez wouldn’t bring to the Marlins is left handed power. Still, the value of his bat from the right side makes that almost pointless.

There are significant concerns about his health (he only participated in fifty-two games for the White Sox last season), but with the right contract he could be a great fit for the Marlins. It’s definitely too much to hope that the Fish could end up with both Carlos Delgado and Magglio Ordonez, but at the same time I wouldn’t say that it’s out of the realm of possibility. Even ending up with one of the two would be a significant victory for the Marlins this season, as landing either player makes the club a legitimate post-season contender.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Others to Point Fingers at Instead of Randy Moss

Randy Moss is being widely lambasted today throughout the football world for his antics after his second touchdown reception in yesterday’s game. For those of you who missed it, check out this story for the particulars.

While you work yourself up into a lather over Moss’s actions here, keep in mind the other participants of this story which are receiving less publicity.

Joe Buck, the Fox announcer who was the most vocal about Moss’s antics yesterday is also the same announcer who films the humorous “Leon” commercials for Budweiser. Leon is, of course, a flamboyant, me-first superstar athlete stereotype in the flesh, who brings many of Randy Moss’s traits with him to the commercials. Apparently Buck doesn’t see the similarities, or he’s being paid by Fox (at the time) to express his outrage towards things that he is paid to make light of at other times.

Fox, by condoning the statements of Buck and their other talking heads, is also being hypocritical here. The same network that brought us such programming as “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss” and “Who’s My Daddy?” apparently draws the line at over the top end zone celebrations.

But neither Joe Buck nor Fox is as culpable in all of this as the NFL itself. Ironically the NFL will likely end up punishing Moss here when in reality it should punishing itself. The NFL is the same league that brings us scantily clad cheerleaders each week (you’d likely find more fully clothed young women at your local topless club). The NFL also allows for endless promotion of offensive programming during the broadcasts of their games, solely because the networks that pay for the privileges pay them so richly.

The NFL’s act of being shocked and offended after the fact is simply played out. After last year’s Super Bowl, the NFL acted horrified. After Joe Horn used a cell phone to call his mother after scoring a touchdown during the 2003 regular season, the league was similarly horrified. If the NFL really cared, they would take action that would ensure that nothing they would deem offensive would happen again (something extreme like threatening anyone who does anything on the playing field that the league finds offensive with a lifetime suspension).

That will never happen though. The NFL doesn’t want it to. The NFL – as much as its executives feign outrage and disgust at the acts carried out by its players – loves this sort of attention. Folks are talking about the NFL today and the playoffs. What else could the league hope for? Apparently the league believes the old adage that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that the NFL has a moral conscious and that it really wants to do anything like cleaning up the on field antics of the likes of Moss.

Carlos Delgado to the Marlins?

The Marlins have apparently found money in a pile somewhere as they are making serious overtures to Carlos Delgado. While signing Delgado would be a huge coup for the Fish, this is not something that was widely expected – even as recently as a week or two ago.

It would reportedly take a franchise record contract (in terms of dollars, not years) for the Marlins to land the slugger, but all things considered, he would be well worth it. Carlos is 32 (turns 33 in late June), meaning that a 3-year deal would only extend into his mid-30s – a time when he should still be expected to be very productive. The Marlins may actually be getting Delgado at a discount (should they be able to stave off offers from the Mets and Rangers, amongst others), as he is coming off an (by his standards) unproductive 2004 campaign.

Delgado would also help to shore up the Marlins lineup, from one of the few places where an impact bat would make an immediate improvement. The acquisition of Delgado would also improve the Marlins bench, as it would force Jeff Conine (or possibly Juan Encarnacion to the bench).

Speaking of such things, let’s have some offseason fun and speculate as to what the Marlins lineup might look like:

1 – Juan Pierre (CF)
2 – Luis Castillo (2B)
3 – Miguel Cabrera (LF)
4 – Carlos Delgado (1B)
5 – Mike Lowell (3B)
6 – Paul LoDuca (C)
7 – Juan Encarnacion (RF)
8 – Alex Gonzalez (SS)
9 - Pitcher

Suddenly having Juan Encarnacion in your lineup doesn’t seem so painful. As a 7th place hitter, Juan could actually be considered productive, although he still isn’t likely to put up the numbers that you’d probably like to see from your right fielder.

The big question mark in this lineup (assuming Delgado really ends up in it) is Luis Castillo. Rumors have started to circulate that Castillo may be on the trading block. The purported reason is that his salary (Luis signed a new contract after the 2003 World Series season) may be too expensive for the Marlins over the long run. In my opinion, this is likely a cover for the sad truth that Luis has injury problems (he has had hip surgery in the past) and has lost much of his speed (or at least the ability to steal bases).

If Castillo is moved, that would likely move LoDuca up to the second slot in the lineup (a nice place for a proven run producer and a good contact hitter) and would elevate Encarnacion from 7th to 6th in the order. Castillo’s replacement – who is likely to be an unproven major leaguer would then bat 7th or 8th.

While yesterday it seemed more likely that Delgado could end up in black and teal, it's now seeming more likely that he will end up with the Rangers (apparently he likes Texas and their stadium) or the Mets (where they're willing to spend most anything to steal headlines - since titles are apparently unattainable - from the Yankees).

At this point, it’s all just conjecture, but at least it’s interesting. This could be the third year in a row of positive talk surrounding the Marlins. That would be an all-time first I believe.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Are the Twins are Laughing at the White Sox Today?

Yesterday the White Sox inked catcher A.J. Pierzynzki to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. While he spent last season as the backstop for the Giants, for the bulk of his major league career, A.J. was a member of the Minnesota Twins.

The Twins, winners of seemingly every AL Central Division title this millennium got rid of A.J. for good reasons. His abilities as a player are questionable; his personality is apt to rub teammates the wrong way. Most importantly, this just brings to light how foolish last summer’s trade of Miguel Olivo was.

In Olivo, the Sox had a young, developing star behind the plate. He’d come up through the Sox system with many of the Sox pitchers and prospects and seemed to fit into the team’s future plans quite well. Instead, Olivo’s potential was sent to the Mariners in exchange for Freddy Garcia, who was quickly rewarded with a rich contract that will likely limit the Sox’s ability to acquire front line players who are either already-in or coming-into their primes.

Now the Twins and their fans have one more reason to laugh at the White Sox; the Sox are now taking the Twins castoffs, and this doesn’t even really make them a better team than they were before.

Monday, January 03, 2005

College Football Recap and Ramblings

We’ll start off 2005 here at The Book with a non-baseball post.

  • I’m back from Atlanta after ringing in the New Year just down the street from the Georgia Dome, site of the Hurricanes 27 – 10 win over the Gators on New Year’s Eve. I’m not even going to get into the game much or the rivalry at all. The Gators and their fans just aren’t worth it. Their arrogance is unsubstantiated, and they’re amongst the worst folks to attend a sporting event with of all the groups of fans that I’ve ever seen at an event.

    The outlook for the Hurricanes 2005 season is somewhat murky. If all or most of the key underclassmen return for next season, the 05 campaign could be a special one. However, rumors persist that a number of Canes – including RB Frank Gore, CB Kelly Jennings, WR Roscoe Parrish, DL Orien Harris, and LB Rocky McIntosh – will leave school early and enter the NFL draft.

    It’s not like the Canes haven’t seen this happen before. It happens nearly every year, in fact. What’s different this time around is that the players in question aren’t mortal locks to be high first round draft picks. In fact, there are serious questions as to whether any of the underclassmen would even be picked on the first day of the draft. Still, some players, most notably Frank Gore, likely have ample reason to enter this year’s NFL draft.

    Gore comes from a poor family, his father is deceased, and his mother is terminally ill. Frank will also receive his bachelor’s degree in May, so if he did return for his 5th season, he would in all likelihood be entering a graduate program. Gore has also overcome two reconstructive knee surgeries. Although many feel that returning to Miami for another year could boost Gore’s stock and turn him into a first round pick, Gore would also be risking it all. Unlike other NFL prospects, Gore is (apparently) unable to buy insurance against his potential future earnings because of his history of knee injuries. This alone makes it likely that Gore will enter the NFL draft. By coming out this year, he can take some sure money (which can be used to defray his mother’s medical bills) instead of risking it all (although he would have a college degree) and potentially ending up with nothing (if he suffers another injury next season).

    The other underclassmen who are allegedly considering the draft are doing so for various reasons. Apparently Roscoe Parrish feels that he’s surrounded by so much talent at Miami that he may not be enough of a focal point of the offense next year. If that’s the case, I can’t imagine how it would be any better for Parrish in the NFL.

    Jennings and McIntosh also are apparently unhappy with their roles on the team and feel they should be given more starring roles on the defense. Such sentiment is not likely to sit well with NFL front office people, who typically like mid-round picks to be good team players and non-disruptive forces in the locker room. I don’t know that Jennings or McIntosh would be negative forces in an NFL locker room, but coaches and general managers probably don’t know for sure either.

    Of the group of potential early entrants, Harris is the most likely to return to school next year.

  • Virginia Tech will pull off the upset of the bowl season tonight, by beating Auburn soundly. You heard it hear first.

  • Tomorrow night’s national championship game also probably decides next year’s preseason number one team. Even if it doesn’t, I expect USC to be ranked no lower than second in next year’s earliest rankings. This will happen despite Matt Leinart entering the NFL draft following the Orange Bowl.

  • I would also like to thank ABC News for naming me person of the year. This is quite an unexpected accolade. I only learned the news this morning. Previously, I was thinking that yesterday’s plug in the Sunday comics was the blog related highlight of my week (if you didn't see it, check out Opus - sorry, I can't find a link).