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.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Lost in Translation

Ok, so it’s really something that was more lost in transition. I just happened to like this title better. Anyway…

One very recent comment that was lost when the site was redesigned earlier was in regards to Hank Aaron. The commenter noted that Hank was a man of average build, as were many – if not all – other ballplayers of his era.

This is a fair and valid point, but I don’t think that Bonds’ assault on Aaron’s record should be diminished because of it. The two men simply played in different eras. Although they played only about thirty years apart from each other, the game and the world changed drastically.

While it’s certainly true that Bonds – and most other ballplayers – are stronger and more muscular than their predecessors, the same holds true for the pitchers of today compared to the pitchers of yester-year. Everyone’s gotten bigger and stronger (even we regular folks have gotten bigger – probably not much stronger though – than normal sized people a generation ago).

Others will point to expansion in baseball as evidence that the game and resulting statistics are diluted when compared to prior generations. While there are more teams now and more pitchers, one could also argue that the talent pool that the game draws from is much bigger. Obviously, as he’s a black man himself, Hank Aaron played after the integration of the game. Still, at that time, the presence of ballplayers from other countries was nowhere near as pronounced as it is today. Players from Latin America were a relative rarity and Asian players were unheard of. Back in the day there was also nothing comparable to the facilities that most major league clubs have set up in various countries around the globe for youngsters who they hope to develop into major leaguers.

I’m not here to say what outweighs what, who was the better ballplayer, or who’s accomplishments stand out more than others. That’s all a matter for debate. And quite honestly, that’s a lot of what makes baseball so fun. Everything evolves – whether it’s in everyday life, the movies, sports, politics – anything. Some things change more than others. To compare football players from an era of leather helmets and no forward passing to today’s NFL stars is very difficult. Evaluating the greatest film actors of all time is much more difficult if you’re trying to compare silent film stars to stars from today’s digital era.

Baseball on the other hand is somewhat different. While the game has most definitely changed over the years (whether you look back at the game twenty, thirty, or one-hundred or more years ago), on the surface the changes are generally so slight as to seem inconsequential. This allows for spirited and friendly debate about who was truly the best or who had the greatest accomplishment of this thing or that.

Take for example the issue of the all-time hit king. Personalities (Cobb) and gambling issues (Rose) aside, most every baseball fan knows that Pete Rose holds the all-time record with 4,256 major league hits and that Ty Cobb is now in second place with 4,191. Cobb held the hit record for decades and is widely regarded as one of the best all-around baseball players of all time.

But Rose has 65 more hits than Cobb. Does that make him a better player? Does that mean that his hit total is more significant?

Well, it took Rose 14,053 at bats to generate his hit total (giving him a career .303 batting average). Cobb got to his total in 11,434 at bats (a lifetime average of .366). So, effectively, it took Rose 2,619 more at bats than Cobb to accumulate those 65 hits (a batting average of .025). But at the same time, Cobb only played against white players. Rose also had to travel more and face more teams (meaning that he had to “know” more pitchers).

Who was the better hitter? Well, that’s a subject for great debate.

Many of these debates can be settled statistically – or by using metrics that are more sophisticated than mere “counting” stats like home runs and hits. Adjustments can be made for ballparks played in, the quality of opponents faced (relative to the rest of the league at the time), and the like. Still, as good as all of that information is, it often leaves out some un-quantifiable piece. Besides the un-quantifiable, there are always the what-ifs:

What if Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, etc didn’t have to serve in the military during the middle of their careers? What if Frank Thomas didn’t go through a nasty divorce during the prime of his career that he later admitted distracted him from his on field performance? What if the Red Sox hadn’t traded Babe Ruth – would he be in the Hall of Fame as a pitcher, would we even know who he was, would the Yankees exist as they do today? What if Brien Taylor, a former number one overall selection in the amateur draft by the Yankees, had his head on straight and never developed arm problems – would we talk about him like Cy Young and Nolan Ryan? What about Josh Hamilton – will he ever straighten it out and live up to his potential? What was his real potential?

It’s questions like these – that are not answerable, at least not conclusively – that make baseball such a great game. Not only is it fun to watch, it’s fun to talk about too.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Site Redesign

As you can plainly see, the site looks markedly different suddenly. While this was technically done by choice, it really wasn't voluntary. For whatever reason, we were having some display issues in Firefox (which is the official browser of The Book), so something had to be done.

The easiest solution was to start over, so that's what we did. Unforunately that meant that all of the links, ads, etc had to be rebuilt. In our haste to get everything cleaned up, we overlooked the impact that these changes would have on the comments. As you can see, the comments are all gone. We're not happy about this, but it is what it is. There were even a number of recent good comments that some of you probably didn't get a chance to see. Sorry about that. Comments should be easier to leave now, plus we've added the functionality for email a post that you like (or don't like) to a friend.

Well, hopefully that's about it for formatting type issues. If you see something that doesn't look right or if you feel like something is missing that was here before, please let us know.

Form Your Own Opinions about Bonds

Barry Bonds had a press conference on Tuesday, which officially marked the start of his 2005 baseball season. Bonds traditionally keeps his distance from the press and it’s likely that Tuesday’s discussion will likely be one of the few times that Bonds speaks with the media this year (the day he passes or ties Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list will likely be an exception).

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s conference, much has been written and said about Bonds. Much of it has been unfair. Some have criticized Bonds for “playing the race card” while others continue to knock his off-putting attitude. What makes all of this difficult for the average person to digest is that you really don’t get a chance to hear Bonds speak about things. What you do get is chopped up snippets from a very long conversation. The end result is that you don’t necessarily get an accurate representation of what Bonds was trying to say. Instead you get the story that the reporter or news organization wants to tell you.

And that is precisely the beauty of the web. While I couldn’t find an unedited video or audio clip of the conversation (and it was a pretty long conference, so it would have been a sizeable file anyway), did post a complete transcript from Tuesday. Before you jump to any conclusions about Bonds, I’d encourage you to read it in its entirety.

After doing so personally, and putting myself in Barry’s position – in the sense of thinking through how I would respond to the repeated barrage of similar questions – it became easier for me to understand Barry’s reactions and his short-fuse for the media.

Even if you don’t walk away thinking like I did, that’s fine. Most everyone can still agree that he’s one of the greatest – and possibly the greatest – player of recent generations. Some would even go farther than that – by stripping off the recent generation part of it. We may never know whether or not Bonds (Giambi, Sosa, McGwire, etc) used steroids, and we definitely will never know the degree to which they improved his performance, but I think most objective observers would agree that he is among the all-time elite baseball players. From there, it’s all up to debate – and personal biases and preferences are sure to come into play. Steroids or not – with his early 90s or early 2000s game, I’d want Bonds in my starting lineup.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Fantasy Baseball Site

I’m sure that at least some of you are heavy into fantasy baseball. If you are, I recommend that you check out this site. Not only is there lots of great content here which should help you get prepared for the 2005 season, but they also interviewed me for their Marlins season preview.

So, if you’re bored, or if this post just wasn’t enough content for you today, go over and read this – there’s plenty more of my words over there for you to struggle through (because of my writing ability – not because of your lack of reading comprehension skills).

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Canseco and Minor League Stats

In his new book "Juiced", Jose Canseco speaks of himself in very flattering and almost reverent tones. He not only speaks highly of his accomplishments, but in the book – and in interviews – he regularly speaks of being “the greatest” baseball player for a time during the late 80s and early 90s.

It’s an interesting perspective, and one could certainly argue that it was true – even if it was for a briefer period of time than Jose would care to admit. What’s also interesting, and somewhat contradictory at the same time, is that Jose regularly acknowledges that he was not the best athlete in the world as a youngster and that he wasn’t all that impressive at times coming up through the minors. What changed all of that, according to Jose, was his use of steroids.

In the book, Jose points to his 1985 season as the turning point that put him on the map as a superstar major leaguer. He speaks of his accomplishments as if they have never been duplicated, even by others who came after him using steroids. The sad truth of it for Jose is that many others have duplicated and even bettered Jose’s numbers. Here’s one example:

In 1985, Jose split his time between the A’s AA and AAA clubs. He played in 118 minor league games, hit .333, launched 36 homers, and drove in 127 runs. On top of that he scored 88 times and stole 11 bases (apparently his speed came later). All in all it was a remarkable year, and was good enough to get him a late-season call up to the big club, where he appeared in 29 games with the A’s.

While his season was certainly outstanding, it was far from the greatest minor league season ever – as Jose would like you to believe it was. Only three years prior, in 1982, future White Sox slugger Ron Kittle would put up even bigger numbers in AAA with the Edmonton Trappers. Kittle hit 50 homers and drove in 144 runs, while hitting a robust .345 (and yes, those stats were good enough to win the AAA Triple Crown). He also scored 121 runs and hit 10 triples. Kittle’s 50 homers represented the first time that a minor leaguer amassed that total since Steve Bilko in 1957.

What’s the point here? Well, Kittle wasn’t on steroids at the time like Canseco was. Instead, Kittle had built up his physique as an ironworker while he rehabbed from broken vertebrae and a cracked spinal cord.

As everyone knows, there’s a lot of interesting information and gossip in Jose’s new book, “Juiced”, but it’s also important to keep in mind that some of the things that you’re probably apt to take as fact – such as his statistics and accomplishments – also need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Still, the book is worth buying – especially if you buy it through my link.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Florida Marlins Pre-Spring Preview Part Five: NL East Rivals

In the previous pre-spring previews, we highlighted some things to keep an eye on as you follow the Marlins throughout Spring Training. In today’s edition, we’ll focus on the other clubs in the National League East, who the Marlins will be battling with throughout the season as they aim for a third World Championship in less than a decade. These descriptions don't go too in depth and probably highlight a lot of information you already know, but hopefully they'll help you recall some of the key issues each club faces heading into the 2005 campaign.

While the Marlins obviously don’t play exclusively against NL East clubs, they do play each opponent in their divisions 19 times. That means that a total of 76 of their 162 regular season games come against the Braves, Mets, Nationals, and Phillies. So, the games against those teams will go a long way into determining whether the Marlins reach the post-season this year or not.

Atlanta Braves
As seems to happen every year, John Scheurholz has remade the Braves lineup and pitching staff. While the offensive overhaul isn’t quite as drastic as it was coming into last season (when the Braves lost Gary Sheffield and Javier Lopez), there will still be a lot of new names in the lineup this season.

Despite the changes, the biggest constant for the Braves is their strength up the middle. It’s probably no coincidence that an old adage is that in order to win, you must be strong up the middle. With Johnny Estrada behind the plate, Rafael Furcal at shortstop, and Andruw Jones in center field, the Braves are most definitely strong (and still pretty young – even if it does seem like Andruw Jones has been around forever).

1) Who’s going to fill the corner outfield positions? Chipper Jones will most likely be moved back to the infield. While you can argue the merits of that, particularly because the Braves have a third base prospect who’s ready to take the reins at the major league level and they don’t have an equal replacement for the outfield, it’s just reality.

One youngster is in the mix in the outfield – Ryan Langerhans. Over the years the Braves have had a number of outfield prospects who ultimately really haven’t panned out. Langerhans is probably more likely to have a major league career like Mike Kelly than David Justice, so Scheurholz went out this offseason and picked up veterans Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan. Yes, that Brian Jordan. Yes, it’s 2005 and not 1995. Still, until proven differently, you have to give Scheurholz and crew the benefit of the doubt here. The next time the Braves don’t win the division title will be the first time since 1990. At that time, Ryan Langerhans was closer to pre-school than middle-school; it was a long time ago – at least in baseball years.

Still, it will definitely be worth watching how the Braves outfield situation develops over the spring.

2) The Braves biggest offseason move was acquiring Tim Hudson from the A’s. While Hudson can be counted on for a huge year, much of the rest of the rotation is a question mark. At least it would be if we were talking about any team other than the Braves. The rotation’s biggest question mark is John Smoltz.

Obviously, Smoltz is a great pitcher – depending on who you talk to, he’s a future Hall of Famer (at least one worthy of debate). He’s a former Cy Young winner and has been a dominant closer for the Braves. However, he wants to be a starter and based on the team’s needs, the club wants him to start too. But, he’s 37 and the transition from reliever to starter is much more difficult than the reverse move. How Smoltz adjusts back to the starter’s role will be key to the Braves success in 2005. While it may not be easy to gauge in Spring Training, where innings are limited, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

3) The Braves were able to afford the risk of moving Smoltz into the starting rotation because they acquired closer Dan Kolb from the Brewers in another winter move. This is a curious trade and will be interesting to watch. Their were two Dan Kolbs last year. The first dominated the first half of the season with a 1.62 ERA and a WHIP of less than 1 (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) and appeared in the All-Star game. The second was dominated in the second half, with an ERA of 4.88 and a WHIP of 1.41.

The issue with Kolb is that he doesn’t make people swing and miss. The hallmark of a good pitcher who is expected to have continued success in the major leagues is the ability to make hitters swing and miss. It’s what scouts look for in prospects and it’s what general managers look for in free agents and trade targets. Kolb has never excelled at making hitters swing and miss. He has excelled in getting hitters to put balls in play and depending on his fielders to turn those balls into outs. That didn’t work too well for Kolb in the second half last year. With the help of pitching guru Leo Mazzone, there might be a significant turn around for Kolb in 2005.

New York Mets
If nothing else, the Mets won the battle for headlines this offseason (excluding steroid related issues). They signed the premier pitcher on the market (Pedro Martinez) and the best position player (Carlos Beltran). While they lost out on Carlos Delgado, it wasn’t a huge loss for them, as their lineup was completely revamped and they even picked up Doug Minckeitwitz from the Red Sox. Doug will improve their defense somewhat (he’s arguably the best defensive first baseman in the game, albeit at a relatively unimportant defensive position), and will be adequate offensively.

Still, these are the Mets and everyone has seen their splashy offseasons before. The question now is whether or not the Mets can translate their offseason “success” into regular and post-season success.

1) Does Pedro Martinez still have it? Will pitching coach Rick Peterson be able to help Pedro get some of his old stuff back? As Red Sox fans circa 2003 know all too well, Pedro is great until he gets tired. Once he gets up around one-hundred pitches, he nearly instantly transforms from all-time great into all-time goat. For the Mets to be successful, they’ll need to prolong his stretches of all-time greatness. That will help the Mets preserve their bullpen, which they’ll likely need fairly frequently for the four out of every five days that Pedro doesn’t take the hill.

2) Was Carlos Beltran really worth all that money? Yes, Beltran had a great 2004 post-season. Yes, he’s young. But he’s going to be paid significantly more (and for more years) than reigning American League MVP Vladimir Guerrero. Who would you rather have on your team? That’s not a no-brainer. It’s a real question. Vlad is a more accomplished player, but he’s also had more injuries. Beltran’s career .353 onbase percentage and .844 OPS are nice, but certainly not the marks of superstars (Guerrero’s comparables are a .390 onbase percentage and a .979 OPS).

Beltran is a great player and this is a move that the Mets probably needed to make. Whether they needed to pay so much for him is another issue (there are rumors that their final offer was more than $40 million more than the next highest bidder). It’s also somewhat worrisome – at least in my mind – that as of late the Mets have been where premier free agents and players have gone to die (not literally of course). Recent headliners such as Mo Vaughn and Robbie Alomar come to mind as recent Big Apple busts. Will Beltran join that list or a list or will the tune be changed to “Willie, Mickey, the Duke, and Carlos”?

3) What happens with Mike Cameron? Mike Cameron is one of the games best defensive center fielders. While Beltran is not as skilled of a defender as Cameron, his contract and more than adequate defensive abilities will force Cameron to right field. This is a necessity for the Mets, but it negates much of Cameron’s value. Unless he has a monster Spring offensively, which given his track record is unlikely, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Cameron moved to a team that needs a centerfielder.

The Detroit Tigers wouldn’t surprise me as a team that develops some interest in Cameron. They’re a club that needs an established center fielder and they have an expansive outfield to patrol. Cameron could be a good fit in Motown.

Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies biggest move this offseason was firing Larry Bowa. With Bowa gone, it will now be incumbent upon the players to produce and to prove that Bowa, and not the players, were really the issue. First and foremost amongst those players who needs to step up in 2005 is (former Book of Mike classmate) Pat Burrell. Burrell was reportedly very outspoken about and very unhappy with Bowa. Burrell’s production suffered in both 2003 and 2004.

1) Billy Wagner – can he stay healthy? If he does, the Phillies bullpen is much different than it is without him.

2) Who will play centerfield? While the Phillies corners are stacked with Burrell and perennially underrated Bobby Abreu, center field is an abyss. Kenny Lofton and Marlon Byrd will likely battle this spring for playing time, but the best option the Phillies might have in their organization right now is Jason Michaels (another former Miami Hurricane, but not someone that the Book ever had a class with). While Michaels is certainly capable of being a solid major leaguer, he’s ideally suited for a corner outfield position. The Phillies aren’t likely to win a championship with him in center, and the fact that Michaels is their best option right now is a sign that that Phillies need to go out and acquire someone else.

Washington Nationals
Quite honestly, there’s not a whole lot to worry about here, from a Marlins perspective, in terms of competition from the Nationals. While each of the other teams in the division will enter the season with legitimate hope of reaching the post-season, the Nationals are most definitely on the outside looking in. The biggest story lines for the team this offseason have been relocating from Montreal to Washington, working out the details of their new stadium with the District, developing new uniforms and a color scheme, and finding a new owner for their former mascot Youppi! (who, sadly, was not invited along with the team to relocate to the capitol).

The storylines to follow with the Nationals this season will likely be more business than baseball related. On a sad note, we’ll likely watch all-time great Frank Robinson suffer through another year with talent that he, at the age of 69, might still be able to outplay. The Nationals will also be soliciting new ownership (as MLB still owns the club) with MLB officials reporting that new owners could be in place by the All-Star break. But we’ve heard this “resolution by the all-star break” thing with the Expos/Nationals for years now. One can only assume that its either developed into an inside joke or is some form of a euphemism.

Enjoy Spring Training! This will be the last post of the week, as The Book of Mike's world headquarters will be relocating tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Florida Marlins Pre-Spring Preview Part Four: Bench

Today we give you the fourth installment of the Marlins pre-Spring preview, which focuses on the bench.

As discussed in earlier previews, expectations for the Marlins starting lineup are high. Because of this, expectations for the bench are much lower than they have been in past years. The starters are generally established and known entities. However there, are some definite roles that the bench will need to fill this year.

The role of the fourth outfielder will be filled by the loser of the Juan Encarnacion/Jeff Conine battle for a slot in the starting lineup. Conine can fill in as an outfielder or at first base, which definitely adds to his value. Also, he would be a more fearsome threat as a pinch hitter than Encarnacion. Based on this, and Encarnacion’s premium defense, I expect Conine (assuming there are no injuries to key players) on the bench.

Injuries are of particular concern at the catcher position, where the Marlins lack both experience and depth behind starter Paul LoDuca. At LoDuca’s age and given the South Florida heat, it’s unfair to expect him to catch 140 or 150 games behind the plate, so someone will need to fill the void for some games and innings throughout the year. Matt Treanor and Josh Willingham are the two other catchers on the Marlins 40-man roster going into Spring Training. Treanor is three years older than Willingham, but Josh has been the more highly touted prospect over the years. Willingham, at 25, is at (or possibly past) the cut-off point where teams like to send a youngster to the minors for more seasoning instead of allowing him to languish on the bench at the major league level. My guess is that Willingham will make the big club out of camp this year and fill in behind the plate and at the corner infield positions when needed.

While in some regards, it may make sense to keep both backups on the active roster once the season begins, this will likely not be an affordable luxury for the Marlins. At the start of the year – or at least as long as the bullpen situation is a question mark – it’s expected that the Fish will carry a pitching staff of twelve. That leaves thirteen spots for position players, eight of which will go to starters, obviously. Of the remaining five spots, one will go to either Encarnacion or Conine, another to a backup infielder or outfielder, one to uber-pinch hitter Lenny Harris, and another to the backup catcher. That leaves room for only one more reserve, and that role will likely be filled by a more versatile player than a third string catcher. In recent years, particularly with the Angels’ Chone Figgins last year and the Mariners’ Mark McLemore in previous seasons, successful teams have filled at least one roster spot with a “jack of all trades”. Such a player provides the flexibility to rest a starter on a given day and to fill in for an injured player the next. In all likelihood, the Marlins would like to find such a player, and it is definitely not either Treanor or Willingham.

That super-utility role could be filled by Damian Easley, who played a variety of positions for the Marlins last year. While Easley is old in baseball years at 35, he brings a depth of knowledge and experience at the major league level to the game. That said, the Marlins would prefer to have such a role filled by the likes of Figgins, but such young and versatile players don’t exactly grow on trees. If an opportunity is available, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Marlins make a move this spring to find a utility player, but I don’t see that happening.

Assuming that Easley fills the utility role (and is used primarily as an infielder), the biggest bench battle for the Marlins this Spring will likely be for a 5th outfielder. Chris Aguila and Eric Reed are the most likely candidates for this role, as both are currently on the 40-man roster. Neither has significant major league experience and both are young (25 and 23 respectively). Between them, they have amassed a total of 45 major league at bats (all of which were taken by Aguila). This is not an ideal situation for a team that intends to contend for a pennant.

Having a youngster fill the 5th outfielder role can be a positive if that player is actually going to see some significant playing time (otherwise they would be losing potential developmental time in the minors by sitting on the bench in the majors). With the Marlins though, Juan Pierre traditionally doesn’t miss many (or any) innings, so there’s not much opportunity in center. If all goes as planned, Miguel Cabrera should also see very few days off. And although neither Juan Encarnacion nor Jeff Conine will likely receive 140 starts independently this year, in total they probably will. That doesn’t leave a lot of playing time for one of these youngsters. Still, my guess is that if Aguila has a strong spring, he could win the 5th outfielder role. If not, I’d expect the Marlins to pick up a more experienced player off of waivers or via a trade near the end of spring training. This player would fill the role that Gerald Williams filled for the Marlins in 2003 – he likely wouldn’t see much playing time, but would be dependable when needed.

The Marlins bench is filled with role players, although none of them stands out as anything spectacular. This bench will not be confused with the Yankees for depth or the Red Sox for interchangeability. Still, for their payroll, there are a fair number of interchangeable parts. There’s the possibility for upside out of Treanor, Willingham, Aguila, and Reed – although none of those players may receive enough playing time to realize any of that upside.

The question marks surrounding the bench are:
1) Who will the backup catcher be? In order to compete throughout the summer, someone will need to step up and provide quality innings when LoDuca needs a rest.

2) Who will be the fifth outfielder?

3) Can the Marlins upgrade their bench at all? A power hitting, back-up outfielder would be a huge luxury to have. It seems that role will be filled by Jeff Conine, but at this point in his career he’s more of a hitter than a power hitter.

4) How big of a drop off will there be from the starters to the bench?

The Bottom Line
As you follow the Marlins throughout Spring Training keep Abraham Nunez in mind. In his days with the Fish, Nunez was renowned for his abilities in Spring Training. Unfortunately for everyone, this success did not make a one-for-one translation to the regular season. Some other relatively unknown player may step up this spring, but that doesn’t mean that he’s the next Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux, or even Miguel Cabrera. The context of how the player generates his stats must be considered (is his .500 batting average a result of fattening up on minor league pitchers late in spring games?), as well as the fact that he may be peaking in March – as opposed to October – must also be considered.

All said, this is where the Marlins lack of payroll flexibility catches up to the team. There are some nice players and nice guys filling out the Marlins bench, but there clearly isn’t the depth here that you see on the big budget teams. They may get lucky on the waiver wire and fill in some needed holes, but overall the hope will be that the starters stay healthy and productive. If Jack McKeon is forced to go very deep into his bench, it could become a long summer for the Marlins.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Florida Marlins Pre-Spring Preview Part Three: Starting Lineup

Valentine’s Day is behind us now and pitchers and catchers are officially reporting to camps in Tampa (Yankees), Melbourne (Nationals), and Sarasota (Reds), so the 2005 baseball season is starting to become a reality. Still, off the field news is making the headlines as most of the recent attention has been paid to Jose Canseco’s new book “Juiced”, which has been ranked as high as third on’s best-seller list.

Surprisingly, one book that’s receiving less attention is The Sporting News’ 2005 Official Baseball Record book. I received my advance copy last week – gratis no less. It’s the first book that I’ve ever received an advance copy of, and this copy made its way to me because of my contributions to the White Sox section. However, unless you’re an announcer or a stats junkie, this probably isn’t the book for you. Still, I will be holding a signing party at some point in the near future and will also gladly sign any copies of the book that you send to me (as long as you include a self-addressed, stamped envelope). The trick will be finding it though. In years past I have seen it at neighborhood bookstores, but this year’s edition is not yet even available for pre-order on Amazon. Oh, the horror!

Today it’s time for the third edition of the Marlins pre-spring forecast, which focuses on the team’s starting lineup.

Starting Lineup
From top to bottom, the Marlins lineup looks like it could be one of – if not the – most potent lineups in the National Leauge and all of baseball.

As it has for the past two seasons, the top of the lineup will include Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo. While both are great on base men and table setters for the meat of the lineup, both have stronger reputations as base stealers than actual, recent accomplishments. Pierre was thrown out stealing a career high twenty-four times in 2004 and Castillo has seen his stolen base attempts slowly diminish (reportedly due to an arthritic hip condition).

Over the off-season, for the second consecutive year, Pierre spent four days per week at Cris Carter’s speed camp. While he worked on a variety of things, the focus of Pierre’s efforts were on getting better jumps on the basepaths. Marlins officials reportedly discouraged Pierre from doing this offseason work, as they felt that his struggles last season were due more to being tired than anything else, but Pierre persisted anyway. Only time will tell who was right.

If either Pierre or Castillo struggles in one of the top two spots in the lineup, it would not be surprising to see catcher Paul LoDuca moved up to the two hole. While not a speedster, LoDuca is a solid contact hitter and would also bring some power to the top of the lineup.

The middle of the Marlins lineup is filled with power potential (if not defense). In all likelihood, Miguel Cabrera will bat third (and play left field), Carlos Delgado will hit clean-up and play first base, and Mike Lowell will play third and bat fifth. Of the three, Lowell is far and away the best defensive player. All three bring high power, high average bats to the lineup. They will form a fearsome threesome throughout the year. Also, their order in the lineup could be ordered in many combinations, but the Cabrera – Delgado – Lowell combination is the most likely, if for no other reason than to further Cabrera’s development.

Following Lowell in the lineup will be the aforementioned LoDuca. As also mentioned before, LoDuca brings a solid bat and decent power to the lineup, although nothing along the lines of the three that hit before him. About the only baseball related negative to the Delgado signing, and this is a minor one, is that it blocks the opportunity for LoDuca to take some “easy days” at first base as he often did with the Dodgers. One of the knocks on LoDuca throughout his career is that he has faded down the stretch. By having the luxury to play him at first base once a week or so, his body can be rested a little better. However, in the National League (i.e. without the DH) this is unlikely to happen, because resting LoDuca is not reason enough to take Delgado’s bat out of the lineup.

The seventh spot is where it starts to get tricky for the Marlins. It will most likely be either Juan Encarnacion or Jeff Conine batting in this slot. If it is Encarnacion, he will play right field. If it is Conine, he will play left field (my guess – not going on any official word here). My preference would be to use Conine off of the bench. He makes for a great threat to pinch hit when he’s there, plus he can also be used to spell Delgado or Cabrera in the field when they need a day off.

While Encarnacion is not likely to bring Conine’s bat to the plate this year, he would represent a huge upgrade over Cabrera in rightfield. While Cabrera may be on a Hall of Fame path as a player, it certainly will not be for his defense, mobility or speed (although he does possess a very strong arm from the outfield). Encarnacion does bring great defense (and a very good arm) to the Marlins outfield. In this year’s Marlins lineup, his bat will be better hidden (plus, having him on the bench as a potential defensive replacement is not much of a benefit).

Alex Gonzalez will play shortstop and hit eighth. For those that have followed Gonzalez over the years, you know he has been an enigma. While he hasn’t lived up to Dave Dombrowski’s hype of being better than Edgar Renteria, he has certainly been serviceable. At times he provides power and he always provides a good glove in the field. In fact, this offseason named Gonzalez and Castillo as the best double play combination currently in the majors.

If you read this far, I’m assuming you realize that the 9th place hitter for the Marlins will be the pitcher.

Defensively, the Marlins lineup is solid in a number of areas. Up the middle defense, traditionally a hallmark of a championship caliber ballclub, is particularly strong with the Marlins middle infielders. The double play combination of Luis Castillo and Alex Gonzalez was named the best in baseball by this winter. The tandem has not only spent each summer since 1998 together, they are also very skilled.

However, the up the middle defense is not quite as strong behind the plate, which is manned by the 33-year old Paul LoDuca, or in the outfield, where center field is patrolled by the weak-armed Juan Pierre. This is not an all-out knock on either LoDuca or Pierre, who are two of my favorite players in the game today. It’s just the sad truth. LoDuca is an aging catcher and the Marlins don’t have a proven, serviceable backup of any sort; Pierre is a wonder at the plate and on the basepaths, and at times even tracking the ball down in the field, but he doesn’t have an arm that inspires fear in anyone.

Still, overall the team is adequate defensively. Cabrera provides the potential to turn any ball into an adventure in the outfield. The only question is whether it will be a fortuitous adventure for the Marlins (i.e. gunning down a runner at the plate with a strong throw) or a disaster (i.e. forgetting his sunglasses or having his sunglasses on his hat when they should be over his eyes). If Juan Encarnacion wins a starting role, it will be a major upgrade to the defense.

Like the corners in the outfield, the Marlins corner infield spots are equally opposed. Carlos Delgado is as much of a liability defensively as Mike Lowell is an asset. Fortunately for fans of offense, few will likely notice as Lowell and Delgado are likely to have standout offensive seasons.

The Marlins lineup will clearly be the strength of the team. The addition of Delgado to the lineup not only adds much needed power, but it adds a solid left-handed presence to what was mainly a right handed lineup. This is a team that will score a lot of runs. There is power in the middle, speed at the top, and even speed at the bottom of the lineup. There’s even the potential to have breakout years at the bottom of the lineup from Encarnacion and Gonzalez. Even if that doesn’t happen, you should still expect the Marlins to score a lot of runs.

The question marks surrounding the lineup are:
1) Who will hit seventh? Having the first issue be this low in the lineup is not such a bad problem to have. Either Encarnacion or Conine will hit seventh. If Encarnacion hits seventh, he will play right field, which frees up left for Cabrera. If Conine is the starter and hits seventh, this likely leaves Cabrera in right (hopefully Miguel will remember when and how to use his shades out there this year).

2) What will the Marlins get from Alex Gonzalez? Will Alex’s defense be accompanied by a bat that hits for average and power? If so, the bottom of the Marlins lineup will be solid.

3) What about Juan Encarnacion? Has he devolved into a defensive specialist, or will the Fish be able to count on his bat for production?

4) Will Paul LoDuca be able to produce over the life of the season?

5) Has Juan Pierre’s speed returned? Will Pierre lead the league in stolen bases this year?

6) Can Luis Castillo re-introduce at least the threat to run, or has his health rendered him unable to do this?

7) Will Miguel Cabrera have an MVP type year? With Carlos Delgado hitting behind him and Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo filling up the base paths ahead of him, he surely could. Realistically though, Miguel probably won’t put up those types of numbers for another year or two.

The Bottom Line
Offensively, the Marlins will instill fear into the hearts of opposing managers all year. This lineup should generate plenty of runs and make things a lot easier for a questionable bullpen. This team has three legitimate power and average hitters (Cabrera, Delgado, and Lowell) in the middle of the lineup. There’s speed at the top (in Castillo and Pierre). The lower part of the lineup also has some potential. LoDuca will be solid, and there’s hope for improvement from Encarnacion and Gonzalez.

Defensively, they’re not as outstanding as they’ve been in years past (specifically 2003 with Pudge behind the plate and D Lee at first base), but they’re good enough.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Florida Marlins Pre-Spring Preview Part Two: Bullpen

The second edition of the 2005 Marlins pre-spring forecast focuses on the bullpen.

Relief Pitching
This is the single area of the team that has received the most scrutiny in the offseason. Many have pointed out that relief is likely the Marlins greatest area of weakness.

While this is true, like the case with the 5th starter, this is also the case with nearly every team in baseball. Solid relief pitching – particularly in terms of depth is hard to come by. Making the game of building a bullpen that much more difficult is that the success of relievers seems to vary greatly from year-to-year.

That said, the Marlins have been successful (to varying degrees) in acquiring relievers when needed during the stretch run. Last year at the trading deadline they acquired Guillermo Mota from the Dodgers (they also picked up Billy Koch, but we won’t speak of that). In 2003, while gearing up for a playoff push, the Fish picked up Ugeth Urbina (from the Rangers) and Chad Fox (off of waivers from the Red Sox); both were integral parts of the Marlins run to the World Series. The expectation again this year is that come June or July, assuming they’re still in the race, that the Marlins will again make some sort of a move to acquire bullpen help – even if it means parting with a high-level minor league prospect.

Still, the Marlins did some work on their bullpen in the offseason, most notably by acquiring Todd Jones, Jim Mecir, John Riedling, and Antonio Alfonseca. In addition, there’s hope that Tim Spooneybarger will be healthy again. If nothing else, Spooneybarger will bring a windfall to the last name lettering people in South Florida.

If you're looking for someone to watch and root for this spring, that person probably should be Chad Bentz. Bentz is (as far as the record books can tell) only the second major leaguer to have been raised in Alaska. He holds the state record for home runs. While that is an impressive enough accomplishment in itself, it's even more impressive when you consider that, much like former Angels pitcher Jim Abbott, Bentz was born without a right hand. So Bentz set that home run record as a high schooler just using his left hand, while using his right to guide the bat (in case you're wondering, he bats right handed). Bentz has already appeared in 36 games in his major league career. While that doesn't make him "established" technically, it does mean that he's legitimately made it at this level. What he's overcome in making it to the majors though is definitely something worth cheering for.

The Marlins bullpen is filled with live arms. There’s even the potential for a mix of lefties and righties, with Nate Bump and Matt Perisho possibly filling spots in the ‘pen. The main question is whether or not enough of these relievers will be able to contribute.

The question marks surrounding the bullpen are:
1) Who’s going to step up?

2) Which version of Antonio Alfonseca will the Marlins get this year? Marlins fans are very familiar with Alfonseca’s penchant for giving up a walk or two in a close ballgame before shutting the door and striking out the side. In 2005 the Marlins would like to see more of the striking out the side, and less of the putting two guys on before doing so.

3) Will Tim Spooneybarger be healthy?

4) How will Todd Jones handle South Florida? Todd Jones is infamously a homophobe and does not seem to be the most open minded person around. While this will most likely fly under the radar in South Florida, it may affect Jones’ ability to adjust to the overall melting pot that Miami is. This could be a non-issue, or it could be fun to watch.

5) Will the Marlins need to acquire a reliever or two around the trade deadline? Will doing so cause them to leverage too much in the way of future prospects?

The Bottom Line
The Marlins bullpen is a question mark. It is for almost every team. However, the Marlins have a plethora of arms, many of which at times have proven to be excellent major league relievers. The questions are whether they’ll get the better half of those pitchers in 2005 and if they’ll have to acquire another arm or two mid-way through the year. Additionally, the health of the starting rotation could go a long way towards making the bullpen look a lot better. Fifty extra innings each out of Burnett and Beckett is a total of 100 innings less that the Marlins will need from questionable relievers.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Florida Marlins Pre-Spring Preview Part One: Starting Pitching

There's less than one week now until pitchers and catchers report for duty at Spring Training, so it’s about time to start looking ahead to the 2005 season. We can finally put aside talk of contracts, stadium financing, and all of the other financial details and just talk about baseball (well, I say that now, but inevitably something will happen very soon to get me all worked up and I’ll start harping about the business side of things once again).

This is the first in a pre-spring series on the 2005 Florida Marlins. Today the focus will be on the starting pitchers. Future pieces, which should follow over the next few days, will focus on relievers, the starting lineup, bench players, key questions for the season, and prospects.

Starting Pitching
If the Marlins are to make a run at the post-season this year (and surprisingly, despite winning two World Championships in the last decade, winning their first ever division title is a distinct possibility) they will likely be led by their starting pitching. Without a doubt, the potential for greatness exists up and down this rotation. Ok, maybe not greatness throughout the entire rotation, but at least from three of the five expected starters, and a fourth is a quality, known major league entity (the fifth starter is just a known major league entity - note the lack of quality).

Al Leiter, signed as a free agent this offseason, is that fourth starter (although technically he’ll probably assume the third slot in the rotation this year). Greatness is not expected from him (at least not in the sense of accumulating twenty wins or taking home the Cy Young award). In his second stint with the Marlins (remember his first time in teal? Leiter threw a no hitter and was a key cog in the 1997 World Championship machine), Leiter will be relied upon as a mentoring influence on the team’s young and talented staff.

That staff will be led by three young arms that are high on potential and relatively low on results. Josh Beckett is the most well known of the young guns, if for nothing else because of his World Series MVP worthy performance in 2003 (although being the second overall pick in the draft gains you some notoriety as well). However, in the regular season, Beckett has proved to be much more of a mere mortal. His .500 winning percentage is not quite what the Marlins have hoped for, and as Beckett inches closer to free agency, he’ll be hoping to turn in more spectacular regular season performances as well.

Beckett’s career has been plagued by injuries – mainly blisters on his throwing hand. While the team likely could afford to lose Beckett for a small stretch this season (because of their depth), ideally he would be healthy all year and win close to twenty games and amass somewhere in the neighborhood of two-hundred innings. Both of those marks would be career highs for Beckett, who has never totaled more than nine wins or 156 innings in a single season. 20 wins and 200 innings per year are benchmarks for staff aces. If Beckett wants to be regarded along those lines, he’ll need to start putting up the numbers (at twenty-five, this will be Beckett’s fifth season in the majors). Otherwise, the reputation that Beckett started to gain last year - for relying on his stuff, and not being a pitcher and for not following the recommendations of team doctors and trainers - will start to carry more weight than his potential.

Another Marlins’ potential ace who needs to start producing those sorts of numbers (in order for the team to contend and for him to live up to his billing) is right-handed fireballer A.J. Burnett. At 27, Burnett is a few years older than Beckett, and despite having Tommy John surgery in 2003, he is arguably the staff’s ace. Still, he has never won more than twelve games in a season. Despite this, scouts (and anyone else who has seen him pitch) would certainly tell you that A.J. has the “stuff” to win twenty games.

Whether or not Dontrelle Willis has the “stuff” to be a top flight major league pitcher is still up for debate. Most of the so-called experts would argue that Dontrelle doesn’t have it. They’d say that he’s more style over substance and that it’s just a matter of time before major league hitters catch up to Dontrelle’s herky-jerky motion.

The D-Train would beg to differ with that assessment, and his 2003 Rookie of the Year award would back him up. Still, Dontrelle’s accomplishments in the majors have been as much emotional (he contributed as much to the team’s resurgence in 2003 as any single person – player, coach, or front office person) as performance related. Still, Dontrelle is a young (23 years old) left-hander with a healthy arsenal of pitches, including a fastball that tops out in the low-90s. That’s a recipe for opportunity in the major leagues, even if some question marks surround his ability. Dontrelle has significant upside – maybe not as much as Burnett and Beckett, but few in the majors do. If Willis is able to solidify himself as a number three or four starter in this rotation, the Marlins will be well on their way to the postseason.

The starting rotation is rounded out by veteran Ismael Valdes (note the “s” and not the “z” at the end of his name). While Valdes is not anything spectacular, he is a solid fifth starter, and that’s more than most teams are taking into Spring Training.

Overall the Marlins rotation is very solid. There’s a mix of experience (Leiter and Valdes) and potential (Burnett, Beckett, and Willis). It’s also extremely positive that two of the pitchers high on “potential” bring post-season experience (and success) to the staff (Beckett and Willis).

The question marks that surround this pitching staff are:
1) Will Burnett and Beckett stay healthy? If they do, there’s little reason to doubt that they will perform exceptionally well.

2) Is Willis the real deal or was he a flash in the pan? The jury is out on this one, but Dontrelle reportedly worked on his mechanics and mental preparation in the offseason. Debate about the merits of his mechanics will likely follow Dontrelle throughout his career, but they are probably at least as much to credit for his success as they are reason for his struggles. The mental preparation issue is an interesting one. Much of Willis’s game revolves around his self-described mantra of “fun and excitement.” While this is well and good and brings a lot to the clubhouse over the course of a 162 game regular season, at times when he’s on the mound it can cause him to overwork and use energy unnecessarily. If Willis has learned how to channel that energy, it could aid him greatly on the hill.

3) Does Leiter still have it? Leiter is 39 and will be pushing 40 by the time the end of the season rolls around. Whether or not he can continue to maintain his track record of excellence is a question. He obviously has so far, but eventually he won’t be able to. For every Roger Clemens (who succeeds at this age) there are hundreds and thousands of pitchers who retire (or fail). A solid year from Leiter is critical in allowing the Marlins to be successful in the coming year.

4) What role will Ismael Valdes fill? Going into the season, expectations are that Valdes will be the Marlins fifth starter. For this role, he is ideally suited. Valdes is not blocking a youngster in the organization, and he can be counted on for solid (but probably not spectacular) innings when needed. However, if injuries to Beckett and/or Burnett (or anyone else on the staff) force the Marlins to give Valdes a bigger role, it puts the Marlins in a precarious position, as they’ll be forced to fill a spot in the rotation with a lesser pitcher. Realistically though, this is the situation that nearly every team in baseball faces. Ask the Yankees – even their starting rotation doesn’t run seven or eight men deep.

The Bottom Line
On a team with many strengths, the Marlins starting rotation stands out as one of the team’s strongest suits. At least it does on paper. The potential is there for a great staff, but that largely hinges on the health of Burnett and Beckett. If they remain healthy, it’s not unreasonable to expect something in the neighborhood of twenty wins from each of them, fifteen more from Leiter, and a dozen each from Willis and Valdes. That would total up to 79 wins, which on paper sounds great (because the bullpen can easily chime in with the other 10 to 15 wins that they’ll need to reach the post-season). 79 wins is probably optimistic, but not out of the realm of possibility. If they're in that neighborhood, you can expect to see the Marlins playing deep into October.

Weekend Reading

A few things to take note of this weekend as you get ready for pitchers and catchers to report:

  • Over at the Hardball Times they did a great piece this week about which teams have been the most successful over the years at executing trades. You can check it out here. Mike's Baseball Rants (which contributed to the piece) also singled out the twenty most lopsided trades since 1961. Interesting reading.
  • In today's New York Times, Murray Chass alleges that the Yankees knew that Jason Giambi had used steroids when he signed his contract. While they may not have known it directly at the time, they did know that he asked to have specific language relating to steroids removed from his contract.
  • If you haven't done it already, you should really consider using the Firefox web browser. I'll let you seek out other recommendations (try a google search) on your own, but I will say that Firefox is great. Popups are a thing of the past with this browser (even without separate add-ons). If you're doubtful, you can run both IE (or whatever you use currently) and Firefox in parallel. It's subtle at first, but Firefox is faster and safer than any other browser that you've used before. And if nothing else, you might as well get on the bandwagon before they start charging for it. I've been using Firefox for a few months now and I absolutely love it.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

LaRussa Implicates Himself in Canseco Steroid Mess

It’s just a few more days now until Jose Canseco’s tell-all book comes out. And yes, I will be in line on Monday to buy my own copy. Rumors are starting to circulate now that even more names – and many of them high profile names – are also outed in the book as steroid users.

What’s getting less attention though are the implications that Canseco’s allegations have on major league baseball, team managers, and front office people. Jose’s manager with the A’s during the team’s late 80s and early 90s hey-day, Tony LaRussa, has also said recently that Canseco would talk “openly” about steroid use in the A’s clubhouse. While steroids were not illegal by major league baseball’s standards at that time, they were illegal in the United States. The defense that baseball is using here is kind of like you expecting your boss to defend you for using cocaine at work because your company doesn’t have a policy prohibiting it in the office.

What makes LaRussa’s statement (keep in mind that Tony earned a law degree at Florida State many years ago) even more interesting is that the A’s GM at the time when Canseco openly talked about using steroids was Sandy Alderson. As you may know, Alderson now works in MLB’s main offices as the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations.

If LaRussa really knew this was going on at the time, he should have said something. The person he should have said something to was Alderson. At least one (by his own admission – LaRussa) knew what was going on here. If Alderson knew, he should have urged the commissioner and the other powers that be to do something about it before the more than a decade later before anything actually happened in major league baseball (i.e. the beginning of the testing program).

Apparently though La Russa and Alderson stayed silent, at least until now when LaRussa found it appropriate to come out and defend McGwire. In doing so though, LaRussa has apparently exposed himself as knowing that illegal activities were going on in his clubhouse and that he didn’t tell anyone about them. Given this, it will be difficult for major league baseball – or at least Tony LaRussa – to continue to claim that they didn’t know that this steroid problem was occurring, or that it had been occurring for so long.

Yesterday, on ESPN Radio, former Mets GM Steve Phillips even directly said as much when asked directly. While he did not say that he knew of any current or former Mets who used steroids, he did say that if he had been aware of it, he would not have encouraged it, but he would also not have discouraged it or alerted anyone else about it. Phillips stated that if he felt that other players on other teams were doing it and gaining an edge because of it, that his players should feel free to use steroids if they saw fit, because it could help his team win ball games.

The truth of the matter probably is that baseball executives didn’t care that it was happening, and if anything, probably supported the use of steroids by ballplayers. Stronger players means more home runs and other feats of strength that would cause fans to plunk down their hard earned money in order to see. Executives probably figured that by the time the dangers of steroids caught up with these ballplayers they would be retired and long forgotten and the issue would never come home to roost. Well, it has, and now major league baseball has some explaining to do.

College Baseball Notes

As mentioned in previous entries, for those of who live in the South (or the Sun Belt as some of us Yankees who live in the South may prefer to refer to it as), college baseball is already well onto the radar.

This weekend, for instance, the University of Miami (which is located in Coral Gables, Florida) faces off in a three game set against the University of South Florida (which is located in Tampa, and is not even one of the five southernmost colleges in its own state interestingly enough).

It is interesting to note that although the Hurricanes are a consensus top five team at this point in the season (and ranked as high as second in some polls), three former Canes are key contributors to other collegiate ballclubs. Infielder Joey Hooft transferred to Arizona State after the 2004 campaign, and is now the Sun Devils starting second baseman (he’s off to a solid start too – hitting .370 after the team’s first seven games). Former Hurricane reserves Greg Dini (catcher) and Matt Barket (outfielder) are now second year starters for the Tulane Green Wave, which is ranked as high as number one in some polls this year.

Coincidentally, these former Canes will get a chance to catch up this weekend as Arizona State travels to the Big Easy to meet the Green Wave in a three game set.

While the Canes are poised to make another run at Omaha this year, their road would be much easier with Dini, Hooft, and Barket in the mix. Because of defections to pro baseball, the Hurricanes pool of position players is remarkably thin (although their pitching staff is as deep as it has been since their 2001 championship season). In fact, for two games last weekend, the Canes started two true freshman at catcher and first base – roles that could have been filled by seniors Dini and Hooft, respectively, if they were still on the Canes roster.

Nonetheless the Canes swept last weekend’s series against High Point, and Dini, Hooft, and Barket are on clubs that are likely to meet up with the Canes in Omaha this June.

Major League Baseball and Other News
The Toronto Blue Jays announced the other day that their payroll over the next three years will increase substantially and that they plan to spend $210 million (American!) on players over those three years. While on the surface that sounds fantastic, and like a substantial increase over what the Jays have spent in recent years, in reality it’s not that great. The truth of the matter is that the Yankees, one of the Blue Jays division rivals, will likely spend $210 million (give or take) in the 2005 season alone. It will be tough to compete – no matter how shrewd and good of a GM J.P. Riccardi turns out to be – with a team that spends $3 on major league payroll for every one dollar that you spend.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Why the wait, Mark?

It's just a few more days now until the official release of Jose Canseco's new book, but we've already gotten a taste of what's to come. Allegedly, in the book Canseco names former teammates Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro (amongst others) as steroid users.

Upon the release of this information, Rafael Palmeiro nearly immediately released a statement denying that he ever used steroids. In fact, Palmeiro's statement is pretty clear and pretty succint:

"I categorically deny any assertion made by Jose Canseco that I used steroids. At no point in my career have I ever used steroids, let alone any substance banned by Major League Baseball. As I have never had a personal relationship with Canseco, any suggestion that he taught me anything, about steroid use or otherwise, is udicrous."

Mark McGwire, on the other hand, has not issued any such strongly worded public statement. In fact, his only official comment to date has been:

"I will reserve comment until I have had chance to review the contents myself."

Interesting. If you were clean and had never used steroids, like Palmeiro - per his claims, why would you need to wait to review the contents of Canseco's book before making a statement? McGwire may be consulting with a lawyer and planning a lawsuit against Canseco if he truly believes that Canseco's allegations are baseless. Palmeiro could be doing the same thing though. He was still confident enough in what he knows the truth to be to come out and make a clear statement about the matter.

McGwire has not done the same. That speaks volumes.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Marlins Stadium Deal and Other Weekend Thoughts

Marlins Stadium Deal
Late last week the Marlins and the City of Miami announced that they have reached a tentative agreement on financing a new ballpark for the Marlins. As has been speculated and reported earlier, it appears the new stadium would be built adjacent to the Orange Bowl football stadium. Contrary to recent rumors, the most recent speculation is that the new baseball stadium will not be physically connected to the football stadium, and that the football stadium will undergo the previously planned renovations (which include reducing the total seating capacity) as planned.

While I have many thoughts on the situation, it’s probably better to let them go without saying at this point. You can read the articles on your own and draw your own conclusions. I would venture to guess that most of you could figure out where I stand on this issue just by piecing together the facts that the Marlins have not been able to secure a letter of credit, but have satisfied the city’s desire to have the team fund any cost overruns with the threat of putting a lien on the team. That seems to make sense, doesn’t it? If the team can’t afford the cost overruns, the city will put a lean on the team. That way the city can end up owning both the ballpark and the team. Great!

Canseco Alleges that Baseball Players Use Steroids
The weekend’s big baseball news (well, other than Magglio Ordonez signing a $75 million contract with the Tigers) came from Jose Canseco’s allegations of steroid use amongst a number of high profile players, including Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Jason Giambi and Ivan Rodriguez. These allegations surfaced as Canseco and team work to publicize Jose’s new book, which is due out later this month. Canseco’s allegations are so scandalous, as he has promised they would be all along, that it probably makes his book a must read this spring.

Reaction from McGwire’s camp was predictable. All wrong doing was denied and finger pointing at Canseco’s camp began. It’s interesting that McGwire gets a free pass in all of this while innuendo that comes out against Barry Bonds is damning. Why is it that accusations by Canseco about McGwire are easily dismissed when allegedly leaked grand jury testimony (a federal crime – and a felony at that) about Bonds is taken as gospel? Both sources of “evidence” are dubious at best and should be treated as such. Or at least they should both be treated equally. To not treat them similarly indicates some form of bias – or worse.

McGwire's former coach and current Cardinals skipper, Tony LaRussa, had my favorite take on the situation. Essentially LaRussa said that he was sure that McGwire had done nothing illegal. Brilliant! Of course McGwire did nothing illegal - well, at least not by baseball's standards. Steroids were perfectly legal in McGwire's day - in Canseco's career. There was no testing and there were no prohibitions against taking them. For most of Bonds and Giambi's career the same has been true. Often in the excitement of tarnishing the images of superstars, this little tidbit is forgotten. It doesn't make it right, and it doesn't mean that ballplayers should have been taking steroids, but whether it was allowed or not isn't the issue here.

Canes Baseball gets into Full Swing
The second ranked Hurricanes completed a three game sweep over High Point over the weekend. However, it wasn't a series filled with blowouts, as many fans on both sides expected coming into the series. While High Point was an 11-44 ballclub last year, this year's team is filled with promising freshman and experienced junior college transfers. While High Point is unlikely to earn a berth in this year's College World Series, Sal Bando Jr's club is clearly on the rise. For one quick example, the Panthers starting pitcher on Saturday night was Eammon Portice. Portice holds the Broward County HS record for strikeouts in a career, and he showed no signs of having earned that record by accident on Saturday night. Despite one rough inning (the first), Portice finished with ten strikeouts in only five innings of work. Should he keep putting up performances like that, I would expect him to be the ace of the staff some time soon for High Point, and for the Panthers to win - or at least be able to stay close - in many of his outings.

So despite some close calls, it was good to see the Canes pull out all three games (12 - 5 on Friday, 7 - 6 in eleven innings on Saturday, and 10 - 1 on Sunday) and improve their record to 4 - 0. The University of South Florida visits the Light this upcoming weekend (there is no mid-week game).

Friday, February 04, 2005

Weekend Reading

Here’s some fun weekend reading about a guy who recently attended the Mets fantasy baseball camp. If you’re not a lifelong Mets fan (and even if you are, you’d have to be of a certain age), many of the names of the former Mets may not be familiar to you. Still, it sounds like a great experience. All of the attendees get real uniforms, a real clubhouse, and all baseball for a whole week.

Still, I’m not sure that it’s something I’d ever want to do. For one thing, it’s expensive. Also, if I ever did fork over the kind of money you need to in order to attend a camp like this, I’d at least make sure I knew the difference between a glove and a mitt, which the fellow who writes this blog uses interchangeably (for those of you who don't know the difference and refuse to look at the definitions - a glove has separations for each finger, while a mitt only has a separation for the thumb - if any at all; it's just like the difference between gloves and mittens that you'd wear during the winter). Yes, that’s nitpicking I know, but for someone who’s going to spend a week’s vacation time and dedicate a big chunk of cash to this sort of a vacation, I would think you would want to be familiar with these types of differences.

When you go to read, remember to start at the bottom or the blog and read the posts in reverse order, so that everything makes sense. This blog world is upside down you know.