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.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Major Announcement Tomorrow, Hopefully!

I/we hope to announce something major tomorrow. Well, it will be a big deal if things go as planned tonight. So if you're curious to find out what it is, please check back here tomorrow to hear about the big news. I can't quite talk about it yet, for fear of jinxing it (and because of who might see it).

I suppose that only a few of you will find out about it before the weekend or next Monday anyway, since for whatever reason Friday is the least trafficked day of the week on this site. I suppose you're all out drinking it up at happy hour on Friday so you're too busy to read what's going on here.

In other news, we're going to have some new, regular features here at The Book of Mike for the 2005 season. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Series Previews - before each series we'll have a unique look at the Marlins upcoming opponent. I don't think you'll find a perspective like it anywhere else on the net.
  • Prospect Features - in the past we've been light on material for off days. This year will be different. We're going to have a piece at least once per week on Marlins in the Minors, the June draft, and who you should keep an eye out for later in 2005 and in 2006. The Marlins will likely once again lose some key players to free agency (Alex Gonzalez comes to mind) after this season, so we'll talk about who his replacement might be (if he does leave). The draft should be very interesting this year too, as the Marlins effectively have three first round picks. They could really clean up this year.
  • Book Reviews - one of our most popular features last summer, judging by the reader email, werethe books that we recommended. The list hasn't been updated in quite awhile (you can find a link to it on the right side of this page), but there are a number of great reads to add. We'll sprinkle those in throughout the year. Some are obvious, best-sellers and others are a little more obscure.
  • Stadium coverage - We probably get frustrated with it more than most folks, but at least for the first part of the year, whether or not the Marlins secure stadium financing will be a front-burner issue for the team. So we'll talk about it.

  • There will of course be our usual ramblings and diatribes about various things, but if there's something you'd like to know about or read more about, drop us a line and we'll get right on it.

    Well, that's all for now. Keep your fingers crossed for me tonight and wish me luck!

    Matt Williams Becomes Part Owner of Diamondbacks

    In a move that one can only assume (ok, we're reaching here) is aimed at helping the club reduce some of its deferred compensation payments, Matt Williams became a part owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this week.

    It will be interesting to see if other former Diamondbacks, like Randy Johnson, who are owed small fortunes by the club also become part owners down the road. While it is uncommon (sans Michael Jordan with the NBA's Wizards and Magic Johnson with the Lakers) for former players to become owners of teams, it was fairly common around this time in the last century. One of the more notable players who later became an owner was the White Sox' Charles Comiskey (you know, the guy that the two stadiums were named after, well - at least until cell phone companies took over the world).

    Marlins Release Wayne

    It's not the attention grabbing topic that you might have speculated that it would be a few years back. It just hasn't worked out that way for Justin Wayne in pro baseball.

    As a collegian though, he was all-everything. He holds numerous Stanford pitching records (which is no small feat, when your school plays in a tough conference and has been staffed by legions of future major leaguers over the years - including Mike Mussina and Jack McDowell). He was all-everything as a high schooler in Hawaii too (what a life for this guy!).

    But after the Expos made him the fifth overall pick in the first round of the 2000 draft, things didn't go quite as expected. Sure, he'd run up a 31 - 5 record as a collegian, but that didn't make him ready for the majors. He spent a few years in the minors, eventually making his first appearance with the Marlins in September of 2002.

    How did he end up with the Marlins, you ask? He was drafted by the Expos, right? Well, when Loria and Co. moved from Montreal to Miami one of the prospects they were saddest to leave behind was Wayne. So when the time came for deadline deals in 2002 the Marlins made sure to have Wayne included in the deal that sent Cliff Floyd north of the border.

    Wayne was still highly regarded then. Back in late 2002 most folks probably saw him as an integral part of the Marlins rotation by this point in 2005. But for whatever reason he's not. Injuries, like they do to so many, got in the way. So too did a lack of overwhelming minor league stats, which usually help push a prospect to the big leagues.

    That's all in the past now for Wayne. The Marlins have released him, so if he makes it back to the major leagues, it will be with another club.

    It will be interesting to see what becomes of Wayne now. He's still young (not quite 26 yet) and he does have that first round arm that teams used to be enamored with. His major league strike to walk ratio isn't that impressive (about 1-to-1), but his minor league rate was a much more respectable 2-to-1.

    This has Braves reclamation project written all over it.

    Canes Prepare for Four Game Set

    Earlier in the year this weekend's series between Oral Roberts and Miami promised to be one of the more intriguing non-conference matchups of the early/mid portion of the regular season. Unfortunately that promise doesn't seem to have held true.

    In 2004, Oral Roberts went 47 - 11 in the regular season and had an RPI of about 70. They reached the post-season, but were unfortunate enough to draw #1 nationally seeded Texas, at UT's home ballpark for their regional. While they fared well in that regional (winning two games before bowing out to Texas in the championship round), their Omaha hopes died in Austin.

    Expectations for the 2005 ORU team were still high. They were ranked in many pre-season publications. However their on field results have not lived up to those expectations to date this season. They enter this weekend's series with a record of 13 - 10, although that mark is boosted by 3 wins against non-division I opponents.

    This series could come at a good time for the Canes. After winning their first two ACC series, the Canes dropped two games to topped ranked Georgia Tech last weekend. This weekend - with a four game set - could give the Canes a chance to "get right" as they head into the meat of the ACC schedule (with series against North Carolina and Florida State looming later in April).

    Cesar Carillo will take the hill for the Canes at 7 tonight out at the Light. Be sure to be there!

    Marlins Preview

    Going into Spring Training we provided some previews and things to watch as the spring progressed. Spring Training is now winding down and the regular season is just a few days away. That, of course, means that it's time for predictions and previews.

    I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in a National League East roundtable over at MetsGeek. The full roundtable, with commentary from folks who follow each of the teams in the division, will be posted early next week. In the meantime, my contribution to the piece can be found below.

    Although the roundtable isn't up yet over at MetsGeek, I'd still encourage you to stop by and check out their site. There's lots of great commentary and analysis over there.

    Here we go...
    Marlins Questions
    1. Flashback to October: The season has just ended. What should be on your team's to do list? (via trades, acquisitions, promotions, non-tenders, etc)?

    Carl Pavano is about to become a free agent. If his price tag stays reasonable, the Marlins should stay in the bidding. If his price goes north of $7 or $8 million per year, the Marlins should wish him good luck wherever he ends up because they have enough depth, and not enough payroll flexibility, to afford losing him at that point.

    The Marlins bench situation is something of a mess. The backups are mainly aging, role players like Lenny Harris and Mike Mordecai. While they're nice guys to have in the clubhouse and understand the game inside and out, the value they bring to the club is limited. They are also probably taking up roster spots that could better be used to develop younger players.

    Josh Willingham has been a top prospect for the Marlins for some time. He was originally a thirdbaseman, but the organization thought he was blocked at the major league level by Mike Lowell and eventually Miguel Cabrera. So, he was converted into a catcher, where he's found himself behind Ramon Castro (as a prospect) and Ivan Rodriguez and Paul LoDuca at the major league level. Like they always have been, the Marlins have been hesitant to try to contend with an unproven major league catcher, so Willingham has been forced to languish in the minors. He's getting older now though and isn't really of "prospect" age anymore (26). More importantly his bat is major league ready and they need to find a role for him.

    Jeffrey Allison is another interesting case for the Marlins. Allison was the team's top draft pick in 2003. He hasn't pitched much for the Marlins though - at any level. He's only appeared in a total of nine minor league innings since signing. Indications are that he's beaten his addiction to OxyCotin.

    Other offseason needs are bench depth and some power for the lineup (although the starting lineup could effectively be set with what the Marlins already have on their roster). The bullpen is a mess. The Fish need arms.

    2. Did your team address all of its needs? What was the Best and worst moveof your team's offseason?

    All things considered, the offseason was a huge success for the Marlins. Yes, Carl Pavano got away (to the Yankees) but his price tag was pretty expensive and his upside looking forward wasn't great (he'll likely be a very good pitcher for years to come, but not an ace).

    As something of a replacement for Pavano, the Marlins signed Al Leiter to a one year deal. Most Marlins fans remember Leiter as a member of the 1997 World Championship team, but he's not that pitcher anymore. They've probably overpaid for his services, but hopefully he'll be a major influence on the team's young starters.

    The surprise, and the team's best move this offseason, was the signing of Carlos Delgado. This move came as a major surprise - relative to October expectations - as hardly anyone thought the Marlins had the budget to acquire the likes of Delgado. With the signing, Delgado instantly becomes the best left-handed power threat in the history of the team (albeit a short history - but still the Marlins haven't had a lefty who hit 30 home runs).

    The worst move this offseason, although it will likely be corrected during the year assuming the Marlins are in the playoff hunt, involved the bullpen. Going into the offseason the bullpen was an acknowledged weakness. While the Marlins acquired a number of new arms – Todd Jones, Matt Perisho, Chad Bentz, etc - they didn't acquire a high profile reliever or an unproven major leaguer with significant upside.

    This is in line with the Marlins strategy (sans Delgado) of signing players to contracts that are values to the club. They normally expect their players to outperform the value of their contracts (this was a critical factor in the Marlins 2003 World Series championship season). They're counting on that happening again, or on acquiring another reliever via waivers mid-year, like Chad Fox in 2003, and having him set the world on fire.

    3. Evaluate your team's lineup, starting rotation, bullpen and bench.

    Lineup: The Marlins starting lineup is one of the strongest in the National League (it definitely falls behind the Cardinals though). This is also the Marlins strongest starting lineup in recent history, even outdoing the 2003 World Champs. They have power in Delgado, Cabrera and Lowell. They get average and speed from Castillo and Pierre. With Paul LoDuca behind the plate they get good defense and a solid all around game.

    Expectations for Juan Encarnacion and Alex Gonzalez are also high this year. Both have shown flashes of hitting for high average and for power, but neither has really put together the full season yet that many expect that they are capable of. If that comes together this year, the Marlins offense could be scary for opposing managers.

    Defensively, the Marlins are also solid. Many regard Alex Gonzalez and Luis Castillo as the best double play duo in the National League. Mike Lowell fits into the infield defensively quite well. And it's fortunate for the Marlins to have that defensive wizardry in the infield because that relieves some of the pressure from Carlos Delgado, who isn't as great as the others.

    In the outfield, Juan Pierre nearly makes up for his shortcomings with his arm with his good range. Juan Encarnacion plays excellent all around defense. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about Miguel Cabrera - who will patrol left this year for the Fish. Defense is about the only aspect of Miguel's game that isn't superior, but he does have a rifle for an arm.

    Starting rotation: This is the make or break area for the Marlins this year. They picked up Al Leiter as a free agent. He adds veteran leadership to the rotation, which is one thing they were clearly lacking.

    Once again the Marlins rotation is filled with promise and question marks. A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett are arguably two of the most talented young pitchers in the game. Dontrelle Willis is no slouch either. But Burnett and Beckett have been plagued by injuries and haven't lived up to their hype. Willis came on phenomenally strong in 2003, but he's been prone to bouts of wildness.

    The fifth starter for the Marlins will likely be Ismael Valdez. That's not such a bad thing, but it's not so great either. Most unfortunately, the Marlins early schedule will require them to use all five starters off the bat, so they won't likely be able to get an extra turn in for their top guys early in the year.

    Bullpen: This is the Marlins major question mark. Some people are still high on Guillermo Mota, but that's mostly as a setup guy. He's unproven - relatively - as a closer. Behind him in the bullpen you'll find Antonio Alfonseca, Todd Jones, Jim Mecir, Matt Perisho, and John Riedling. Those aren't exactly names that inspire fear in hitters.

    Eventually the Marlins could regain the services of Tim Spooneybarger, who, in addition to having a really cool name, is a very talented pitcher and is still only 25. Spooney hasn't pitched in the majors since 2003 because of injuries. Getting him back could significantly upgrade the bullpen.

    Bench: The Marlins bench includes Jeff Conine (unless he wins the job over Encarnacion), Damion Easley, Matt Treanor (Catcher), Chris Aguila (token youngster), and Lenny Harris (as the designated pinch hitter extraordinare). The remaining spot on the opening day roster will likely be filled by Joe Dillon or Mark Little.

    Obviously, this is not the Yankees bench. This is the team's biggest weakness. Well, at least it will be as soon as a starter goes down with a significant injury.

    4. Who are your team's top prospects? How far away are they from helping atthe major league level?

    Position Player: Jeremy Hermida (OF) - Hermida slipped to the Marlins with the 11th pick in the draft in 2002 and the Fish pounced. He was expected to be a top 3 pick until teams were scared off by his interest in Clemson and college baseball. He is a solid hitter and should develop power as he gets older and stronger. Defensively he still has some room for improvement, but the Marlins expect him to be the everyday right fielder in 2006.

    Pitcher: Scott Olsen (LHP) - Olsen was only a 6th round pick, but his fastball tops out in the mid-90s and he's developed into a pitcher (not just a thrower) in the minors. He's succeeded everywhere he's been so far, but he hasn't pitched higher than High-A ball so far.

    Still, if he succeeds in AA to start the year, it's not out of the realm of possibility for the Marlins to call him up to the big club if there's a need this season. Keep in mind that both Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera came up to the big club straight from AA in 2003. I don't expect to see Olsen until 2006 though.

    While Hermida and Olsen are clearly the Marlins top prospects right now, the Marlins should bring in a strong haul of prospects in the 2005 draft. With their compensatory and normal picks, the Marlins will have three of the first 33 picks in the draft. That might allow them to take a risk on a high-risk, high-reward type of a player (a la Jered Weaver) who could immediately vault to the top of the club'sprospect list.

    5. What should be the goals of your team for this year? What is the best wayof achieving these goals?

    The Marlins goal this year is to reach the post-season. As they proved in 1997 and 2003, they don't need to win the division, as they can win the World Series with merely the Wild Card. Winning the division would be nice though - as it would be the first time in the franchise's history that they've done it.To achieve it, the Marlins will need to stay healthy. There is very little depth amongst position players, and with the signing of Delgado, there is probably not much flexibility to add any depth.

    The same is true, but to a greater degree, with the starting rotation. If A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett stay healthy for the full year, the Marlins should easily be looking at playoff contention. Both pitchers could even contend for the Cy Young Award if they are healthy.

    NL East
    1. Which team had the best and which had worst offseason?

    Best - Part of me would like to be a homer and give the Marlins credit for picking up Leiter and Delgado, but the rest of me thinks that their penny-pinching ways with Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, and Miguel Cabrera will come back to bite them. Beckett, Willis, and Cabrera are not yet eligible for free agency or arbitration, so the team can automatically renew their contracts. With Willis andCabrera, the team has given them miniscule raises the past two seasons. Beckett, who because of his high draft status already had a major league contract and a healthy salary, has taken a few paycuts through this process. In the long run I think this will cost the Marlins a player or two down the road because of ill will once these players are eligible for free agency.

    Given that, and probably even ignoring all of that about the Marlins, the Mets get credit for having the best offseason. This is an award that the Mets seemingly win regularly, but the Beltran signing alone could make it prove true this time. Beltran is undoubtedly a great player and will likely be one for a long time, I still question why the Mets didn't make this move a year earlier with Vladimir Guerrero, who's probably a better all around player.

    Regardless, they have Beltran now and Pedro Martinez too. Pedro's not going to be the guy we all remember from his days with the Red Sox, but he'll benefit frombeing in the National League. Many have knocked the contract the Mets gave him, but the marginal cost of the fourth year wasn't really all that great. All told, the Mets should be happy with these moves (Benson, Mientkiewicz, etc too) for a few years. I think they should move Mike Cameron though. His defensive talents will be wasted in right field.

    Worst - Washington. While the Nationals made some moves, they generally overpaid (Cristian Guzman), picked up players of questionable value (Jose Guillen), and guys with their best year(s) behind them (Esteban Loiaza).

    2. What was the best move in the division? What was the worst move?

    Best - In the short term, the Marlins signing of Carlos Delgado is the best move. He'll have an immediate impact on the team and will help them to be able to compete this year. In the long run though, his contract is likely to tie the Marlins hands for years to come (particularly with the deferred money).

    The best move in the long run is probably the Mets signing of Carlos Beltran. Unless he goes all Mo Vaughn on us, Beltran could wear a Mets cap into Cooperstown one day.

    Worst - Cristian Guzman, 4 years, $16.8 million

    3. Which team has the best: Starting Rotation, Lineup, Bench, Bullpen?

    Starting Rotation - If John Smoltz continues through in the regular season with a performance anywhere near what he's looked like in spring training, this goes to the Braves. My pick is the Braves, but if the Marlins are all able to live up to their potential (but there are probably too many question marks for them to all do it this year), the Marlins could win this crown.

    Lineup - 1. Marlins; 2. Phillies; 3. Mets; Without the Marlins' acquisition of Delgado, this list would look a whole lot different. With him though, the Marlins have at least three legitimate power threats and two sparkplugs ahead of them who are going to be on base all the time. At the bottom of the lineup you'll get solid contributions from LoDuca and probably better results from Alex Gonzalez and Juan Encarnacion. Did you realize that Alex Gonzalez hit 23 homers last year?

    Bench - I'd like to say Atlanta just because I'd like to write about Julio Franco, but I can't justify that. Washington probably has the least dropoff from their starters to their bench, but that's not really a compliment. I'll go with the Phillies here, but I'm not really impressed by anyone's bench.

    Bullpen - I don't love any of the bullpens in the division, but I'm going to have to go with the Phillies. Maybe they'll exorcise the demons of Mitch Williams this year.

    4. Who is the best prospect in the division?

    Andy Marte - Braves. It's just a matter of time for him.

    5. Who will win the NL East this year?

    I could probably make a better case for the Marlins or Phillies (even the Mets) this year, but I'm picking the Braves. I will pick the Braves every spring until they finally fail to win the division. I don't see how they'll be able to pull it off this year, but they always seem to. I mean, there are high schoolers in Atlanta know whohaven't ever been alive when the Braves failed to win the division.

    Wednesday, March 30, 2005

    Higginson Trade Rumors

    We've tried to avoid the subject in hopes that it would keep the
    rumors from coming true, but that doesn't seem to be working. It
    seems that talk of the Marlins acquiring Tigers' outfielder Bobby
    Higginson might actually be well founded.

    For those of you who don't follow the Tigers very closely (and I
    suspect that the only reason some of you might is to keep up with
    Pudge Rodriguez and Ugueth Urbina), here's an overview of Higgy: He's
    a 34-year old left handed hitting outfielder. Back in the day, or as
    recently as 2000, he brought a combination of power and average to the
    plate, but those days seem to be far behind him. In addition, he - at
    least currently - carries the baggage of a large salary (he's due
    $8.85 million this season).

    Rumors from as recent as Monday had the Marlins in discussion with the
    Tigers about a Juan Encarnacion swap. Encarnacion is due to make
    about half as much as Higginson this year, but Juan doesn't bring a
    left-handed bat or the power that Higginson could. On the other hand,
    he does provide more defense and offers more versatility, plus he's
    paid a lot less.

    Some folks even have speculated that Encarnacion was playing
    centerfield in the spring for the benefit of the Tigers, so they could
    get a feel for how well he could still play the position (early in his
    career Juan played center for the Tigers). I disagree with that
    though, as it appears Encarnacion has played in center this spring as
    he's the Marlins best option with Juan Pierre out.

    Fortunately for the Marlins, it looks like they have some time in this
    situation. The Tigers, though, are a little bit stuck. They'd like
    to move him soon, but every other team knows that they'll have to.
    Higginson has no role on the Tigers this year, and he'll likely have
    to be designated for assignment before opening day, meaning that the
    Tigers will have to trade or release him within ten days.

    That could be a good thing for the Marlins on two levels. One, it
    gives them more time to see if Jeff Conine heals. If he's not going
    to be ready for the early part of the season, acquiring Higginson
    might be more of a necessity than a luxury. Second, if the Tigers do
    designate Higginson for assignment and they're unable to find a
    trading partner, they'll end up releasing him. At that point
    Higginson would receive the windfall of his 2005 salary ($8.85
    million) from the Tigers and he would be free to sign with the club of
    his choice. That's when the Marlins could swoop in and sign him for
    the minimum salary or something similar (as Higginson would be more
    apt to take it at that point because he would be receiving his
    "normal" 2005 salary already).

    Conclusion: It seems that Bobby Higginson is on the market. Depth is
    a major concern for the Marlins, so in that sense, acquiring Higginson
    makes sense. But to acquire him at the expense of another established
    player already on the roster doesn't seem to make sense, unless the
    move provides some payroll flexibility or other benefit (which at this
    point doesn't seem possible or even likely).

    Hopefully the Marlins will be able to find away to pick up Higginson
    on the cheap. Giving up Encarnacion to get him though, isn't cheap in
    any way. As much as you might not like Juan's bat, he might fill a
    crucial role for the Marlins this year - at least at the start of the
    season - if Pierre has to miss any amount of time. Plus, his
    offensive value could be just as much as Higginson's this season.

    Opening Series with Braves Looms

    There's less than a week to go now until the Marlins open up their 2005 season against the perennial division champions, the Atlanta Braves. In case you haven't been keeping up with the Braves this spring, here's how two of their better known players have fared so far this spring:

    Andruw Jones (CF) - .405 batting average, 10 Homers, and 20 RBI in 42 at bats. Unfortunately, official walk and strikeout totals aren't kept in the spring, so you can't get a complete glimpse of what Jones is doing (he's been strikeout prone over his career). But apparently the batting tips that he took from Willie Mays have been working pretty well. His slugging percentage is a Bondsian 1.143.

    John Smoltz (RHP) - He's only appeared in 4 games, but in his 14 innings he's given up only nine hits and hasn't walked anyone. Over the course of the year the questions surrounding Smoltz will be in regards to his conditioning, since he was in the bullpen the past few years. The Marlins will be the first team to get to test his endurance as he'll take the hill for the Braves on Opening Day.

    Yes, I know - these are only spring stats. Fair enough. Still, these are some pretty impressive numbers that some pretty impressive ball players have put up (over a small sample size) this spring. Sometimes these things tend to carry over to the regular season, and sometimes they don't. We'll start to get an idea as to whether or not they will for Jones and Smoltz this season on Tuesday.

    Marlins New Stadium One Step Closer to Reality

    Sigh... it seems like it's going to happen:
    Miami-Dade officials estimate the Marlins stadium would generate up to $8 million in new sales taxes for the state and in return they are asking the state to let them keep $2 million of that each year for the next 30 years.

    Apparently state lawmakers, at least these committee people bought this. If the $8 million in "new sales taxes" (which I'm taking to mean $8 million in incremental tax dollars - over and above whatever tax dollars the team/stadium currently generate) proves to be accurate, you and I (and other baseball fans across South Florida can expect to be responsible for generating that extra money).

    How much would have to be spent to generate $8 million in incremental tax revenue?

    Well, if the tax rate is 7%, to generate $8 million in tax revenue, you'd have to generate north of $114 million in sales. If the Marlins attract 2 million fans to their new ballpark each year, that would mean each fan would be paying $57 more for their experience than they do now at Pro Player Stadium.

    To me, that sounds ludicrous. People aren't going to pay that. Maybe my math is wrong, but I don't think that it is.

    Sure, the glitz and glamour of a new stadium (I'll give them - although it's at best a stretch - that it's more ideally located) can justify higher ticket prices. And maybe with more food choices and some VIP amenities you can squeeze out a few extra dollars per person.

    But $57 on average per person per game? That's a lot of money. That type of an increase will sure turn off some average families and even some passionate baseball fans. That's a lot of money to ask of people.

    Sure, you could work around it by keeping bleacher seats attractively priced, but for every seat you don't raise the prices on, you'll have to increase the revenue you get from another "fan" by $114. Look around town folks, there aren't the business in Miami-Dade (or Broward) to support that kind of expenditure.

    $57 per fan for each game would equal $4,617. That's not your bill for tickets. That's your bill over and above what you pay for tickets, concessions, parking, merchandise, and everything else today.

    I suspect though that the "real" expectations for the new ballpark aren't that high. No one can really think that this stadium is going to generate an incremental $8 million in tax revenue (7% of gross revenue) per year. But by the time people catch on to that the Marlins will already be playing in their fancy new digs.

    Higginson to the Marlins?

    We've tried to avoid the subject in hopes that it would keep therumors from coming true, but that doesn't seem to be working. It seems that talk of the Marlins acquiring Tigers' outfielder BobbyHigginson might actually be well founded.

    For those of you who don't follow the Tigers very closely (and I suspect that the only reason some of you might is to keep up with Pudge Rodriguez and Ugueth Urbina), here's an overview of Higgy: He's a 34-year old left handed hitting outfielder. Back in the day, or as recently as 2000, he brought a combination of power and average to the plate, but those days seem to be far behind him. In addition, he - at least currently - carries the baggage of a large salary (he's due $8.85 million this season).

    Rumors from as recent as Monday had the Marlins in discussion with theTigers about a Juan Encarnacion swap. Encarnacion is due to makeabout half as much as Higginson this year, but Juan doesn't bring aleft-handed bat or the power that Higginson could. On the other hand,he does provide more defense and offers more versatility, plus he'spaid a lot less.

    Some folks even have speculated that Encarnacion was playing centerfield in the spring for the benefit of the Tigers, so they could get a feel for how well he could still play the position (early in hiscareer Juan played center for the Tigers). I disagree with that though, as it appears Encarnacion has played in center this spring as he's the Marlins best option with Juan Pierre out.

    Fortunately for the Marlins, it looks like they have some time in this situation. The Tigers, though, are a little bit stuck. They'd like to move him soon, but every other team knows that they'll have to. Higginson has no role on the Tigers this year, and he'll likely have to be designated for assignment before opening day, meaning that theTigers will have to trade or release him within ten days.

    That could be a good thing for the Marlins on two levels. One, itgives them more time to see if Jeff Conine heals. If he's not going to be ready for the early part of the season, acquiring Higginson might be more of a necessity than a luxury. Second, if the Tigers do designate Higginson for assignment and they're unable to find atrading partner, they'll end up releasing him. At that point Higginson would receive the windfall of his 2005 salary ($8.85million) from the Tigers and he would be free to sign with the club ofhis choice. That's when the Marlins could swoop in and sign him forthe minimum salary or something similar (as Higginson would be moreapt to take it at that point because he would be receiving his"normal" 2005 salary already).

    Conclusion: It seems that Bobby Higginson is on the market. Depth is a major concern for the Marlins, so in that sense, acquiring Higginson makes sense. But to acquire him at the expense of another established player already on the roster doesn't seem to make sense, unless themove provides some payroll flexibility or other benefit (which at thispoint doesn't seem possible or even likely).

    Hopefully the Marlins will be able to find away to pick up Higginsonon the cheap. Giving up Encarnacion to get him though, isn't cheap in any way. As much as you might not like Juan's bat, he might fill acrucial role for the Marlins this year - at least at the start of the season - if Pierre has to miss any amount of time. Plus, Encarnacion's offensive value could be just as much as Higginson's this season.

    Tuesday, March 29, 2005

    Hey, wait a minute...

    One line in particular from Aaron Gleeman's Marlins piece stuck with me (the article is linked to in the previous post):
    The Marlins look to me like an 80- to 85-win team, which is essentially what they've been for this whole decade (408-401 since 2000, with 79, 76, 79, 91, and83 wins).
    That's an interesting observation, and it helps to put things into perspective. For me, two things jump out.
    1. Being an 80 to 85 win team isn't such a bad thing, especially for those of us who can remember back to the 1998 and 1999 seasons.
    2. I'm a little surprised that the number isn't higher, but last year's record was right around the mean and the World Series season helps to offset the below .500 records in the previous seasons.

    Whenever I think of Aaron Gleeman though, I think of the Twins. As you probably know, Aaron writes about the Twins on his blog all the time. As you also probably know, the Twins have won the last three AL Central titles.

    Now, it's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but since 2000 the Twins have racked up win totals of 69, 85, 94, 90, and 92. That averages out to 86 per year (4 games better than the Marlins 82).

    It's interesting, at least to me, because the difference over the past five years isn't that significant, but the on field results sure have been. The Twins have been to the playoffs three times, but haven't gone home with an AL Pennant or a World Series title lately. The Marlins, on the other hand, have only been above .500 twice in the past five years, but they have one World Series title to show for it.

    You almost have to wonder what the results would look like if the teams switched divisions and leagues. I'd venture to guess that the Marlins would be the prohibitive favorites in the AL Central this year, like the Twins are in reality. By that same token, the Twins would probably be the favorites in the NL East for many, but not all. Some would still favor the Braves, and fewer still the Mets and Phillies.

    Over the past five years though if the Twins had been in the National League, they might have had a better chance of reaching the World Series.

    All in all it's interesting. As a fan, I was surprised to see how narrow the differences are at a 5-year level, but how significant of a difference it makes in how the clubs are perceived. The Marlins are considered by many nationally to have gotten lucky one year (2003) and that turned into a World Series title. The Twins, who have been in contention at least every year since 2001, are now gaining respect as a formidable franchise that has been constructed to compete over the long haul.

    But when you compare the on field results over the past five years, they are not that different from each other. One World Series title or three playoff appearances in five years? It's a tough call - honestly, because those playoffs are sure fun to "be a part of" - but I think I'd take the World Series title.

    New Marlins Preview

    Aaron Gleeman and The Hardball Times have their 5 Questions for the Florida Marlins posted today. It's their version of a season preview and it's filled with lots of good information. Check it out by clicking here.

    Are the Marlins' Pitchers Grown-Up and Healthy?

    Dave Hyde, who, along with Mike Berardino, makes the Sun Sentinel a must read for a South Florida sports fan, penned a nice article today about the Marlins pitching staff as they prepare to enter the 2005 season. Here's a snippet:

    "This team's better than '03," Burnett said of the World Series champs.

    But will the pitching come through?

    That pretty much sums up the whole situation for the Marlins. If they can live up to their potential, this could be the best Marlins team that we've ever seen.

    Monday, March 28, 2005

    TBOM's 2005 NL Predictions

    The previous entry listed our forecast for the 2005 season in the AL. Here now is the same for the NL. If for nothing else, you might find the World Series prediction amusing.

    NL East
    1. Atlanta Braves
    2. Florida Marlins
    3. Philadelphia Phillies
    4. New York Mets
    5. Washington Nationals

    Yes, the Braves. I’m picking the Braves every year until they finally fail to win the division.

    Do you realize that there are young adults in Atlanta-area high schools this year that have never known a year in which the Braves didn’t win their division in their entire lives? This isn’t like with the Twins or even the Yankees where some youngsters can’t quite recall back to a year when their respective home team didn’t finish on top. Literally, there are many high schoolers in Atlanta who were born in 1991 who have only lived in years when the Braves won their division. They probably don’t remember all of those great titles, but they also don’t have any recollection of second place. I find that mind-numbing. Actually, I was in grade school the last time the Braves failed to win their division.

    So, until they stop winning their division, I’m picking them. I don’t care what my head tells me. I don’t care what my heart tells me. I don’t care what the stats say.

    That said, there are four legitimate contenders for the division crown this year. Obviously, the Braves are one of them. The Marlins are too. They’re improved from last season, notably with the addition of Carlos Delgado, but there are a number of questions – mainly the durability of their starting pitchers and also the depth and ability of their bullpen. The Phillies could win the division too; I suppose we’ll have to wait to see what type of an impact not having Larry Bowa in the dugout will have on the team. Many would guess that’s good for at least a handful of wins. The Mets, too, should contend. Well, either that or Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran will have their careers take the Shea Stadium induced nose-dive that Mo Vaughn and numerous other high-ticket free agents.

    And at least there’s baseball again in the nation’s capital – even if it is of the glorified triple-A variety. And yes, I’ll still be wearing my Encore Baseball Montreal gear.

    NL Central
    1. St. Louis Cardinals
    2. Chicago Cubs
    3. Houston Astros
    4. Cincinnati Reds
    5. Milwaukee Brewers
    6. Pittsburgh Pirates

    The Cardinals are once again the class of the Central. It’s unlikely that they’ll win 105 games again, like last season, but that probably won’t be necessary.

    If the Cubs health issues were more stable, they’d have to get serious consideration to win the division this year. The front four in the rotation are Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and Greg Maddux. When your fourth starter has 300 career wins and seemingly is good for 15 wins (or more) automatically each year, you’re in pretty good shape. But Wood and Prior have been dogged by injuries in the past and this spring, so it might not be smooth sailing for the Cubs this year. Their season long availability is key to the Cubs chances this season.

    After the top two, I’m not very confident it all in terms of how things will turn out. The Astros still have Roger Clemens and they should get a better year (i.e. healthy) out of Andy Pettitte. But the losses of Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent are significant. As are the injury to Lance Berkman and the aging of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. They could surprise though and put together one last run. That’s why I have them third.

    After that, it’s youngsters and potential. Who knows what will happen there?

    NL West
    1. San Diego Padres
    2. San Francisco Giants
    3. Los Angeles Dodgers
    4. Arizona Diamondbacks
    5. Colorado Rockies

    With Barry Bonds out indefinitely, the dynamics of this division shift greatly. With Bonds in the lineup, the Giants are the favorites to win the division. Without him, they could arguably finish anywhere. Even with Bonds out, the Giants are a very old team and are at as much risk as any other team for a serious injury which could further debilitate the club’s chances of reaching the post-season.

    Since Bonds’ return is in doubt, I’m going with the Padres and counting on Jake Peavy to have a great year. When he’s healthy, he’s amongst the best in the game.

    If Todd Helton didn’t get to hit in Coors Field half the time, he’d have to feel like he was biding his time away in purgatory. 2005 could be a very long season for the Rockies. Jeff Francis and Helton should be fun to watch though.

    Awards and Post-Season
    MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals – if he can overcome his heel problems, this could be the year that Pujols finally takes home the hardware. It’s not like he’s ever disappointed in his career. It’s just that his great seasons have always come in just a tic below what Barry Bonds has accomplished. With Bonds out for at least part, if not all, of the season, this could be Albert’s year.

    Cy Young: Having Randy Johnson move to the American League opens the door for the Cy Young to another deserving player much like having Bonds out due to injury opens the MVP door for Pujols. There’s not as clear-cut of a favorite though going into the year. Josh Beckett for the Marlins, Roy Oswalt for the Astros, and Jake Peavy for the Padres are darkhorse candidates. Each will probably need to catch some breaks along the way – one of them being healthy for the whole season, which each has struggled with so far in their career. So the pick here is Jason Schmidt of the Giants.

    Wild Card: Again, this is another tough pick. 11 of the 16 National League teams enter the season with legitimate and fairly widespread post-season expectations (don’t tell a football fan that though, because as they’ll tell you there’s no competitive balance in baseball). However, only four of those teams will reach the playoffs. Since the candidates are so numerous, let’s try to whittle down the field.

    I just don’t see the Wild Card coming out of the West. While the Giants, Padres, or Dodgers could take the division, I doubt the second place team will rack up enough wins to take home the wild card.

    From the Central, the Cubs are definitely candidates and the Astros and Reds (at least if you’re from Cinci) are dark horses. In the East, the Marlins, Phillies, and Mets have high hopes.

    This is a Marlins blog though, so we’re going to be homers and pick the Fish.

    NL Champions: Well, the Marlins are undefeated in post-season series play. How can you pick against that?

    World Series: Marlins over Red Sox. Two teams: one with relatively horrible regular season history and an unblemished post-season record up against the franchise with more heartbreak than anything else, recent results notwithstanding.

    It would be nice to see the Marlins take on former owner John Henry’s club. Some Marlins’ fans would be sad to beat former Marlin Kevin Millar (who, speaking of which, has generated a lot of hits on this site recently for a post from last summer – which I’m not re-linking too – about his practice of taking batting practice in the nude; some of you have used very creative google searches to find that post – many of which are quite frightening).

    TBOM's 2005 AL Predictions

    Fine - so the title is a little pig-headed of me, or at least not very clear to most folks. But "we" decided to go with TBOM's 2005 AL Predictions for fun. TBOM of course stands for The Book of Mike. We love ourselves. Moving on...

    Last year I got my predictions up just after the start of the regular season, and even then, they weren’t so great (so I’m not linking back to them). Anyways, here’s how I think things will end up in 2005

    AL East
    1. Boston Red Sox
    2. New York Yankees
    3. Baltimore Orioles
    4. Tampa Bay Rays
    5. Toronto Blue Jays

    The Red Sox really should have one the division last year. Based on a number of metrics – or even something as simple as just comparing runs scored to runs allowed – the Yankees were a very fortunate team last year. Some feel that the Yankees were “lucky” to the tune of twelve extra wins last season. Normally that sort of good luck catches up with you pretty quickly and the win level returns to where it should.

    Plus, the Yankees are another year older. Alex Rodriguez, at 30, is the youngest starter. Yes, the Yankees got better this offseason, by acquiring Randy Johnson, but with Johnson, Kevin Brown, and Mike Mussina on staff, this is an old rotation and it’s likely that a part or two will break down. Carl Pavano isn’t likely to put up the same numbers with the Yankees as he did with the Marlins as now he’s in the AL (one extra hitter to face each time through the lineup) and half his games won’t come in the pitcher’s haven that is the former Pro Player Stadium. Jaret Wright, another Yankees pickup, is also likely to regress, as most pitchers do when they leave Leo Mazzone’s watchful eye.

    In many years, this Yankees team could outright miss the playoffs, but the Central is so weak and the teams out West will likely beat each other up so much that the Yankees could sneak in.

    I’d like to predict one of the other clubs in the division to finish second, but I just don’t see it happening. Just for fun I put the Rays in 4th (and left out the Devil part, just to be PC). Not sure if that will really happen though – it’s probably wishful thinking on my part (hey – they’re a fun club to watch, even if Duane Keiper isn’t that fun to listen to).

    AL Central
    1. Minnesota Twins
    2. Cleveland Indians
    3. Detroit Tigers
    4. Chicago White Sox
    5. Kansas City Royals

    As I’m sure you can imagine, putting the White Sox fourth in this division pains me deeply. The Twins remain the class of the division, although with the Sox resourced, I don’t think it’s too much to expect them to be able to compete with them year in and year out (that sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Of course a team in Chicago has to be able to compete with a team in little Minnesota).

    But on oh-so-many levels, the Sox have failed to keep pace. Many moves were made this offseason and an emphasis was placed on speed and defense. Only time will tell how this will pay off, but by the All-Star break I’m guessing that folks will wish the outfield included Ordonez and Lee again instead of Podsednik and most anyone else.

    I’d continue, but it’s too painful.

    AL West
    1. Lost Angeles Angels
    2. Oakland Athletics
    3. Texas Rangers
    4. Seattle Mariners

    This is tough. In my mind, there’s no clear cut favorite here. Each team has strengths and weaknesses. Take any one of them and put them in the AL Central, and they’re likely the immediate favorite (or at least not farther back than in second place, behind the Twins).

    The West will likely be won on who wins the most in-division games. The unbalanced schedule requires the West teams to play each other much more frequently, so that should go a long way to deciding the West champion.

    After having been the trendy pick the past few years in many circles, the A’s are not likely to be this year. Trading away aces like Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson has that kind of impact on people’s perceptions of your club. But Billy Beane and the A’s acquitted themselves quite well in those deals. They landed a number of prospects and major league ready ballplayers. Whether or not all of those pieces are ready to compete or not in 2005 is unknown at this point.

    Given that, I went with the Angels. The Halos won the division last year and there are fewer question marks, or at least more known entities in their 25 man roster going into the season. I’m not at all comfortable with this pick though. This should be a fun division to watch.

    Awards and Post-season
    MVP: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees – the guess here is that Steinbrenner’s offseason motivational efforts will work and will put together a season for the ages

    Cy Young: Johan Santana, Twins – this could be a pick that we’re all making for a long time to come. Barring injury, I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t win it.

    Wild Card: Yankees – I sure hope I’m wrong and I hope this is the year that their playoff streak ends. It could be. If they’re back at the All-Star break it could be hard for them to make a move, as every dollar they add in payroll adds a significant amount to what they will be forced to donate to revenue sharing.

    Champion: Boston Red Sox – sure, it took them 86 years between titles, but they could get a chance to play for another one pretty quickly. Besides, the last time they won a title (prior to last year), didn’t they win back-to-back?

    Which Juan?

    When Juan Pierre and Jack McKeon are pessimistic about the likelihood of Pierre taking the field on opening day, you have to be worried. These are two pretty optimistic guys.

    Today's news that Pierre might not be in the opening day lineup could really mean that Juan will open the season on the disabled list, or at least be available for a moderate amount of time.

    Here's hoping that Juan Encarnacion fills in admirably.

    Friday, March 25, 2005

    Attack of Killer Bees Interrupts Oliver's Start

    No, they weren't Killer B's of the Astros variety (take your pick of Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman, Beltran and the others over the years). And they probably weren't actually "killer" bees at all, but there were bees. Lots of bees...

    Former Marlin Darren Oliver left his Cactus League start a little earlier than expected yesterday when… well, I’ll let a few lines from this story explain it:

    A swarm of bees invaded the field on Thursday and forced a game between the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks to be called after five innings.

    The bees literally chased Rockies pitcher Darren Oliver from the mound. He kept trying to go back on the mound, but the bees would go after him again. Finally, he left for good and let another pitcher complete the inning.

    Sometimes the truth is better than fiction. You just can’t make this stuff up folks.

    When asked about the event afterwards, Oliver had this to say:

    "I love this game," Oliver said, "but I like myself a little bit more."

    This is something of an odd statement, but the veracity of it is clearly confirmed by Oliver's clarification of the matter:

    Oliver said the bees apparently were attracted to the coconut oil in his hair gel.

    I think it’s fair to say that any man who has coconut oil in his hair loves himself more than, well, probably anything.

    My initial reaction was that I was glad that Oliver was no longer with the Marlins as this situation, along with a few from last season, made the pitcher seem somewhat flaky and like a malcontent (remember when Jack McKeon had the audacity to send him to the bullpen?).

    However, if you keep reading the story, you eventually come to this line:

    There was a brief bee delay at the same ballpark two years ago.

    Which is later followed by this gem:

    There have been increasing reports of emergency calls involving swarming bees in the Phoenix and Tucson areas in recent weeks.

    And after reading that, I’m glad that I no longer live in the Phoenix area. More than sounding bizarre, this sounds like something with biblical implications. I should probably be glad to have gotten out while the getting was good.

    BP: Josh Beckett Primed for Breakout Year in 2005

    To expect a former World Series MVP to have a breakout season is a tall order. But Marlins' fireballer Josh Beckett, who doesn't turn 25 until mid-May owns only a .500 record (26 - 26) in the regular season.

    At his young age he does have three full major league campaigns under his belt, but he's also never won more than 9 games or thrown more than 156 innings. The talent is definitely there. There have been flashes of brilliance in the regular season and throughout the 2003 post-season. Beckett hasn't been able to put it together yet for a full major league regular season though. If he does, you could be looking at Cy Young Award caliber stuff.

    Baseball Prospectus' sophisticated PECOTA forecasting system pegs Beckett as the major leaguer most likely to have a breakout year this season. If they're right that will be huge for the Marlins.

    Now if they can just keep his blisters under control.

    Marlins on TV Tonight

    We're getting close to the start of the regular season. Even if you can't make it out to a Spring Training game, you can still whet your appetite for Marlins baseball by tuning into Fox Sports Net Florida tonight (which means that even those of you who are out of town but have DirecTV can catch the game too).

    Just one more sign that Opening Day is right around the corner.

    Thursday, March 24, 2005

    Marlins Stadium Needs Possibly Fall by the Way(ne)side

    The Sun Sentinel is reporting that the Marlins may not be out of options with Wayne Huizenga and Dolphins Stadium after all.

    As you probably remember, a few months back Mr. Huizenga not only annoucned that Pro Player Stadium was being renamed after his football team, but he also announced that once their current lease was up that the Marlins wouldn't be welcomed back. This set off a series of events, which included Marlins ownership meeting with Las Vegas leaders, those same Vegas leaders bringing showgirls to baseball's winter meetings, and a renewed initiative for the Marlins publicly financed stadium push.

    From the article:
    "Let's say for some reason or another they didn't get their thing done and they wanted to stay. OK, fine. That's not the end of the world as long as we can make the improvements we need to make and work out some of the issues," said Huizenga.
    Like him or not, Huizenga is a smart (or at least shrewd) man. Today's pronoucement could mean any of a number of things. My semi-educated (at least in my personal opinion) guesses are (ranked in order of likelihood):
    1. The 3-city Super Bowl rotation plan that Huizenga has advocated (which would, of course, include the Dolphins, Miami, and South Florida) is not coming together, so his building needs another tenant.
    2. Huizenga is worried that in order to help the Marlins fund their new stadium the state will take away the $30 million sales tax subsidy that he was given when the Marlins came to Florida (as Huizenga owned the team originally). If they don't get a stadium, Wayne can keep his sales tax exemption.
    3. Huizenga is just trying to stick it to the Marlins and make things as difficult as possible.

    Ok, so I really think all three reasons are to blame here. This should continue to be interesting to follow.

    Spring Training Picture of the Day

    Unfortunately Indians outfielder Coco Crisp (is that the best name in baseball or what?) was not able to save this ginormous girl from the impact of a fly ball. Apparently though both Coco and the girl were ok.

    EDIT: I need to start noting the photos better. I didn't take this one. I stole it from the Sun Sentinel actually.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2005

    Pierre's Injury: Short and Long Term Impact on Marlins

    Yesterday’s big injury related news was about some guy who plays on the other coast. Because of that, you may have missed out on what’s becoming a major story this spring for the Marlins.

    Juan Pierre hasn’t played in a Grapefruit League game in more than two weeks now, and it’s beginning to look like he may not be ready to start the season with the club. This is a story of major concern for the Marlins as it affects the team on a number of levels.

    Possibly most importantly, Pierre’s absence leaves a gaping hole in the lineup. To cover for his absence, some shuffling will have to be done. In the outfield, Juan Encarnacion will likely play center field. Defensively, this is probably not a drop off, although Encarnacion hasn’t played much center field lately (his arm is definitely an upgrade over Pierre’s). Surprisingly, Jack McKeon announced that Miguel Cabrera will stay in left field (a move that I applaud, since Cabrera has looked lost in the past in right) and that Jeff Conine will likely be the right fielder (this proclamation also likely means that if Pierre is healthy that Encarnacion will start the year as the team’s right fielder, allowing Conine to come off the bench and to continue to recover from shoulder surgery).

    The batting order will also need some reworking. Luis Castillo could fill in adequately for Pierre in the leadoff spot, but being without one player or the other changes the entire dynamic of the Marlins lineup. In all likelihood, Castillo would move into the leadoff role and Paul LoDuca would hit second. Both are well suited to those roles, but the problems would develop lower in the lineup.

    Being without Pierre is a possibility that most folks couldn’t even consider until Pierre’s calf began to bother him earlier this Spring. Last year he became only the third player since 1971 to play in every inning of his team’s games (think about that – even though Cal Ripken played in all those consecutive games, it wasn’t very common for him to play in every inning of every game – what Pierre did last year was pretty spectacular). Actually, Pierre played in every Marlins game in 2003 and has appeared in at least 150 games each season since establishing himself as a regular in the majors.

    While the two haven’t been linked publicly (at least to my knowledge), my guess is that the Marlins are less than pleased that Pierre has already developed a leg injury. During the offseason the team tried to discourage Pierre from attending Cris Carter’s FAST Program (for the second offseason in a row) as they worried that it would cause him to wear down and be tired by mid to late season. Obviously, there is no evidence to link the two together, but in baseball assumptions are often made and conclusions drawn from unrelated events.

    This could be unfortunate for Pierre, as he is in the walk year of his contract (and he’s due to earn a relatively paltry $1.83 million this season). Although the Marlins occasionally run with the big boys and lay out money for big contracts, the core of the Marlins success has been lining the roster with players up the middle (catcher, middle infielders, center fielders, and pitchers) whose performances exceed the value of their contracts. While Pierre easily accomplished this in 2003 and 2004, his ability to contribute to the team – at least in the short term – is in doubt currently.

    In the long run, it will be interesting to see how the combination of denying the team’s wishes and participating in the FAST Program and working through this injury affect Juan’s status with the team. My guess is that he’ll be overpriced for the Marlins budget anyway (to say nothing of emerging prospect Jeremy Hermida) and that the baggage that Pierre brings (as perceived by the club) will cause him to find work elsewhere.

    That’s not such a bad thing for Pierre. He’ll likely find himself on a contender with a big ticket contract, just like Carl Pavano did this past offseason. But for Fish fans, it’s probably time to enjoy Pierre’s style of play and passion for the game while you still can.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2005

    7-Eleven Stays a Step Ahead

    It’s now official. I have suspected this for some time now, but the “good” folks at 7-Eleven have a hand on my wallet at all times. Frankly, it’s just sick. A few years back when they rolled out the not-so-innocent sounding “Slurp-and-Gulp” (you have to click on the link to get an appreciation for this drink - and yes, the link is completely safe). I was hooked on this occasional weekend indulgence. That was fine. It wasn’t an everyday purchase, so it was no real strain on my wallet (and if it had become an everyday thing, the risk wouldn't have been on my wallet, but on my health - as is the case with nearly all things 7-Eleven).

    Over time, though, they seem to have launched new products every few months that appeal directly to me. Actually, these products may appeal only to me. Seriously – where else (other than a trendy club where you’d pay $8 or more per bottle) could you find beer in aluminum bottles last fall? Only at 7-Eleven.

    (And I think the previous sentence is actually one of their tag lines. They’ve really got me now)

    Recently though their efforts have seemed even more Orwellian to me. I’m not sure if other people even hear their marketing messages. They seem to be aimed just at me. And today, in looking for information about one of their newer products on the web, I came across this little gem – which only confirms that they are targeting me directly. How could I possibly resist a Slurpee that comes in special Yoda packaging? Obviously, I can’t resist such a thing - especially when Yoda’s head turn colors:

    "You pick up Yoda by his ears and his head turns green," said Kevin Cooper, manager of all-things-Slurpee at 7-Eleven Inc.

    At this point it doesn’t even phase me that Kevin’s actual title at 7-Eleven Inc probably actually is “manager of all-things-Slurpee.” In fact, I’m quite sure that’s his title. Scarier still, Kevin probably has a degree or two in marketing and uses that training (quiet adeptly I might add) to extract money from me (and many others, or at least I hope) one and two dollars at a time.
    So know that you know about the Slurp-and-Gulp and while you wait for the release of the famed Yoda cup, what can you do in the meantime? Well, the geniuses at 7-Eleven are one step ahead of you. This is how I imagine it all went down:

    Scene: 7-Eleven marketing wonks fill a large boardroom

    Marketing Exec #1: Our research indicates that consumers in the jug-size soda market are becoming increasingly dis-satisfied with the options they have for enhancing their beverages. Studies have indicated that many potential patrons have resorted to buying 2-liter bottles of soda and pints of ice cream at competing stores and combining the soda and ice cream into one delicious treat – often using a paint bucket or other large receptacle to mix the two together.

    Marketing Exec #2: My God! What can we do? It sounds like we are losing some of our best customers!

    Marketing Exec #3: I have an idea! What if we produce ice cream that can easily be attached to our Big Gulps? Customers love the size and convenience of our Big Gulps. With an appropriately tailored ice cream container, we could corner the

    And that my friends is precisely what they’ve done. Read the description of the new product here:
    One of the most popular products on display and for sampling yesterday was the all-in-one Big Gulp Ice Cream Float. It's a scoop of ice cream in a bowl that attaches to the lid of a soft-drink cup. Those handing out the samples demonstrated how to plop the ice cream into the cup before filling it to the brim with root beer. Or take your pick from whatever soda is on tap.
    It’s such a disturbing product that it is difficult to describe without seeing it in person. Unfortunately though, I was unable to find any images of it on the Internet. Maybe this is just something that they’re test-marketing for the time being. That would certainly seem possible. The little green men who think of such things probably follow me around and set up the displays in store just as I enter.

    Prediction Tracking: What the Experts think of the Marlins

    It's that time of year again when folks start to turn their attention away from filling out NCAA basketball brackets and towards baseball prognostication. Over the next few weeks I'll be keeping an eye out for new NL East predictions. If you see any, please feel free to pass them along to me and I'll add them to this entry.

    The first set of picks that I came across comes from the Baseball Crank. Surprisingly, using a very complicated analysis, Crank picks the Marlins to win the NL East this year. While this pick is likely to be somewhat trendy this spring, the rest of Crank's standings are not so traditional. Most surprising of all is the choice of the Braves to finish last in the division - this on the heels of having won every division title since 1991. They also pick the Nationals to finish 3rd (ahead of both the Braves and Mets - and if you can't figure out who they picked to finish second, then you aren't paying close enough attention or you didn't click on the link).

    Update #1 (3/22): Replacement Level Yankees Weblog presents two simulations for the upcoming season. Both have the Marlins finishing the year at .500, but one (ZiPs) has them in 4th place and the other (DiamondMind) puts them in 3rd.

    Update #2 (4/4): Baseball Musings, Black Table, Hardball Times, and Baseball Prospectus added. For Hardball Times, I counted each writer's picks but not the consensus.

    Scoreboard (where folks are picking the Marlins to finish in 2005):
    1st - 3
    2nd - 5
    3rd - 6
    4th - 4
    5th - n/a

    Random NL East Notes: Fish Perspective

    Two quick things today:

    One, did you see the Braves highlights on SportsCenter last night? Granted, it's only spring training, but ageless Braves first baseman Julio Franco turned a very nice 3 - 6 - 3 double play yesterday. Most first baseman would have let the pitcher cover first for the throw back from the shortstop, but not Franco - who is, at least, 45 years old.

    Second, there's been a lot of talk in Phillies camp about Ryan Howard and rightfully so. However, the impact Howard might have on Pat Burrell hasn't been discussed much. Howard is a slugger with the potential to have an impact bat in the majors this season. But he's a first baseman by trade, so his path to the bigs is blocked by some guy named Jim Thome. Since Howard's bat is so prolific, the Philllies are trying to find a way to work him into their big league lineup. While he is a great hitter, Howard isn't much of a speedster or a gloveman, so his options are somewhat limited.

    This isn't the American League, so the DH isn't an option (though it seems to be a role that Howard was born to fill). Right field isn't much of an option either since the Phils have a potential future Hall of Famer in Bobby Abreu out there. Left field is a good fit for Howard. It's not too demanding defensively and it gives him a spot in the everyday lineup. The only problem is that the Phillies have former number one (overall) pick Pat Burrell out there - a guy who's in the midst of a $50 million contract. But this move is plausible because Burrell has struggled the past two seasons and is attempting to come back from a wrist injury last season (although he didn't undergo any sort of surgery).

    If Howard is able to turn himself into an adequate left fielder and/or Burrell struggles to start the year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Pat moved to another club and the role handed over to young Howard. There should be some interesting developments in the land of the cheesesteak this spring, even if Larry Bowa isn't patrolling the clubhouse this season.

    Monday, March 21, 2005

    Marlins Starting Rotation Officially Set

    Marlins Manager Jack McKeon officially set the rotation for the start of they year yesterday. While the names he settled on were far from surprising, the actual order they'll appear in (at least at first) is somewhat surprising. Here's the rotation:
    1. Josh Beckett (R)
    2. Al Leiter (L)
    3. A.J. Burnett (R)
    4. Dontrelle Willis (L)
    5. Ismael Valdez (R)

    That Beckett got the nod for the opening day start was not a surprise in the slightest. Josh took the hill for the Marlins on opening day in both 2004 and 2003. This year there were some questions as to whether Beckett would maintain that role this year, or if Burnett would take the duties from him. Others even speculated that Al Leiter might receive the honor, more out of recognition for his accomplishments over his career than for his present day abilities.

    After Beckett's opening day start is where the question marks start to pop up. Conventional wisdom would put Burnett in the second spot because he is the team's best or second best starter. However, McKeon strayed from this logic for a number of reasons.

    First, Beckett and Burnett are similar pitchers in that they are both power, right-handers. The thought here is that by breaking them up in the rotation, you'll get better results from both, as opponents won't be able to lock in on one type of pitcher for two nights in a row.

    Given that, the logical thing to do would be to put a left-hander or a junkballer in between Beckett and Burnett. While the Marlins don't have a junk ball specialist, they do have two lefties. Again, conventional wisdom would probably have you choose Willis over Leiter for the second spot in the rotation, but Jack dug a little deeper here too in going with Leiter in the second spot.

    McKeon is worried that Leiter and Valdez will depend more heavily than the other starters on the bullpen, so by having Leiter second in the roation and Valdez fifth, he can better manage the workload of his staff.

    Give those constraints (breaking up the right-handed power pitchers and preserving the bullpen), the rotation pretty much just falls into place. The only real decision here is whether Beckett or Burnett takes the hill on opening day.

    Over the course of the season, it's likely that this order will benefit Burnett and Willis the most. While both starters are capable of being "top of the rotation" guys on many other teams, having them 3rd and 4th in the rotation will likely match them up against the bottom of other team's rotations quite frequently. While they'll still have to pitch well to be effective, their won - loss records should benefit significantly from the Marlins lineup teeing-off against inferior opposing pitchers. As you know, a pitcher's win - loss record isn't always the best indicator of a pitcher's effectiveness, but for Burnett and Willis these favorable matchups may go a long way in helping them through tough outings and gaining them some national acclaim as folks overstate their accomplishments by falling in love with their won - loss records.

    Beckett and Leiter fall on the other side of this spectrum. Beckett will often find himself matched up against opponents' aces. The fact that he's never won more than nine games in a major league season says that he hasn't proven that he can handle that burden. Sure, he's capable of it (the 2003 playoffs speak volumes to that), but he hasn't proven it - yet - over the course of a regular season.

    On the other hand, Leiter could have handled the 2nd slot in the rotation quite well a few years ago. However, in 2005 he's likely to be frequently over-matched by his opposing starter. Still, with the Marlins strong lineup, Leiter should be capable of keeping the team in more than its share of games.

    There are still two weeks to go in Spring Training and the Marlins rotation is already set. Things are looking good in Marlin-land.

    Thursday, March 17, 2005

    Too Much Today

    Is it just me, or is there simply too much going on today?

    I suspect that many of you are already inebriated (for those of you who truly are, I've provided a link in case you don't remember the definition of that word).

    Not only is it St. Patrick's Day, but it's also the start of the NCAA basketball tournament and start of the infamous Congressional hearings on steroids, which involve numerous baseball luminaries (past and present).

    Fortunately TiVo has become a more common household appliance, so folks will be able to keep up with all of their drinking and television watching - even if they do have to spread some of those things out over the next few days.

    Even more fortunately for me, St. Patrick's Day does not coincide with football season. Oh what a tailgate party that would be.

    In baseball news, I was surprised to see the Devil Rays option B.J. Upton to the minors yesterday. While there was speculation that Upton might be sent down for more seasoning at the start of the season, I was surprised that the move was made this early. Upton seems to be an unbelievably talented prospect. I just hope the Devil Rays can continue to move him along the path they took Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and Aubrey Huff, and not down the road that Josh Hamilton found. Lately though it feels like the Rays will manage Upton into the corner that Dewon Brazelton is in. Another guy with all of the talent in the world, but who just hasn't found a way to put it together yet at the major league level.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2005

    Marlins Backup Catcher Update

    I'm a little behind on the news lately, but yesterday's Herald featured a story about the five players who are vying for the role of Paul LoDuca's backup. As mentioned here before, while the backup catcher is usually not very likely to play much of a role in whether or not a team wins a championship, that's not the case this year. While LoDuca has worked considerably to make himself a strong catcher over the course of the long season, his performance has traditionally fallen off significantly in the second half of the year. In fact, his first and second half statistical splits are amongst the worst in all of baseball.

    Hopefully someone will win this backup catcher's job this year (as opposed to other players losing it). If so, the Marlins may benefit from having a healthy, rested LoDuca throughout the year.

    Monday, March 14, 2005

    Mark McGwire* - First Ballot Hall of Shamer

    Over the weekend more news came out in the steroid story. Allegedly, Mark McGwire’s* name came up during a massive federal steroids investigation. Interestingly, and completely counter to how the same situation was handled for other star players, no evidence was collected against McGwire* though there was ample evidence to indicate that McGwire* was regularly illegally using illegal steroids.

    With hearings in Congress still scheduled for Thursday, this should be a most interesting week. Some current players, including Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas, seem eager to appear. Some former players, including – of course – Jose Canseco, have also agreed to participate. However, Mark McGwire* has taken a totally different tact with the whole thing and may end up being held in contempt of Congress if he defies the subpoena that he was issued.

    Also interesting in this whole matter is why so many high profile people were asked to appear before Congress but Barry Bonds was not. Many of the people who will appear on Thursday are former players, many are current players, and others are high profile executives. It might seem that Bonds was given a pass on this event because of his involvement with the BALCO situation, but Jason Giambi, another central figure in that saga, was invited before Congress. Some have speculated that Bonds hasn’t been included because Congress is trying to gather as much information as possible at this stage and to later see to it that Bonds is prosecuted for whatever illicit drug usage he was a part of (while other players who talk to Congress this week will be in the clear – or so the conspiracy theory goes).

    This thought process is not without merit. It would be unfortunate for Bonds to be singled out amongst a large number of other players who were doing the same sorts of things. Keep in mind that the whole BALCO situation unfolded directly because of Bonds. The FBI started following Bonds and his trainer, with the stated desire from the outset of figuring out what was making Bonds so successful. That ultimately led them to BALCO and the rest is history (albeit history that is still unfolding around us). But from the beginning the desire was to bring down Barry Bonds.

    Mark McGwire* was never given this same treatment. In fact, from the text of the article mentioned above, the FBI specifically didn’t go after McGwire* previously because they didn’t know where to draw the line. So apparently the rules are different for McGwire* than they are for Bonds.

    This time around it appears that the “powerful forces” that Jose Canseco has regularly referred to are working against Bonds. They just seem to be doing so in a much more public fashion than has been done in the past. Granted, this is all just wild speculation on my part, but something doesn’t feel right here.

    And as much as it scares me to say it, Jose Canseco has been right every step of the way so far here. It will be interesting to see if many of his other allegations come true. If so, a bigger conspiracy and a bigger scandal than we can currently comprehend is soon to come upon us.

    Friday, March 11, 2005

    Marlins Stadium Financing Update

    If you were able to manage your way through Marlins stories about the team bus driver (who isn't even a baseball fan, mind you) and Josh Willingham’s chances with the team this year, you might have found this little gem about the Marlins' stadium financing plans.

    Past attempts which have involved the club’s leadership at the time meeting with state legislators have ultimately failed (in the sense that financing for a new stadium hasn’t been secured – whether or not you consider that a failure is a matter of opinion).

    Stadium proponents must be encouraged that it seems that legislators (even Governor Bush) are generally encouraged with the plan that the Marlins, the City of Miami, and the County are presenting. Some of the quotes surrounding this enthusiasm are at the very least interesting:
    ''I've got an open mind about this,'' Bush said. ``I think the willingness of the community to support this to the extent they have is a very positive sign.''
    Pardon me, Governor? Apparently I missed the election or other public forum where the community expressed “willingness” to support this project. I’m sure that some of the folks who are involved in construction, as well as city leaders are in favor of the plan (particularly as long as they’re at the front of the line for choice comp seats – see writeups of the 2003 World Series for details). But other than that, it sure doesn’t seem that there’s an overwhelming public outcry to build this stadium for the team. Sure, there’s general support for the ballclub, but I don’t think anyone is lining up to donate to the cause.

    There also seems to be general enthusiasm – at least in the media and from law makers – about the potential economic benefits of the proposed new stadium, but this line from the story is probably the most telling:
    Arriola said the new stadium would generate $8 million annually in sales taxes, but he had no financial analysis models to give to Lee when the Senate president requested them.
    As publicly financed stadiums have taken hold in America over the past few decades, it has become abundantly clear that local governments are not concerned as to whether these projects are good long term investments. Qualitative things, like making sure that the city in question remains (or becomes) a “major league city” is important. What’s often overlooked, as is painfully obvious here, are the financials. Even the financials for the ballclub are not on the table. While the use of the public money for the stadium will force the Marlins to stay in town for an extended period of time (thirty years or so), the Marlins are under no sort of obligation to transfer their incremental revenue streams into anything related to the ballclub.

    In fact, my suspicious nature about these things forces me to assume that once the park is up and running we’ll start to hear a lot about how the Marlins payroll isn’t increasing anytime soon because ownership needs to use the extra revenue to recover from the years of eight figure losses in their previous ballpark. If that’s the case, there’s even less of a point for the city, county, or state to contribute to building this ballpark. Allowing the status quo, as a middle to low level player in baseball’s financial markets, to persist isn’t going to turn the Marlins into the Yankees or Red Sox or some other perennial contender. It’s going to allow them to continue to exist and to occasionally put together a brilliant run that obscures the penny-pinching and pocket lining in most years.

    That reality is easily overlooked now as the club has been on a tremendous run of making shrewd moves and getting lucky with payroll. Eventually the Miguel Cabrera’s and Dontrelle Willis’s of the world, who are grossly underpaid and annually outperform their contracts, will leave the club in disgust as they see lesser players on other teams be paid more and go through less acrimonious contract renewals before they reach arbitration eligibility. And if other players, who are arbitration and free agent eligible, start to fail to exceed the value of their contracts regularly the club will be in even more trouble still.

    It seems the club is employing what we here at The Book of Mike like to refer to as the “Field of Dreams” philosophy. Sure, in the Kevin Costner movie, it worked out great for Ray and everyone was happy in the end. But in real life it’s not always the best course of action to expect that “if you build it, they will come.” Sometimes, especially when you’re spending other people’s money, as various levels of government officials are planning to do here, it’s a good idea to have some analysis and a fact or two to support the wild claims and exorbitant spending that you’re planning.

    If the funding for the stadium gets put together, hopefully it will work out for Miami and the Marlins like things did for Ray in the movie. More likely than not though, if history has taught us anything, we’ll end up with a lot of land that could otherwise have been used for some greater good or we’ll be looking at a dormant monument which took funds away from something else that would have bettered society to a greater degree.

    Marlins Television Contract Update

    In today’s Herald Barry Jackson shed a little more light on the Marlins newly signed television contract extension.

    It’s interesting to note that the new deal puts the team exclusively on cable (about the only games that won’t be are whatever Fox picks up as a Saturday afternoon game of the week). Given that this contract runs for as long as it does, that’s probably largely irrelevant since the few folks who don’t have cable now probably will within the next fifteen years.

    What’s more interesting though is that the agreement the Marlins reached with FSN (Fox Sports Net) seems to conflict with the network’s existing arrangement with the Devil Rays. Starting in 2006 FSN is scheduled to broadcast 150 Marlins games and 75 Rays games. Given that more often than not the Marlins and Rays play at exactly the same time and that the season is only 180 days long, there will be a number of conflicts throughout the season regarding which game gets broadcast when (normally each team is broadcast throughout Florida).

    Jackson speculates that some games could be moved to Sun Sports (formerly Sunshine) – or maybe another network.

    Up to this point, as best I can tell, it seems that the Marlins locked themselves into a 15-year cable television contract in order increase their guaranteed revenue streams as they attempt to gain stadium financing. It also seems that these television revenue streams don’t necessarily have a dedicated broadcast source at this point.

    Time will tell how this all works out, but so far it continues to appear to be a dubious deal.

    Thursday, March 10, 2005

    Quote of the Week

    I always enjoy Baseball Prospectus’s Week in Quotes. It’s a free article each week, so you should check it out, even if you don’t subscribe to their site. This week’s edition had a quote that I found particularly humorous:
    "People just dismiss Burnitz - 'He strikes out a lot. He can't do this, he can't do that.’ If you look at it objectively, he was sixth in the game in slugging percentage of people who struck out more than 120 times. He hit .307 with men on base. He hits left-handers well. He hit .287 with men in scoring position. To me, he's not striking out at the wrong times. The analysis is being done." --Cubs GM Jim Hendry, on new right fielder Jeromy Burnitz, who ranked sixth in the game in the new SPPWSOMT120x statistic (Arlington Heights Daily Herald)
    This is so meaty that it’s hard to choose where to start. The first comparison Hendry makes is to stack Burnitz up against other “sluggers” who strike out a lot. On the surface, being sixth in this group sounds somewhat impressive because you’re probably thinking that some real power hitters struck out 120 times or more last year.

    However, this list includes such luminaries as Alex Gonzalez (the Marlins version), Royce Clayton, Bobby Crosby, Corey Patterson, and Mark Bellhorn (amongst many others - 35 major leaguers, or more than one per team on average – struck out at least 120 times).

    Needless to say, the list isn’t overly impressive. Sure, there are some sluggers on the list (Sammy Sosa, Jim Thome, and Jim Edmonds jump right off the page) and other players (like Pat Burrell and Mike Cameron) didn’t exactly have years that lived up to expectations.

    More than anything though, Hendry’s comment completely overlooks the fact that Burnitz played half of his games last year in the hitters’ haven that is Coors Field. If this doesn’t give an automatic lift to your slugging percentage, then nothing will. And if the Cubs are expecting Burnitz to slug the ball at the rate that he did with the Rockies last year, they’re very likely in for an unhappy surprise.

    The other part of this quote that jumped out at me was Hendry’s statement that “the analysis is being done.” It’s just my opinion, but I think the Cubs might have been better served to do this sort of analysis before they signed Burnitz to his $5 million contract. The dollar value of this contract isn’t as great as some to be sure, but having done the analysis in advance of offering the contract could have helped to prevent the Cubs from negatively affecting the Tribune’s financials again.

    Wednesday, March 09, 2005

    Three Tall Guys in a Chinese Restaurant's VIP Room

    Maybe it’s just me, but I found this article on CNNSI to be one of the funniest things that I’ve read in a long time. Not just ha-ha funny, but truly laugh out loud funny. Making it even funnier is that I don’t think the author – who is not credited in the piece – did not write this as a comedic piece.

    I found this article so funny that I’m going to take a page from Mike’s Baseball Rants and comment throughout the story like (another) Mike used to with Joe Morgan’s chats. Feel free to follow the link above to read the article on it’s own and then you can come back and re-read it with my added commentary (if nothing else it will give you a glimpse into my sad, twisted mind).

    The article below appears in the March 14th issue of Sports Illustrated as the First Person feature:

    (Note from Mike: No disrespect to Mr. Mutombo intended, but this article is considerably funnier if you remember to read the Dikembe Mutombo sections using a Cookie Monster voice)

    Yao Ming's parents opened the 100-table Yao Restaurant & Bar in a west Houston strip mall late last month. When the Rockets' All-Star treated his backup Dikembe Mutombo and assistant coach and former Knicks big man Patrick Ewing to lunch, SI's Gene Menez was there.

    (Mike: C’mon, this just sounds like the set up to a joke, doesn’t it?

    Yao Ming, Patrick Ewing, and Dikembe Mutombo walk into a restaurant… Not just any restaurant – a Chinese restaurant run by Yao’s parents in a Houston-area strip mall)

    The three enter and are led to Yao's VIP room, which is customized for tall people. (Yao's mother, Fang Feng Di, is 6'3"; his father, Yao Zhi Yuan, is 6'7".) The doorway is nine feet high, the table and chairs are supersized, and large plush recliners sit opposite a 42-inch flat-screen TV.

    (Mike: It’s just too easy, so I’ll pass on the myriad of potential jokes about Patrick Ewing and a VIP room.

    Amazingly, the set up doesn’t end with Yao’s parents’ Houston-area strip-mall restaurant: the restaurant’s VIP room is “customized for tall people.” As the Guinness guys would say, “Brilliant!” I’m sure that area will be packed 7-nights a week.

    Actually, it probably will be popular for 8-year olds birthday parties)

    EWING: What kind of food do they serve here?

    MUTOMBO: Chinese.

    (Mike: Wow. Simply wow. Keep in mind here that both Ewing and Mutombo are Georgetown alums. Not former Georgetown students, but Georgetown ALUMS. They hold degrees from the university.

    I’m sure that those of you who hold degrees from Georgetown too feel some shame right now too. Well, unless of course you’re the one other person in the world – other than Ewing – who thought that Yao’s parents were going to open a barbeque place in Houston.)

    EWING: I know Chinese. But what kind of Chinese? Snake? 'Cuz I don't eat snake.

    YAO: No snake. In China, yes, but you're not in China.

    EWING: Well, I don't eat pork, duck or chicken either. Only shrimp and fish [and beef].

    MUTOMBO: I eat anything.

    (Mike: Seriously – I hope you’re keeping at the Cookie Monster thing. If not, go back to the top and start reading again – this section just kills me.)

    EWING: [Browsing through the black leather-bound menu] What's the speciality here?

    YAO: Uh. ... [Looks at menu and shrugs.]

    (Mike: You’ll have to excuse Yao for his loss for words. While his family does run the restaurant, it’s not like he has a Georgetown education.)

    Ewing, Mutombo and Yao order coconut curry prawn, General Tso's chicken, fried rice with shrimp, Mongolian beef, garlic basil prawn, Szechuan prawn and white rice.

    (Mike: Sounds about right: three guys, five entrees. Oh, you don’t live on an NBA player’s per diem? I thought it was just me?)

    MUTOMBO: [Sipping a virgin strawberry daiquiri] I like your restaurant, Yao. It's made for 7-footers and guys like Patrick Ewing, who is really 6'9". [Ewing has always been listed as 7 feet.]

    EWING: Hey, I may be 6'9", but I'm a bad 6'9". And what about you? When I first met you, you told me you were from Zaire.

    MUTOMBO: No, Congo. [Zaire was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997.]

    (Mike: I have to skip over Mutombo and his virgin daiquiri. From all of the stories I’ve heard about Dikembe over the years, I would have thought he would have subscribed to the “if they’re not good enough for their cousins, they’re not good enough for me” theory of drinking.

    Regardless, the shot at Ewing’s height is pretty funny. Hopefully the scientists who calculate BMI’s for the media are adjusting Ewing’s stats right now.

    I just wish that Mutombo had taken the Zaire – Congo thing a little further. I think Ewing’s head might have started to spin.)

    EWING: How many languages do you speak, seven?

    MUTOMBO: I speak Ebonics now, so eight. Yao, do you speak Ebonics? [Yao shrugs.]

    Mutombo's cellphone rings. The ring tone is 50 Cent's In Da Club. He answers and starts speaking one of his eight languages -- not English.

    EWING: Man, every time I go over to Dikembe's, he's on the phone. [Ewing picks up his cellphone and starts mocking Mutombo.] 'Doobleedoo doobloodoo doobleedoo. ...' I'm like, 'What the hell is he saying?'

    (Mike: Wow – I don’t think any of that even needs comment. But, for the record, the 50 Cent ringer on Mutombo’s cell phone is what convinced me that this is pure comedy.)

    The food comes, and the three dig in.

    MUTOMBO: That's what I'm talking about. Yao, next week I'm bringing my wife and kids, and we're going to eat like this.

    YAO: How many will you be?

    MUTOMBO: Me, my wife, my kids, my cousins ... about 10.

    YAO: Just let me know.

    (Mike: So Yao isn’t sure what the house specialties are, but he’s pretty comfortable with the drill of taking a reservation.

    Dikembe + wife + kids + cousins = 10. Yikes!)

    EWING: [To Mutombo] Can you pass me that beef?

    MUTOMBO: Sure. [Before passing it, Mutombo takes his own spoon and scoops four pieces onto his plate.]

    EWING: Man, I don't want that now. You put your spoon in the plate. [Ewing nonetheless takes the plate from Mutombo.] Jeez, man.

    (Mike: I wish they hadn’t left out what Cookie Monster, err, Mutombo was doing with his spoon earlier.)

    MUTOMBO: Oh, come on. I didn't even touch the beef on your side of the plate. You can eat that. [Ewing reluctantly scoops three pieces onto his plate. He doesn't say a word.]

    MUTOMBO: How long have we known each other, 18 years? I've been dealing with this same crap for 18 years.

    EWING: Let's see if the curry shrimp tastes like Jamaican curry shrimp.

    MUTOMBO: Yao, you know there's a lot of Chinese in Jamaica [where Ewing was born].

    YAO: You sure they were not Vietnamese or Japanese or Korean?

    MUTOMBO: Of course.

    EWING: You may have cousins down there, Yao. You may have family in my country!

    MUTOMBO: All the food's good. The chicken is the bomb. The coconut prawns, too. The Mongolian beef is my favorite. Tell your mommy everything is good. [Mutombo flashes two thumbs-up.]

    MUTOMBO: [To Ewing] I'm sorry you don't eat chicken. I feel very sorry for you.

    EWING: [His mouth full of shrimp] Don't feel sorry for me. The shrimp is very good.

    Yao leaves the table and sits in a recliner.

    EWING: You finished already?

    (Mike: Up to this point, if the author had told you that this was three anonymous twelve year olds eating a meal, you’d probably have believed it.)

    YAO: Yeah, I can eat this every day if I want. At home. Here.

    EWING: [Rubbing belly] I gotta go work out tonight. I'm full. You got a treadmill for me?

    YAO: Leave your car keys here and run home. I'll give you the keys tomorrow.

    MUTOMBO: I'm so full too. Somebody may have to drive me home.

    (Mike: Be honest Dikembe, is that really because of the food, or does it have something to do with those virgin daquiris that you’ve been pounding?)

    YAO: Keep eating. You can stay here all night.

    The waiter enters and asks if they need anything.

    EWING: I need a take-out menu.

    MUTOMBO: Look at this motherf-----. [Laughter]

    EWING: I'm not going to order anything now, but one night, if I'm hungry, I'll call and order and say, 'Put it on Yao's bill.'

    YAO: All right. Of course.

    EWING: How much is the bill?

    YAO: I got it.

    (Mike: How generous of Yao to pick up the bill at his own place!)

    EWING: You got it?

    YAO: Yeah. [He slides a $100 bill under a tea cup on the table as a tip.]

    MUTOMBO: You're a great man, Yao. When you come to Africa, I'm going to take you to a great African restaurant.