December 18, 2004

Dodgers clean slate

If the Randy Johnson deal goes through, the Dodgers will have a new look, and a blank canvas, for GM Paul DePodesta to work his artistry.

In the Randy Johnson three-way deal, they’re shaking loose $16 from what Shawn Green would be owed in 2005, and $5.5 to Kaz Ishii, although they’re throwing in $2 million the Yankees’ way.

They also expected to resign Adrien Beltre and actually made the best offer, a guaranteed sixth year, which he turned down to be a free agent again at age 30. He signed with Seattle to a five-year, $64 million deal Friday.

So Seattle, which also signed slugger Richie Sexson, and LA are going to look very different next season. Steve Finley, Green, Beltre, Ishii, and pitcher Brad Penny are gone from LA, leaving some mega holes to fill.

Planting seeds with prospects
An existing hole that carried over from last season is at catcher, which hasn’t been adequately filled since Paul LoDuca was dealt to Florida last season. The Dodgers are treading on thin ice at that position even more than the Phillies, willing to start the season with David Ross as their catcher, a backup at best.

Only the Yankees wouldn’t blink about trading away their two best prospects as a throw-in, and that’s exactly what they’re doing by sending C Dioneer Navarro and 3B Eric Duncan to LA.

In Navarro, they could be getting the catcher of their future, no small prize in my opinion. Navarro was ranked the Yankees No. 1 prospect by Baseball America in 2004, coming off a monster ’03, in which he hit .341 for AA Trenton, and he’s only 20. Still learning, he couldn’t find quite the same stroke this season, but that was expected. Baseball Prospectus had rated his chance of collapse at 44 percent. And Eric Duncan, the Yankees No. 1 draft pick in 2003, could be the third baseman of the future. He’s been compared to Jim Thome and was named the No. 1 prospect in the Yankees’ farm club by Baseball America last month.

Dioneer Navarro

The Dodgers have certainly been the most dynamic team this offseason, and it isn’t over yet. In the last two days, the Dodgers find themselves in great position to allow GM Paul DePodesta to step on the gas and sign Carlos Beltran, or to a lesser extent, Carlos Delgado if owner Frank McCourt will let him.

At the very least, DePodesta has prevented his team from getting stale, something that cripples that Phillies.

Beane & DePodesta
What I would give to be a fly on the wall as the Hudson to LA deal unfolded, then unraveled. It would make a great springboard for “Moneyball II.”

December 16, 2004

Vegas, baby: A baseball jackpot

Las Vegas holds all the right cards for Major League Baseball, but can officials see past the showmanship?

J. Michael Weitzel / BPF
When I read the Las Vegas Review Journal article about mayor Oscar Goodman showing up to baseball’s winter meetings with two showgirls hooked to his arms, my initial reaction was, "what happened to the pockmarked kids with pennants?"

Vegas is certainly the buzzword around baseball these days when the word "Beltran" is not. With no stadium plan in place, baseball operations in Washington have officially been put on hold, and Las Vegas has reentered the picture as a buzz-worthy baseball contender.

If the Washington bid fails, the Expos will enter a third-consecutive season in limbo. That's three years of highly-paid MLB executives trying to sort out this team's future. The latest gaff confirms what fans have speculated for years: that Major League Baseball is run by idiots.

If I ran baseball and wanted to plant a team somewhere, I'd keep a sharp eye out for two fairly simple things: kids, and money. My gut feeling is baseball awarded the bid to D.C. for the wrong reasons: tradition and politics.

As it stands, I would consider the best candidates to be D.C. (still), Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas.

In searching for the kids, replace the pennants with Gameboys and I can tell you where those pockmarked kids are not: Washington, D.C.

Assuming the cut-off age to be pockmarked is 14, 17.1 percent of D.C. is pockmarked and ready to wave the pennant for the Nationals, based on 2000 Census data. That's not as good as Portland, boasting 17.6 percent cheering on the Lumberjacks. And how about Las Vegas? Try 22.2 percent pulling for the Gamblers.

A pockmarked kid

That's a lot of irritating kids, but baseball is about fun for the whole family, and if kids could drive themselves to the game, then they can drive themselves to the mall, to hockey practice, to dance lessons, to Erin's house, and to wherever else they "need" to go and give the parents a little peace and quiet.

Talking salt-of-the-earth married couples with children under 18, in Washington, they account for a stingy 8.4 percent of households, in Portland, 16.2 percent, and in Vegas, try 21.6 percent on for size.

Wow. Who knew Vegas could be so … wholesome?

Las Vegas may not be as big as the other contenders, but it offers the right climate. The suburb of North Las Vegas adds 150,000 bodies to the mix, and the fact that there’s no other major sport around, we're not just talkin' bodies, we're talkin' bored bodies.

Well, what about money? Las Vegas has it, with the median household income of $44,093, based on 2002 estimates. That's better than the suits in Washington, $43,682, and the fine people of the great northwest, $39,016.

For a little perspective, Miami, a failed baseball experiment, earns just $20,883.

Now, families are great and everything, but they can’t fill luxury boxes. Goodman has a plan for a privately-funded ballpark which would rely heavily on the gaming industry’s willingness to buy into suites.

I never liked the idea of taxing people for their city’s sports, but the Review Journal Op-Ed page, truly jaded from not having any major sports ever, put the public vs. private financing issue in perspective best.

"Las Vegas Valley residents disappointed about losing to Washington, D.C., in the Montreal Expos relocation sweepstakes can look at the fleecing that awaits taxpayers in the nation's capital and be grateful that Major League Baseball wanted no part of Southern Nevada. Council members have floated different stadium ideas, different sites and different financing plans - all of which rely on huge amounts of taxpayer financing - behind closed doors.

If baseball interests have learned anything from their efforts to enrich franchises with state-of-the-art ballparks, it's that public scrutiny tends to put a wrench in their ability to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies.

It would be premature to guess whether owners might one day find their way back to Las Vegas, where they rejected a privately financed stadium plan in favor of Washington's disjointed, political mess. But the capital's environment seems appropriate for the Expos, a team that resembles a neglected vehicle left propped on cinder blocks."

BPF Take
As a Phillies fan, I'd love to see a geographic, NL East rival in D.C., but I'm sick of empty stadiums and sick to death of the Montreal Expos. The situation in D.C. is quickly unraveling and it's baseball's fault. In selecting the city with the most leverage, both historic and political, they made a blind choice and forgot to ask a simple question: Where is baseball needed most? Washington is still a good choice, but Las Vegas has earned the right, and respect, to wave a banner for Major League Baseball.

December 14, 2004

Tip-toeing around Scranton

Two players, Marlon Byrd and Ryan Howard, may need to start the season in Scranton, and everyone's fighting like hell to prevent that from happening.

There were two intriguing articles by Paul Hagen this morning, including a story that Marlon Byrd was close to being dealt to Milwaukee for relief pitcher Jeff Bennett until GM Doug Melvin had second thoughts. The other is on prize young slugger Ryan Howard already wanting out.

Should Byrd remain a Phillie, as it appears this morning, he should have a single, specific job with the organization next season: starting CF for Scranton.

If a team as bad as Milwaukee, who just lost their own starting CF Scott Podsednik, won't even deal a spare part for Byrd, that what is he really worth, other than a young body you might still have a chance to develop? At best, he becomes the center fielder of the future they envisioned only a season ago. He's not blocking anyone else’s progress except perhaps Shane Victorino, 24, who was acquired yesterday in the Rule 5 draft. Yet there’s still this urgency to move him.

One has to wonder what AAA really means. Is it a place to develop and rehab talent, or a reformatory for misfits? The sense is players, and the organization, tend to view it as the latter.

It raises a concern the Phils would rather not go through the hassle of sending a player like Marlon Byrd to Scranton out of fear they'll have a malcontent on their hands. Top pitching prospect Gavin Floyd should be in Scranton, too, but I know the organization will use the slightest sign of progress as an excuse to bring him up rather than risk dispassion.

In Hagen's second article, Ryan Howard has apparently earned the right to request where he plays next year after 39 MLB at bats. Howard said ...

"I'm looking for an opportunity to contribute at the big-league level and it doesn't appear that can happen here. My goal is to get to the big leagues and help a team."

Trade talks are off the table, which indicates the Phillies believe Howard is the first-baseman or left fielder of the future. If that's the case, then shouldn't he be in Scranton, playing first base or left field every day?

Howard is a dynamic presence to the club, but I'm on the fence whether he should start the season in Scranton. It will never happen, but what's worse is there appears to be no question about it. Sure, there's the risk of injury, or a drop in production that might lower his trade value, but the real reason it will never happen is to prevent distention.

Boy, who knew playing professional baseball in Scranton was such hell.

December 12, 2004

The Ex-Phils Global Report

After scouring the pages of the 2005 Baseball America Almanac, our writer reports on the global pursuits of ex-Phillies.

Reported by Will Travel, BPF Writer
It's that time of year where there are no box scores to scrutinize, and the only news revolves around possible blockbuster trades at the Winter Meetings. The only actual baseball being played is in the Caribbean, Central and South America.

With spring training still months away, it's tough to be a baseball junkie. Fortunately, my copy of the Baseball America Almanac 2005 arrived last week. After scouring its pages for familiar names, here's a report on the global pursuits of ex-Phillies.

By far the best place to play abroad, where sluggers Tuffy Rhodes and Benny Agbayani are paid millions (dollars, not yen). The Fukuoka Daiei Hawks paid Hector Mercado (PHL 02-03) the measly salary of $484,000. Hector did not retire a batter in his only appearance and finished with an ERA of infinity.

Ben Rivera (92-94), who's been a relief pitcher around the world since 1997 having pitched in Japan, Korea, Mexico and previously in Taiwan, finished 2-1 with a 1.54 ERA. He also picked up a paycheck in Mexico in 2004, going 1-2 with a 6.30 ERA between two clubs, Laguna and Mexico City. Ben, part of the NL championship team in 1993, had records of 7-3 in 1992 and 13-9 in 1993.

Ben Rivera

Ex Reading Phil Israel "Izzy" Alcantara (RDG 98), best known for kicking a catcher in the chest to start a AAA brawl in Pawtucket, hit a meager .231 for Doosan. Izzy, like Ben, was also a double dipper, heading to Korea after winning the HR title with 27 at Laguna in the Mexican League.

Former Red Sox slugger Troy O'Leary also didn’t fare too well in Korea. He limped home with a .265 BA.

Former hurler Calvin Maduro led team HCAW to a first-place finish. Calvin pitched for the Phils in 1996-97, having arrived in a trade from the Orioles in exchange for Pete Incaviglia and Todd Zeile.

Calvin Maduro

Two former Reading Phils had good years in the Italian professional league. David Francia (RDG 98-00) finished 5th in the league by hitting with .345 for first-place Grosseto.

Another former R-Phil Rusty McNamara (RDG 99-01) also did well with San Marino, finishing with a .383 BA in 120 AB.

When the season ended, Rusty joined the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, where teammate Matt Beech (RDG 95-96; PHL 96-98) helped pitch his team to the league title. Beech’s claim to fame for the Phils was a surprise win over Greg Maddux back when Maddux was in his prime. Also on that Long Island squad, ex-prospect Wendell Magee (RDG 95-96; PHL 96-99) hit a decent .294. Wendell, however, left the team on the eve of the playoffs when he reportedly "had a vision" that told him to go home to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. No lie.

Always a great place to play, just ask former pitching great Sal Maglie. Well, unfortunately he's dead, but it's close to home and you get a paycheck.

I touched on Izzy's great year, but let us not forget … Pete Rose, Jr. (RDG 00-01) who hit .266 at Aquascalicates.

Jeff Inglin (RDG 03), the Eastern League home run king in 2003, was hitting .313 after 25 games at Yucatan when he was released.

Jeff Inglin

And how can we forget Manny Martinez, who played 13 games with the Phils in 1996. He found a new home a prospered in Mexico City, hitting .351.

The best story
The biggest and best globe trotter of all, Julio Franco (RDG 81; PHL 82), will play again in 2005. Julio, the ageless wonder, signed a 1-year guaranteed contract for $1 million with the Braves. Julio, who hit .309 in 2004 and has 2457 career hits (90th all time) played five full seasons in Japan, Korea and Mexico.

He can flat-out hit. His career major league average in 2269 games is .300; in 720 minor league games, .343, and in 593 foreign games, his average is .349.

I hope Julio can play for many more years to come, and in addition to his 1992 induction in the Reading Phillies Hall of Fame, perhaps Cooperstown might also give him a call.

Ageless wonder Julio Franco

Will Travel, an avid globe trotter himself, writes for BPF from time to time.

Totally awesome site maintenance

In taking BPF way too seriously, I was up well into the night tweaking a few things, including a MLB headline feed from Yahoo News, located at the right of your screen.

Readers will also notice a good deal of self-promotion, particularly at the bottom of each new post.

Also, progress has been made to make BPF RSS enabled, allowing nerds – maybe a dozen nerds – no fuss, picture-free access to these silly ramblings.