March 24, 2005

Amazing Subjugation 3: Pitching & dealing


The conclusion of a three-part series, looking at New York Mets pitching and possible deals, making the case the team has all the right pieces to make the post-season. Outfielder Mike Cameron, pictured, has been mentioned in several trade rumors.

The Mets are the divisional tyrant, achieving success through spending over development, hard work and smart decision making. In a division that features the wholesome, hearth-baked whitebread of Atlanta, the Mets are like Wonderbread, all flash, but hallow enough to mash into a ball you can crush in your fist.

In matters of baseball only, it's not my style to be swayed by hype instead of good sense. (That's baseball only, as I punch in my last four credit card digits and order an iPod).

That's why I've surprised even myself by saying the Mets will be a contender, in spite of noticeable holes that haven't been addressed.

Bullpen
I'll be the first to admit their bullpen is far from adequate.

I wondered how the Mets, who were so willing to overspend, could neglect a significant reliever to improve their weakest area. Resigning set-up man Mike Dejean was smart, but the Mets still lost more than they gained, not in bodies, but in quality. Ricky Bottalico (3.38 ERA in '04) had his most effective season since '96 with the Phils. He slipped away to Milwaukee for $800,000. Left-hander Mike Stanton was traded, and John Franco signed with Houston. Franco isn't a big loss, but Stanton is. The Mets are now missing a capable situational left-hander, or even bodies that can confidently go two-plus. Their absence leaves Dae-Sung Koo and Felix Heredia to battle for left-hand supremacy this spring, and that ain't good.

I scratched my head all winter waiting for the Mets to sign some pen. Steve Kline, a premier left-handed free agent, would have been perfect. They had the money to do it, but he slipped through the cracks and landed in Baltimore.

It can only mean Omar Minaya simply believed bullpen wasn't a big deal. It's the sign of a GM that, first, never built toward the post-season, and second, catered to a new TV deal.

The wallet was open, the merchandise was there, and the man bought Ferraris, but not insurance. Even Terry Adams would have helped. The battle for the second righty spot is between (from what I can tell) Scott Strickland and Roberto Hernandez. Ugh. The four or five spots, besides closer Bradon Looper and Dejean, will be decided soon, and what's left won't be much better than what'll wind up in the trash.

I logged on to Metsblog today. Read this. Are you surprised? I'm not.

Based on two conversations with people familiar with the Mets actions, one a reputable, well-written reporter and the other a person working inside Shea, it appears that the Mets are beyond dissatisfied with their options in the bullpen, and are working effortlessly to make a trade for more help.

Further more, they're not 100 percent confident in Braden Looper's ability to close out games either. From what I can gather, they see Tigers RHP Ugueth Urbina not just as the best set-up man available, but a possible solution if Looper implodes.

Rotation
Myth: The NL East is deep with pitching. Bigger myth: Florida is deep with pitching.

This whole Mets thing started when my befuddled blog colleague Michael Berquist picked the Marlins to win the NL East, and the Mets to finish fourth. He says pitching will be the difference, and I don’t disagree.

Yes - I'd take Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Kris Benson, Victor Zambrano and Kaz Ishii over Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, Dontrelle Willis, Al Leiter and Ismael Valdez. It’s close, most wouldn'’t do it, but I'd do it.

The bottom of the Mets rotation has become an in-joke among the blog network. True, Victor Zambrano and the newly acquired Kaz Ishii will lead the league in walks. But they can at least get through 5 innings, which is more than Leiter and Valdez will do. And don’t get me started on Willis. Young pitcher with bad mechanics and a growing book among hitters. His circus act is over.

At the top, I expect A.J. Burnett to have a full, outstanding season following Tommy John. Josh Beckett also projects, in Prospectus’ view, to have a breakout season comparable to Ben Sheets.

But you know what I don't like about Beckett? His blister. You know, the one that kept him out for half a season. It's not something the Marlins can just band-aid.

Overall, I'd rank the Mets rotation second in the division behind Atlanta. I have Atlanta winning the division for a 14th consecutive season (a preview of my next preview).

Transactions
Two words: Barry Zito. Two more: Trade deadline.

Mets fans are already talking trade deadline, and it’s only March 24. The Mets always seem to have chips, but how they use them is a different story.

This year’s list is topped, once again, by outfielders Mike Cameron and Cliff Floyd. The deadline's big catch will be Barry Zito. The Mets will be among the frontrunners.

March 22, 2005

The Phurnace: Fantasy owner weeps


Barry Bonds says the physical toll on his knee and the mental toll from the media may keep him out for the season. And to that, this fantasy baseball owner says "Suck it up!"

The old fantasy team was dealt a huge blow today, and I'm not talking about Eddie Oropesa optioned to minor league camp.

ESPN.com is reporting Barry Bonds may miss the entire season to recover from multiple knee surgeries, and recover mentally from the constant pressures of the media.

Said Bonds: "You wanted me to jump off the bridge, I finally have jumped. You wanted the bring me down, you've finally brought me and my family down."

Boo-hoo. What about my fantasy team you big dolt? You can't expect Carlos Delgado to carry the HR load on his own.

So now what? I drafted arguably the best baseball player of all time, and paid the price. Luckily, I drafted Bonds' likely replacement, Pedro Feliz, as super-utility, but he can’t hold a candle to Bonds' production. I actually offered Feliz to another team straight up for Jose Reyes three days ago but was rejected. Now I’m thankful it didn’t happen.

At this point, I’m considering scrapping any effort to add speed in favor of replacing Bonds' power, which would mean Ceasar Izturis would go in favor of Khalil Greene or Jose Valentin. I may also need to dangle a stud starter – either Jason Schmidt or Tim Hudson – for a big bat.

In any event, I look forward to catching whatever scraps fall from the other boats into the free agent pool. Last year, a big tuna, Bobby Abreu, became available. You never know what might happen. I still think my team is in the top 5 of our league, but I know the other owners, once they catch wind of Bonds, will give my inbox the business. My boys, the Pottstown Energy, formerly the Virginville Phillies, are the most hated and feared team in our league.

Work-related
It's a treat whenever the Phillies crossover into my 9 to 5 job. In the April 3 Sunday Reading Eagle, we’re launching a new size, new format TV book. I’ve chosen the Phillies season opener for our big feature, with Jim Thome on the cover. Jon Lieber and Jimmy Rollins will be featured inside. Here's a preview of the cover.



Since most of our readers are older and not savvy with the Internet, I plan on including a three-page synops of Gross Production Average, something for our readers to chew on before they watch "60 Minutes."

I’m not serious. But I did include a syndicated Q&A with Rachel Ray from the Food Network! Hello! Anybody?

Oh.

This Fultz won't fizzle
Aaron Fultz pitched a perfect inning of work to drop his spring ERA to 2.08 yesterday. I won't jerk you around: I don't know jack about Fultz other than he’s a left-hander with MLB experience, fighting for a spot on a team that needs lefties.

Go Fultz. You're better than ... not Fultz.

Oropesa update
For those following the Eddie Oropesa saga, he was indeed optioned to Cubs minor league camp. Oropesa, a Cuban defector, pitched for the Phillies in 2001.

Tug's book in paperback
"Ya Gotta Believe!" by Tug and Tim McGraw is now available in mass market paperback.

Phillies blog update
Brian Michael is posting again at Phillies Nation. Also for new bloggers, Brian’s RSS feed is syndicated by just about every blog house known to man. Check out his syndicates and follow his example if you don’t think your stuff is reaching enough people.

March 21, 2005

Baseball style coach

Leather is "in" as we look at what's hip in 2005.

Couldn't sleep last night. Like our correspondent Martin Smith does when this happens, I went through the rosters one by one in my head, filling out rotations and lineup cards. It’s the sign of a true baseball junkie. Colorado did me in and I fell back to sleep.

Lately, I've been gearing up for my NL East preivew and big Phillies primer. Today, a couple of colleagues have posted their own here and here. For now, a few thoughts from last night circa 2 a.m., other than Josh Towers will pitch fifth for Toronto.

The next big thing
I've been thinking a lot about what Peter Gammons said earlier this offseason when he said defense was "the next big thing." The Phillies blogosphere has been talking about it for some time.

I like the way he said it and agree with him, for a number of reasons. First, defensive stats have expanded to become better indicators on how we value fielders.

But the bigger trend, whether he considered this or not, is a broader shift I expect to begin this year.

I believe the home run is going out of style. Small ball and "smarter" ball, including defense, will make a comeback in 2005, and I expect it to stick, at least for a while.

Baseball is as cyclical as bell-bottom jeans. The big trendsetter is ESPN, with Gammons, Tim Kurkjian, Jason Stark and others setting the bar and promoting a new style of thinking. Some might argue that will never happen: A network based on the big play would never put together a highlight reel based on defensive zone rating.

Just wait.

Whether it's the steroid scandal or records that have already been broken, the long ball isn't the high water mark it once was, and has been infected with a bad vibe, to a certain degree.

Where baseball left off, with Boston finally winning, beating St. Louis after the greatest comeback in post-season history, there's something "natural" happening in baseball, underneath the unnatural arms of Jose Canseco and the congressional committee on steroids.

Personally, I embrace the change, like I welcomed back hip-hugger jeans on a chick. This is going to be one, smooth, groovy season.

On tap
Defense is the next big thing, but will it be the deciding factor on who wins the NL East? More on that later.