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Monday, December 17, 2012

Baseball Notes for December 17, 2012

The baseball offseason is a busy time. Really, no further introduction is needed for the notes from this past week.

***The hyperbole machine has been revved up to a fevered pitch now that the 2013 National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has gone out and people have started debating the merits of various candidates. I will surely go into who I would vote for at a later time, but for now can offer up these thoughts:

      1.    It’s about time to change how this honor is voted on. It’s ridiculous that the BBWAA continue to have a stranglehold on this process. Other than longevity and knowing the right people, there are precious few criteria for who gets to vote. What makes these writers the experts? Judging by some of their hideous decisions and justifications from the past, the whole process has become amateur hour. 100 years ago, print writers probably had the closest connection to the players. However, there are now numerous forms of media and even fans have unprecedented access to the game. Obviously there’s no exact or scientific way to determine a Hall-of-Famer, but let’s standardize the voting process and remove the power from the ink-stained hands of these dictators of injustice.

      2.    Strength of character is one of the criteria used by Hall of Fame voters, but it may be time to re-evaluate. There are cheaters, racists, drunks, violent criminals and probably worse currently enshrined in Cooperstown. Trying to keep out candidates because of indiscretions, especially those related to PEDs seem laughably hypocritical. 

      3.    Finally, if so much effort is being made to keep out the “bad guys,” why hasn’t the pendulum swung the other way to honor well-known fringe Hall candidates like Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly? This idea was first put in my head by an excellent blog written by ESPN’s Buster Olney, where he included an open letter from Murphy’s son, Chad, extolling his father’s candidacy.

***Former Boston Red Sox stalwart Kevin Youkilis made what is seemingly becoming a rite of passage by joining his former rival, the New York Yankees, on a one-year, $12 million contract. Johnny Damon, Derek Lowe, Tom Gordon and Roger Clemens are just some of the expats in recent years to join the Evil Empire.

Youkilis was signed to fill in for third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who will be having offseason surgery on his balky hip. It’s an interesting move by the Yankees, who are fighting advancing age and skyrocketing payroll. Giving that much money to the 33-year-old like Youkilis, who is coming off his worst season (.235 with 19 home runs) and seemed to be in serious decline, is very risky. He is a gritty player, but just because the mind is willing doesn’t mean the body will be. Regardless, Boston fans should wish him only the best. He more than earned their enduring respect for what he accomplished in a Red Sox uniform.

***The news that Josh Hamilton signed with the Los Angeles Angels for five-years and $125 million sent some pretty big shock waves through baseball. Hamilton had been the hardest free-agent to peg, as a number of teams had expressed interest, but the consensus seemed to be developing he was going to have to settle for a three or four-year deal instead of the six or seven that he wanted.

The Angels had not been one of the teams closely connected to Hamilton, but evidently jumped in and snatched up the left-handed slugger once they saw an opening. In the short-term, the move may prove to be a master stroke, as it’s hard to argue that their team won’t have the best trio of hitters of any team in baseball, with Hamilton, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols anchoring the offense.

However, by 2015 the Angels will potentially start seeing the effects of a bloated payroll. That season they will be paying nearly $70 million total to just three players, Pujols, Hamilton and pitcher C.J. Wilson. All three will be in their mid-thirties and potentially experiencing a decline in production. Angels’ owner Artie Moreno may have the money to burn, but it can be tough to maintain a solid roster with those types of issues. Just ask the New York Yankees.

***After spending the bulk of the offseason bolstering the offense with a procession of complimentary free-agent hitters, Boston GM Ben Cherington finally made a move to improve his weakened starting rotation—by adding a complimentary pitcher. The team signed right-hander Ryan Dempster to a two-year, $26.5 million deal. Many have scoffed at the transaction, pointing to the soon-to-be 36-year-old Dempster’s age and the 5.09 ERA he had after being traded to the Texas Rangers this past summer as reasons why he won’t succeed in Boston. I’m not buying it.

Dempster may be older and may have some wear and tear on his arm, but he has also thrown 200 or more innings in four of the past five years.

If you take out the two stink bombs (gave up eight earned runs in each game) that came in his first three Rangers’ starts, Dempster otherwise had a 3.77 ERA and a strikeout per inning with the Rangers. His first Texas start came against the Angels on August 2nd. That was one of the games he gave up eight runs, and deserves a further look. It was Dempster’s first game with his new team and the temperature at first pitch that night was 102 degrees. Those conditions better explain his performance than him no longer being an effective pitcher.

Dempster will be just fine with Boston. 12-14 wins and an ERA around 4.00 sounds about right in 2013. If he can produce those results, then the team got a relative steal, given the $80 million contract the Detroit Tigers doled out to Anibal Sanchez, who baseball folk would have a hard time proving has been a better pitcher than Dempster over the past several seasons.

***Knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey appears to be on his way out of New York and headed to the Toronto Blue Jays through a trade. Provided that Dickey can agree to an extension with Toronto by Tuesday, which is considered a mere formality at this point, the deal will be finalized soon. Not all the details have been made public yet, but it’s believed the Mets will receive a package of prospects, including highly regarded catcher Travis d’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard.

Although this trade will put the Mets even further away from contention, it could work out heavily in their favor if just one of the young players they are getting back work out. D’Arnaud is projected to be an above-average catcher and Syndergaard has the potential to pitch near the front of a starting rotation. It may be a few years before they are at Citi Field and consistently producing, but they look to be the hope of the future.

For their part, the Blue Jays continue to gamble big this offseason. In poker terms, Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos has pushed all his chips to the center of the table and declared he has gone all-in.  Trading top prospects for a 38-year-old knuckleball pitcher without an elbow ligament is a risky move, to say the least. Anthopulos has merged core players from three sub- .500 teams from 2012 and is hoping they will meld into winners north of the border. He is either going to win big or lose really big. There will be no in between. For the time being he at least has jolted the AL East and made this upcoming season an interesting one to watch from the get-go.


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