Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

For many, Friday represents the end of a long work week that’s filled with heavy doses of drudging, sludging and other words that don’t actually exist but rhyme with “udging” and connote menial and tedious tasks that are ultimately distasteful. It’s my hope that at the end of such misery, at that moment in time that only occurs on a Friday afternoon when it’s too far away from closing time to leave work early, but too late in the day to start anything new, you’ll join us here to read some random observations about baseball and contribute your own thoughts on the subjects that are broached.

So, without further ado, I present this week’s Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday:

Darren Oliver Twist

At the time that it was signed, Darren Oliver’s contract with the Toronto Blue Jays represented the largest free agent deal that General Manager Alex Anthopoulos had negotiated. The signing guaranteed the veteran southpaw $4.5 million for a single year of work, including a $500,000 buyout on a $3 million team option for 2013. Oliver pitched exceptionally well out of the bullpen in 2012, and so, the Blue Jays, in what was likely their easiest decision of the off-season, exercised their club option for the coming year. However, there were no guarantees that the 42-year-old reliever would want to stave off retirement to return to the club for another season.

Now, a mere 40 days until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training facilities, we have learned that Oliver has asked Toronto to increase the $3 million salary to which he previously agreed in order to persuade him not to hang up his cleats. He is, in essence, leveraging threats of retirement to receive a bigger pay day than what the contract that he signed dictates.

There seems to be two ways of looking at this: 1) It’s completely fair for millionaire baseball players to wring every cent that they can out of billionaire owners; and 2) It’s completely unfair for an employee to reneg on an agreement with an employer after circumstances have changed. While labelling Oliver as a greedy athlete is far from accurate, I can’t move past a perspective that suggests that the pitcher’s ploys mean that he signed his original deal with the Blue Jays in bad faith. He had no intention of ever actually playing under the terms stipulated by the contract to which he agreed.

In the original $4.5 million deal, Toronto would have paid a premium to have the right to exercise an additional year, beyond the mere $500,000 opt out. I believe it to be unfair of Oliver to accept that premium, and then not deliver on what the premium was buying, an extra year of team control at a discounted rate. It also seems silly to me that Oliver, with so little earning potential remaining due to his advanced age, would simply walk away from $3 million. I suppose $46 million in career earnings allows one the luxury of such a decision, but it’s still tough to imagine someone refusing 7% of their total earnings for one additional year of service.

Hall Of Fame Debates

I’ve been writing seriously about baseball for more than two years, and by “seriously,” I mean that I’ve been paid enough to do it so that it’s my full-time occupation. Since embarking on this journey, I’ve covered two Hall of Fame inductions, and the tediousness and childishness of the so-called debates that led up to the announcement of who was voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America has been so exhausting and proven to be so utterly fruitless, that I truly don’t understand what motivates seemingly reasonable people to place any importance whatsoever on the duties of the BBWAA or the outcome of their voting process.

Barry Bonds, the greatest baseball player that many of my generation are likely to ever see, will not be admitted into the Hall of Fame. Whether this is the result of intellectual plebeians abusing a small measure of authority by sending a message that they can keep him off the first ballot if they want, or if it’s some sort of moral overcompensation inwardly stirred by guilt over the lack of questioning by the media of performance enhancing drug use, it doesn’t matter. The motivations are meaningless. The ten-year members of the BBWAA who decide on the Hall of Fame, and include a great many writers who wouldn’t be considered close to the game by even the most exaggerated of opinions, have rendered themselves even less relevant than they were to a fan’s enjoyment and understanding of baseball. In addition, these brutal saboteurs of sport have laid waste to what should be a hallowed place for those who appreciate and love the sport and the athletes that the Hall of Fame was designed to honor.

The Indecisive Scott Rolen

Even the most conservative of evaluations would suggest that 37-year-old third baseman, Scott Rolen, is one of the top ten to ever play his position. However, the years have not been kind to Rolen. As humans age, they decay and they decline. This fact of life is saddest to witness in grandparents and athletes.

When Rolen played on the cruel turf in Toronto, the difference in his movements on the field and off was a source of humor to beat writers. Playing the game, he moved his feet like a boxer, but when not on the field, he limped around gingerly as though each step was his last. That was almost five years ago.

After getting fooled into believing that his bat speed was capable of matching a fastball from Sergio Romo on the last pitch of the year for the Cincinnati Reds, it seemed apparent that Rolen would retire and make way for Todd Frazier at the hot corner. Even though the team has committed the starting role to Frazier, they’ve left the door open for Rolen’s return, if he decides he’d like a reduced role with the club. He’s uncertain.

For the sake of all those who loved watching Rolen play, I hope he retires. It was difficult to watch him stagger about this past season in Cincinnati, playing at a level far removed from his peak. The Division Series against the San Francisco Giants was especially brutal on Rolen fans, as the anticipated decline in bat speed was matched by a massively decreased range at the hot corner and an unsteady glove. Given his struggles last year and their assumed roots in his advanced age, the 2013 season has a chance of becoming the final round for which a veteran pugilist shouldn’t have left his corner.

The New CBA’s First Lohser

Free agent starting pitcher Kyle Lohse has yet to receive a single contract offer this off-season. This has little to do with the performance of the 34-year-old right-hander – in fact, he’s pitched remarkably well over the last two years – and a whole lot to do with the first round draft pick that a signing team must give up if they’re to give Lohse a contract. At the end of the season, the St. Louis Cardinals gave Lohse a compensation qualifying offer of $13.3 million that he turned down to test the free agent market. This means that any team that finished in the top twenty of the overall standings that signs him will have to give up their first round draft pick. This deterrent has proven stronger than Lohse anticipated.

That’s because a team losing a draft pick doesn’t just lose the pick, but also the draft pool money that belongs to the pick being given up. As we saw during last year’s draft, high sums are very valuable to teams looking to game the system with top heavy selections.

An interesting option is the sign-and-trade, which would see the Cardinals give up on the idea of a supplemental draft pick, but still find a team willing to swap something else. They would then sign Lohse themselves and then trade him to a team willing to give up something less valuable to them than their draft pick. While this was allowed in the past, there seems to be some doubt as to Major League Baseball’s willingness to allow such a circumvention to take place under the new collective bargaining agreement.

A new twist on the sign-and-trade could see a team like the Cleveland Indians, whose first pick is protected and whose second pick has already been spent on the Nick Swisher signing, agree to a deal with Lohse, and then trade him away for something of less value than a first round draft pick, but more value than the third round pick that Cleveland would be giving up.

Myers Vs. Vazquez

Speaking of the Indians, Brett Myers will receive $7 million from Cleveland (and possibly another $8 million for 2014) to be a starting pitcher for the team next season. Javier Vazquez is likely to receive a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training from whatever team decides to give him the chance to make the opening day roster. While Vazquez is four years older than Myers, neither pitcher started a single game last season. When they were last starters Vazquez was throwing harder and achieving much better results than Myers, but because he took last season off, the worse pitcher will be making a ton more than the better one in 2013.

It seemed as though Cleveland valued ground ball pitchers quite highly, and Myers certainly fits that category better than Vazquez, but the Indians also acquired Trevor Bauer this off-season who is the exact opposite of ground ball pitcher in terms of approach. While the people in charge of things in Cleveland are routinely praised for their baseball and business smarts, this marks the second off-season in a row in which fans of the team have been left scratching their heads as to the direction that the team is taking.

The band-aid for bullet hole approach seems especially questionable given the status of other contenders in their division. The Detroit Tigers have a couple more seasons of competitive baseball in their roster before it disintegrates due to age-related declines. Meanwhile, the Chicago White Sox remain a superior team to the Indians, as do the reinvigorated Kansas City Royals.

The only thing that this signing appears to do is cement Cleveland’s ranking ahead of the Minnesota Twins. Even imagining that Myers turns into some sort of trade chip seems far too hopeful. If a back of the end rotation plug is what the team was after, rolling the dice with Vazquez would seem like a far superior option.

The DH In The NL

There was some discussion this week about the rule which allows designated hitters to bat for pitchers in the American League being extended to the National League, as well. This is most likely because there wasn’t enough entrenched thinking spawning unfruitful arguments over Hall of Fame induction.

Personally, I like pitchers batting because it opens the door to more bench use, and more involvement from the manager, and more thinking in terms of strategy. Baseball is a more challenging game when the pitcher bats. However, I also understand why others might not like it. After all, the highest level of baseball is meant to represent the very best of the sport, and actual trained batters are far superior to pitchers when it comes to hitting. The best possible matchup is never one pitcher who spends the majority of his time improving his pitching versus another pitcher, who does not spend the majority of his time improving his batting.

Russell Carleton, writing for Baseball Prospectus, had an interesting idea as to how we might settle the divide in our collective feelings on this issue as baseball fans.

Some time prior to the free agent period starting (so before the World Series ends), teams are required to make a decision. For the next season, they can decide whether their home park will be a DH park or a pitcher-batting park. The decision holds all year, but teams can switch back and forth from season to season as they desire. Everyone submits their choices in a sealed envelope and they all get revealed live. How fun would the day after that be?

I like this, if not for anything else than the question that it forces to be asked: What teams are and aren’t a DH-team?

In my mind, admittedly without much consideration, here’s how I’d break it up:

DH-Teams: Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Oakland A’s, Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals.

Non-DH-Teams: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals.

Native Imagery

Does this offend you?

It doesn’t personally offend me. That is to say that when I see it, my first response isn’t a negative one. It’s not a positive one either, and I can understand why certain people might be offended by their representation being rooted in questionable stereotypes. While not personally offended, I recognize the image as something that might offend some people.

What I don’t understand though is why the Atlanta Braves would bring this image back as part of their new batting practice look after shelving the logo for several years. The idea to do so is the result of either ignorance or malicious intentions, neither of which shine a very favorable light on the Braves organization or Major League Baseball.

If it was an ignorant decision, it means that the organization has attained new heights in its lack of awareness in terms of current sensibilities. If it was a malicious decision, it means that the organization is engaging in the provocation of those to whom this image personally offends. It’s just so difficult for me to fathom that someone at some level of the multi-million dollar company that produced this didn’t suggest that it might be a contentious image, or that it’s outright offensive.

Why A Giancarlo Stanton Trade Won’t Happen

Dave Schoenfield of ESPN’s SweetSpot blog put together a list of past trades involving players of Giancarlo Stanton’s age and proven ability. He also provides a list of theoretical trades that might be able to land the Miami Marlins super star youngster. Reading through the well-reasoned post, I was struck by how unlikely a deal is to happen considering that the teams most able to afford an asset like Stanton also happen to be the teams in the least need of the player, at least at such a high cost.

In my mind, or perhaps more accurately, in theory, there’s little doubt that Stanton is worth a package like Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt and Martin Perez or Oscar Taveras, Shelby Miller, Allen Craig and Trevor Rosenthal, but I have a lot of doubt that a team like the Texas Rangers or St. Louis Cardinals would look to mortgage so much of their future (and immediate at that) in exchange for a single player in this fashion. Both teams are already successful, and look to be contenders again this coming season without Stanton. A big part of their confidence moving forward has to be their respective systems in all of their impressiveness that figure to provide exceptional Major League talent in the very near future, if not this season.

Other teams like the Seattle Mariners or Pittsburgh Pirates that could theoretically afford the price of the Marlins slugger aren’t a whole lot better off than the team listening to offers. They’re in the process of rebuilding as well. While proven talent is always greater than prospective talent, it’s difficult for an architect to justify cancelling out what you’re building and start over with a new foundation, even if that foundation is an improved one.

This is not to say at all that Stanton isn’t worth what the Marlins would no doubt be asking, even if it was literally the moon. It’s just that I’m not so certain the timing and current circumstances surrounding the most likely suitors are as fitting as they could be for the team to make a trade involving such massive amounts of young talent.

Toronto’s Loss Is Houston’s Gain

Television and radio broadcasters for baseball have a tough gig. They have to appeal to the most casual of fans while avoiding repetition and remaining as inoffensive as possible to the repeat members of their audience. They mostly fail at this, and many of us enjoy our moments of schadenfreude pointing out their failures to others.

Alan Ashby, who has provided excellent insight to match a calm and informed tone over his six years in the radio broadcast booth covering Toronto Blue Jays games, has resigned from his position with the radio station to pursue an opportunity with the Houston Astros. He is an oyster with a pearl. An exception among baseball broadcasters who is able to engage both casual and informed audiences.

Perhaps more impressive than anything else though was his ability to keep his broadcast partner Jerry Howarth, whose grip on calling a game has been slipping, in check. This is never more obvious than on the occasions in which Ashby was absent, working on the television side of the broadcast. Howarth’s lack of respect and borderline contempt for the best efforts of Mike Wilner would shine through with his complete unwillingness to play along or engage in the least with the substitute radio man.

Personally, I really appreciated what Wilner brought to the radio broadcast in those occasions that he was allowed to fill in for Ashby, but I often found myself feeling uncomfortable with Howarth’s noticeable lack of effort to make things run smoothly. It’s nothing more than speculation, but I wonder if Wilner’s criticisms of Cito Gaston – a good friend to Howarth – might have contributed to something of a grudge, whether conscious or not on the part of the veteran broadcaster.

No matter who replaces Ashby in the radio booth, he will be missed.

Enough Already

I very much look forward to the day when we read comments like Torii Hunter’s regarding the possibility of playing alongside a homosexual baseball player and shake our heads in bewilderment at how archaic, unacceptable and hateful it is.

For me, as a Christian, I will be uncomfortable because in all my teachings and all my learning, biblically, it’s not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable.

Is this statement really all that different from someone talking about an African American teammate like this:

For me, as a terrible racist, I will be uncomfortable because in all my teachings and all my learning, it’s not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable.

Or what about someone prejudiced against Christian teammates:

For me, as an atheist, I will be uncomfortable because in all my teachings and all my learning, scientifically, it’s not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable.

By the way, Patrick Burke, head of the You Can Play Project, writing for Deadspin, had a very eloquent response to Hunter’s statement, in which he offers a convincing argument according to Hunter’s perverted sense of morality.

Being an athlete means following the rules set forth by the game. Being a Christian means following the rules and example set forth by Christ himself. Being a Christian athlete means being kind, caring, and welcoming to your teammates, coaches, and fans. It means playing alongside those who have different religions, those who blaspheme, those who do not keep holy the Sabbath, those who commit adultery, and yes, those who are gay. And it is by treating those around you with love and respect that you represent the Lord, Christianity, and Christ himself in a positive, welcoming manner. It is through you that gay athletes and fans will be able to see the love and harmony that is central to Christ’s teachings. It is by building friendships and relationships with those around you that you offer them a chance to see Christianity as a path to salvation, instead of as a religion of rejection and hatred.