November 30, 2004

Bye Bye Blanco (Choosing a Backup Backstop)

Choosing a backup catcher never seems like a very important decision. The difference between a sub par backup and a great backup simply isn't that huge, and the limited playing time they get makes the gap in value even smaller. That is, of course, unless your rookie catcher who is supposed to be a stud behind the plate for the next 15 years or so goes down with a severe knee injury in the second game of his career. When that happens -- as it did with the Twins and Joe Mauer this season -- what you're suddenly left with is a very important backup catcher.

The Twins signed Henry Blanco last offseason because they wanted an affordable, veteran backup who was solid defensively and could help tutor and mentor Mauer in his first big-league season. Instead, Blanco ended up making a backup's wages ($750,000) while getting a starter's playing time, appearing in 114 games and totaling 353 plate appearances. However, despite what many Twins fans mysteriously believe, Blanco did not have a good season. He was excellent defensively and his durability was valuable, but he was one of the worst offensive players in the American League, hitting a pathetic .206/.260/.368. In fact, Blanco ranked as the worst catcher in the league according to Win Shares Above Average, which takes both offense and defense into account.

The Twins, being the same team that just gave Juan Castro $2 million over two years, picked up Blanco's $750,000 option for 2005 like it was a no-brainer, setting it up for him to once again enter the season as Mauer's backup. In a very surprising move, Blanco then turned around and used a playing-time clause in his contract to void the 2005 option, becoming a free agent. Now, I had no problem with the Twins picking up Blanco's option, because he was cheap enough and, for the most part, he's what you get when you go shopping for a backup catcher. However, the moment Blanco declined to accept the contract the team had just handed him for 2005, I would have cut all ties and started the search for a replacement.

The Twins, who are far more loyal to a guy who hit .206 than I ever could be, reacted a little differently, offering Blanco a two-year contract worth $1.8 million. In what has to be one of the more inexplicable decisions of the young offseason, Blanco -- a .216/.288/.356 career hitter who has played for five different teams in seven seasons in the majors -- turned down the two-year deal. Terry Ryan and company finally had enough, putting an end to the ridiculousness of bidding against no one for Blanco's services by signing longime Marlins' backup Mike Redmond to that same two-year deal worth $1.8 million.

I have a feeling that somewhere along the line with Blanco, Ryan had one of those moments where you just say, "You know what? I don't need this." He picked up the option for 2005 and Blanco wriggled out of it, which he had every right to do. Ryan then continued to negotiate with him and actually offered a two-year deal worth more money, and Blanco turned it down. At some point you just have to step back from the situation and realize you are going through all of this trouble for a guy who is simply not a good baseball player. A fine backup catcher? Sure. I happen to think he's wildly overrated by Twins fans at the moment, but he's certainly no worse than a number of other backups around baseball. The flip side is that he's certainly no better either.

In the end, the Twins said goodbye to Blanco -- who was starting to act like Carlos Beltran with his new-found free agency -- and brought in Redmond, who is quite frankly a superior player. And all for the exact same two-year deal they tried to hand to Blanco. Redmond hits like a typical backup catcher, which means he is simultaneously a poor offensive player and reminiscent of Mike Piazza when compared to Blanco. Redmond hit .256/.315/.341 for the Marlins this year, which is about 9% better than the offense Blanco gave the Twins.

Here's a look at how they compare over the past three seasons:

             PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS      GPA

Redmond 704 .273 .336 .354 .690 .240
Blanco 768 .204 .261 .336 .597 .201

Redmond has been 34% more likely to get a hit and 29% more likely to get on base than Blanco, and his overall offensive production has been about 19% better, which is pretty huge. If everything goes according to plan for the Twins in 2005, Mauer will play 100 games and catch around 900 innings, and Redmond will get somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 plate appearances. If he duplicates his numbers offensively from 2002-04 over those 200 trips to the plate, he will have been worth about 20 runs to the Twins, compared to the 15 Blanco would have created.

On the other hand, Redmond is not the defensive player that Blanco is, or at least his throwing arm can't compete. Although Redmond has a very good reputation for handling a pitching staff and calling a game, his caught stealing numbers have been poor in recent years, especially compared to Blanco. Redmond threw out 14-of-65 (21.5%) baserunners this year, while Blanco gunned down a very impressive 49.2% (30-of-61).

Here are their numbers over the past three years:

             SB     CS      CS%

Redmond 119 48 28.7
Blanco 101 62 38.0

When you look at the three-year span, the gap isn't nearly as large. Blanco's 38.0% is still outstanding, but Redmond's 28.7% is also respectable. One other aspect of their arms that is perhaps overlooked is the fact that, in addition to having a higher caught-stealing percentage, Blanco also keeps teams from trying to run. Redmond had a stolen base attempted against him once every 8.8 innings over the past three years, while teams tried to steal against Blanco once every 11.4 innings. There are some other factors at work here (the leagues they played in, the pitchers they caught for, etc.), but that's still fairly significant however you slice it.

While you can say with some certainty that Redmond should be worth about five runs more than Blanco as a hitter in 200 plate appearances, it is a lot more difficult to look at a catcher's defensive value, as the impact a catcher has beyond throwing out baserunners is nearly impossible to quantify. With that said, I think it's safe to say that Blanco could certainly be five runs (or more) better than Redmond behind the plate over the course of what would be 400-450 innings.

The one simple thing you can do for a defensive comparison is project stolen base numbers out to 450 innings caught and assign typical "run values" to steals (+0.2 runs) and caught stealings (-0.35 runs). By using their combined numbers over the past three seasons, Blanco would go 15-for-40 throwing out runners and Redmond would go 15-for-51, for a difference of about two runs in Blanco's favor. Tack on the added value that Blanco brings by keeping teams from running more often and perhaps he's worth three extra runs with his arm. Three runs isn't much, although it is enough to nearly offset the offensive gains the Twins make by replacing Blanco with Redmond.

If you think Blanco is also superior at calling a game, handling a staff or any number of the other "invisible" things catchers are counted on to do, then Blanco and Redmond come out with nearly identical overall values. All of which is why choosing a backup catcher often comes down to picking someone the team is comfortable with and sticking with them. Some guys -- like Redmond -- give you a little value offensively, while some guys -- like Blanco -- give you a little value defensively. When you add it all up, the thing that becomes abundantly clear is that guys like Blanco and Redmond are backup catchers for a reason and, barring injury, the impact of the decision is minimal.

In the Twins' case, the "barring injury" part is a little tricky, as I have major doubts about Mauer's ability to stay healthy and behind the plate for an entire season. Minnesota's backup catcher has added importance, and the Twins decided to go with offense over defense, but most of all decided they were sick of trying to deal with a run-of-the-mill backup catcher and his agent. Considering the Twins don't have the sort of payroll room to go after a "backup" who is more capable of being a valuable player if forced into a starting role, the end result of their decision was a good one. Perhaps most importantly, swapping Blanco for Redmond is a move that, if Mauer stays healthy, won't matter one bit.

Today at The Hardball Times:

- Re-Imagining the Big Zone Sixties, Part 1: 1963-1965 (by Steve Treder)


November 29, 2004

Notes from the (Long) Weekend

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. The two main things I discovered over the long weekend were that I like gin as much as I like vodka and I wasn't as repulsed by actually seeing National Treasure as I was by hearing about the plot beforehand. However, I'm perfectly willing to admit that my not hating the movie means I'm less intelligent than I think I am.

Anyway, it's been a little longer than usual since last we spoke, so here are a few random notes I've been saving up ...

  • According to Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer, "Bill [Gates] literally receives 4 million pieces of e-mail per day." Kind of makes my problems answering a few dozen per day seem sort of silly now, doesn't it? Of course, that same article also says that "Microsoft has special technology that just filters spam intended for Gates" and "several Microsoft employees are dedicated to ensuring that nothing unwanted gets into his inbox."

    If I were that rich, I think I would have employees "dedicated" to nearly every aspect of my life. Someone dedicated to putting my socks on, someone dedicated to brushing my teeth, someone dedicated to shampooing my hair. The possibilities are endless. Just think about how great it would be to have someone walking around in the world, handing out business cards that read: "Aaron Gleeman's personal nose-picker."

    Incidentally, I am a little bit behind on my e-mails because of Thanksgiving, so if you sent me something over the past week or so and haven't heard back yet, please be patient. I'll get to them soon, I promise.

  • I just might be the biggest Howard Stern fan in the state of Minnesota, particularly because Stern's radio show hasn't even been on here since before I had my driver's license. With that said, not even I'm excited about this news:
    Robin Quivers, shock jock Howard Stern's longtime sidekick, is making a solo move toward television.

    Quivers has signed a deal with Sony Pictures Television to develop a syndicated talk show for daytime TV, the company announced Monday.

    I love Robin Quivers, but I can't imagine her show being anything but horrendous. Her strength is being able to play off of Stern, who is generally pretty relentless when it comes to celebrities. Left on her own to chat with famous people, I'd expect Quivers' interviews to be slightly less critical and revealing than James Lipton's. If anyone on Stern's show is screaming for a spinoff, it is definitely Beetlejuice. That I'd watch.

  • Speaking of Lipton, I caught about 10 seconds of Jamie Foxx on Inside the Actor's Studio last night, which is the maximum amount I could watch before I began laughing uncontrollably and had to change the channel. I liked Any Given Sunday a lot more than most people, and Booty Call is clearly a spectacular film, but isn't it a little ridiculous for him to be on a show that claims to feature "the world's most accomplished actors and directors"?

    Although, in Foxx's defense, Jennifer Lopez appeared on the show earlier this year, and she's made exactly one watchable movie in the last seven years. Her last seven films, in order: The Wedding Planner, Angel Eyes, Enough, Maid in Manhattan, Gigli, Jersey Girl, Shall We Dance. That is truly an extraordinary run of unwatchability, one that I think even the Los Angeles Clippers can get a good laugh from.

    There clearly needs to be some rule that says an actor has to have a certain number of good movies on their resume before they can appear on the show to have their ass kissed for an hour by Lipton. If you set the minimum at, say, five good movies, that gives Foxx an opportunity to build his resume a little more and then make an appearance, and it will also be high enough to keep Lopez from ever appearing on the show.

    This is a very important issue, because the last thing Al Pacino needs after wasting an hour of his life answering idiotic questions from Lipton is to hear the host say, "Join us next week, when we welcome Vin Diesel."

  • I occasionally link to a book on Amazon.com, and then when someone who clicks on that link ends up buying something from Amazon, I get a small percentage of the sale. It doesn't exactly make me rich, but it's sometimes worth a few bucks. Anyway, over the weekend I checked my Amazon account to see if I've sold any books lately and found that someone who followed a link posted here shopped around Amazon.com and purchased The Ultimate Guide to Fellatio: How to Go Down on a Man and Give Him Mind-Blowing Pleasure, by Violet Blue.

    I've spoken to potential advertisers on occasion, and one of the first things they always ask is what type of products my audience is interested in. Typically I say baseball books, memorabilia, sports clothing, fantasy games, etc. Now I guess I have a new thing to add to that list. Who knew?

  • Speaking of books ... I finally bought Doyle Brunson's Super System last week, which a minimum of 1,000 people have recommended to me since I started talking about poker here. While at Barnes and Noble, I also saw The Godfather Returns, by Mark Winegardner. I bring this up because, quite frankly, I'm not sure how I feel about it.

    On one hand, The Godfather is perhaps my favorite movie and Mario Puzo's book is a masterpiece, one of the best and most compelling stories I've ever read. Naturally I'd love to read a sequel. On the other hand, there's something that just doesn't sit quite right with me about some guy picking up where Puzo left off. What made Puzo's book so great was the passion he had for the subject and the story, and I just can't see someone else being able to replicate that, particularly not without knowing and working with Puzo.

    With that said, I'd love to hear from anyone who has read The Godfather Returns already, because my curiosity is killing me.

  • Friend of AG.com, Paul Katcher, has an excellent article up over at ESPN.com Page 3 on the "10 Best Seinfeld Sports Moments." I'm not a huge fan of Page 3, but Paul's article is a must-read. Not only does the article combine two of my favorite, I dunno, 10 things in the entire world -- sports and Seinfeld -- Paul does a very nice job with it.

    Just to let you know how obsessed I am with Seinfeld, consider that the holidays are coming up and my birthday falls on January 3, and I have asked my family for exactly two things: high-quality, plastic playing cards and the new Seinfeld DVD collection. That's it, that's all I could think of that I wanted. Well, that and Elisha Cuthbert, but as far as I know she's not available on Amazon.

    As for everyone else, I hear The Hardball Times 2004 Baseball Annual makes an excellent gift for any occasion!

  • Today at The Hardball Times:

    - Making the Most of What You've Got (by Studes)


    November 25, 2004

    Worlds Colliding

    John Bonnes is one of the first bloggers I can remember reading, and though perhaps not directly, his blog, TwinsGeek.com, is one of the reasons why this blog exists. John's blog moved to the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website in April, where he provided the same great daily Twins content that he provided before that, but for a much bigger audience. It was, I think, a very important step for the local mainstream media to take, as well as a very good addition to the paper's online baseball coverage.

    Sadly, John's final column at StarTribune.com was posted Monday, and his blog has moved back to its old address. I've had the pleasure of hanging out with John several times and I've also spoken to a few other people involved with the Star Tribune, and I always got the sense that the relationship between the paper's "traditional" journalists and John wasn't great. As John said in his "goodbye" column: "The most serious criticism was from journalists who felt that the weblog was an end-around of their union, providing additional sports coverage without paying the dictated wage to a member of the writer's guild."

    John is trying to be civil and respectful, of course, but I think what it boils down to is the fact that many journalists, just like people from all sorts of other walks of life, don't take kindly to an "outsider" invading their turf. Unlike some bloggers I know, John was rarely critical of the local media and was never disrespectful to anyone, but the problem goes beyond that. Quite simply, John is just some guy.

    He didn't go to journalism school, he didn't spend years covering high school football for a small-town paper so he could work his way up the ranks, he didn't break any big news stories or use any inside sources, and he didn't rely on a paycheck from the newspaper to pay his bills. He is just some guy who likes to write about the Twins and, for whatever reason, there are a lot of people who enjoy reading what he has to say.

    The same is true about myself and hundreds of other people out there writing blogs, whether about sports or politics or just random events in life. Just people with voices and keyboards, nothing else. And while there are many members of the mainstream media who react well to this relatively new writing phenomenon, the overwhelming majority have, at the very least, some resentment.

    As a 21-year-old who grew up reading things online and rarely looks at an actual newspaper, I love the fact that there are now an incredible amount of outlets for content on just about any subject you can think of. Rather than rely on my local newspaper to fulfill my Twins-related reading needs, I can head to any number of websites devoted to the team. However, I can certainly see how a 50-year-old journalism veteran with 25 years of reporting experience might not be so excited about the change in the landscape.

    You can look throughout history and find countless examples of one group feeling threatened by another group who, whether through technology or something else, appeared to be challenging their livelihood. Just as a network executive probably ridiculed the idea of people actually paying for television back when cable was born, I think it is natural for someone who has been reading newspapers all their life and writing hard news stories for decades to say, essentially, "Who the hell is this blogger guy and why the hell are we taking him seriously?"

    The mainstream media members who don't react that way -- and there are some, though not as many as there should be -- are the ones who realize that bloggers are not trying to replace them. I didn't start this blog because I thought I could do a better job covering Twins games than the guys at the Star Tribune or the Pioneer Press. In fact, I don't think I've ever written something that fits the description of a "game story" that appears in newspapers after each game. You can get that every day in the newspaper, from trained, skilled writers with unique access to players and coaches, so why in the world would you want to read the same thing from "some guy" with a computer?

    No, I started this blog because I wanted more. I watch nearly every Twins game, from start to finish, and because of that I don't feel as though I need to be told what happened the next day. I have no interest in reading a recap of the game, because I saw it with my own eyes, but what I do want, and what I wasn't getting, was information about how things happened, why things happened, and what might happen in the future.

    If the Twins make a trade, the newspaper will have an article telling you who was traded away and who the Twins got, and they'll have thoughts from players, coaches and front office members. But that's not enough for me. After reading a story like that, I want to know who got the better end of the deal, why the deal was made, what the deal means for the future, what deals might still be made, and on and on and on. In other words, I want some opinion and analysis along with my news. And sometimes I want some opinion and analysis without any news at all.

    That is what bloggers provide. John Bonnes' value is not from recapping what happened in last night's game, because he assumes you watched it, just like he did, or at least read the game story in the paper. His value is the next step beyond that -- like an editorial, but with a little more personality, a little more freedom.

    Journalism is, in my opinion, an incredibly important and honorable field. There is value in knowing someone is reporting the facts and only the facts, and there is value in knowing their sources are trustworthy and their reporting is in-depth and accurate. There is value in the inverted pyramid and the nut graph, and there is value in the game story. But that doesn't mean there isn't value in other things too.

    This is, to use a tired cliche that is nonetheless true, the information age. If you want to know what happened in the Twins game, there are a million different places for you to get that information. Along with that comes a desire for more information and for different types of information, and for the most part newspapers do not provide that. The Star Tribune bringing John Bonnes aboard was a step in that direction, a move to expand their baseball coverage beyond who, what, when, where and how. At the same time, letting him go after a season in which I'm sure he had to face undeserved hostility from people who make their living writing for paper is just as clearly a step back.

    John will no doubt keep plugging along, whether he's at StarTribune.com, TwinsGeek.com or just sending e-mails to his buddies, because that's what he's interested in doing. And people will continue to read him, but not because he went to a good journalism school or spent 15 years climbing the ladder at papers across the country or is affiliated with the Star Tribune. People will continue to read him because he's good at what he does -- he is interesting and unique and he fills a void that the newspaper does not.

    When the Twins begin their 2005 season against the Mariners on April 4, there are two things I am certain of. One is that I'll be watching, as always. The other is that the first Twins-related thing I read the next morning sure as hell won't be a newspaper recap of the game I just watched, it'll be a blog.

    November 24, 2004

    NBA Notes (and Juan Castro)

    I keep promising to write more about the NBA without actually doing it, so today I'm going to finally pretend to be a basketball blogger. Plus, I have a few choice words about the Twins' big free agent signing.

    Twenty-Footers

    Philadelphia swingman Kyle Korver -- who looks amazingly like "Theo" from the Real World/Road Rules Challenges on MTV -- has one of the more interesting stat lines of the young season. Korver has played 10 games for a total of 281 minutes and has attempted 84 shots -- 67 of them from three-point land. The ratio was even more lopsided before his last two games, when "only" 11 of his 21 shots were from long range. In his first eight games, 56 of Korver's 63 shots (88.9%) were three-pointers.

    I know a lot of people like to talk about the three-pointer as something negative, but I've always been of the belief that teams with good shooters need to shot more threes. It is difficult for a team to shoot 50% from two-point range, but it's not all that tough for them to shoot the equivalent of that -- 33.3% -- from three-point range. All of which is why I love the way Phoenix and Seattle are playing so far this year, hoisting up 22 three-pointers per game. Their offenses look an awful lot like what you'd see if you were watching me play NBA Live 2005.

    I am clearly no expert on basketball strategy or coaching, but what seems obvious to me is that teams should eschew difficult two-point shots in favor of three-pointers. I'm all for dunks, layups and uncontested mid-range jumpers, but if you're going to shoot a 20-footer with a hand in your face, you might as well step back a few feet and at least make it worth 50% more. Plus, you can typically get a decent look at a three-pointer at any point during a possession, giving a team more time to run their offense in an effort to get an easy shot. And when you miss a three-pointer, there's usually more of an opportunity for an offensive rebound.

    On that same sort of note, I have sung the praises of a stat called "Adjusted Field Goal Percentage" in this space before. It basically accounts for the fact that a guy who goes 4-for-10 from three-point land has actually scored 12 points, compared to a guy who goes 4-for-10 on two-pointers only coming up with eight points. That's a huge difference and something that isn't accurately portrayed in simple field goal percentage. There are better stats for measuring this sort of thing than adjFG%, but it is easy to calculate -- ((PTS-FTM)/FGA)/2 -- and readily available at ESPN.com.

    So far this season, Korver is leading the world in adjFG%, thanks to shooting a remarkable 70.6% on two-pointers and 44.8% on three-pointers. All of which adds up to an adjFG% of 67.9%, efficiency Shaquille O'Neal can't even come close to matching while staying three feet from the basket at all times. I have only seen the 76ers play once so far this year, so I can't say for sure, but it seems obvious that Korver is either throwing up three-pointers or nailing easy two-pointers, with nothing in between.

    In other words, 20-footers are for suckers.

    UPDATE: Here's a great e-mail I got from longtime reader Kevin Pelton, over at HoopsWorld.com:

    We're truly watching history in the making here with Korver. Here's where he'd rank amongst the most three-heavy players of all time, minimum 500 FGAs:
    Player             Year  3A/FGA
    
    -------------------------------
    KYLE KORVER 04-05 0.798
    Walter McCarty 03-04 0.700
    Chuck Person 95-96 0.657
    Voshon Lenard 96-97 0.646
    Matt Maloney 96-97 0.620

    That group essentially features guys, like Korver, who were key players for their team. If you cut down to 250 FGAs, there is one bigger specialist.

    Player             Year  3A/FGA
    
    -------------------------------
    Dan Majerle 01-02 0.813
    Dee Brown 99-00 0.725
    Dan Majerle 99-00 0.720
    Dee Brown 98-99 0.705

    I saw Korver play once, and it looks like when he does upfake or drive, he's looking to pass. His assists are way up this year, which, along with his rebounding and the otherworldliness of his shooting, has allowed him to become a key player and not just a shooter.

    Fifteen-Footers

    One trend that I've noticed so far this year is that teams are going to the free throw line a lot more than they have in past seasons. The average NBA team attempted 23.8 free throws per game in 2001-02, 24.4 per game in 2002-03, and 24.2 per game last season. So far this year, teams are averaging 26.9 free throw attempts per game. That may not seem like a huge difference, but it is an 11.1% increase over last season and last year only three teams -- the Lakers, Clippers, and Wizards -- averaged that many.

    As you might guess, the extra team free throws are mostly trickling down to star players. Right now there are five different players averaging 10+ free throw attempts per game, 12 players averaging 8+, and a total of 30 players attempting at least six per game. Compare those numbers to years past:

                 FT ATTEMPTS / G
    
    SEASON 10+ 8+ 6+
    2001-02 1 4 14
    2002-03 1 5 17
    2003-04 1 5 13
    2004-05 5 12 30

    The only player to average more than 10 free throw attempts per game in any of the past three seasons is O'Neal, who did so each year (averaging 10.7, 10.8, and 10.1). He is once again attempting 10+ this season with 11.7 per game (also up, just like everyone else), but ranks just third in the league, behind Dwyane Wade (12.3/G) and Kobe Bryant (12.1). It's still very early in the season and the sample-sizes are small enough that things could go back to normal pretty easily, but it'll be something to keep an eye on for the rest of the year.

    I've read and heard that the NBA has instructed officials to crack down on calling fouls in various circumstances and this is certainly an interesting way to deal with the decreased scoring problem. However, I don't think the fact that scores have been down over the past several years is really the actual issue, but rather a result of a change in the overall style of play that has people disinterested. Sending teams to the line a few extra times per game so they can get an easy couple points, while upping the scoring, isn't fixing much of anything. (Although I could see where calling things closer may eventually lead to more free-flowing offense.)

    Juan Castro

    The Minnesota Twins signed Juan Castro yesterday. Before I complain about this, I just want to make it very clear that I have no problem with signing Castro, at least in theory. Every team needs bench players and the Twins in particular have never been deep in middle infielders. Plus, if this means the Twins are less likely to bring Luis Rivas back next season, I'm all for it. I never even thought to discuss Castro when I wrote a few thousand words on the available free agents at each position earlier this month, but adding some punchless utility infielder is never a particularly big deal.

    However, what strikes me as problematic are the terms of the deal. First, the Twins gave him a two-year contract with an option for a third season. I can't for the life of me think of a reason to give a player like Castro two guaranteed years, let alone a third year that you have to spend money to buy him out of. He is the type of player -- a good defender with zero offensive skills -- who is available every single year, and usually for no more than a minor-league, non-guaranteed contract.

    The Twins signed a nearly identical utility infielder, Augie Ojeda, to a typical minor-league deal last year and he ended up doing very well for them in 30 late-season games, after spending most of the season in the minors. But why two guaranteed years for a guy who in no way differentiates himself from the deep pool of potential backup infielders like Ojeda that are available each offseason?

    Beyond that, not only is Castro guaranteed money over the next two years, he's guaranteed a relatively large amount of money. Castro will make $1 million in both 2005 and 2006, and then the Twins will decide if they'd rather pay him another $1 million to play in 2007 or buy him out for $50,000. That means, at the very least, a team that figures to have a payroll of around $55 million in each of the next two years just committed to paying a run-of-the-mill utility infielder three times the minimum salary ... for two seasons!

    I just can't wrap my head around this deal. It's not a horrible, franchise-crippling move by any means, but it is one of those things that sort of shakes your belief system. With most deals I think are bad ones, there is at least a discernible "logic" behind them; with this deal I can't see one at all. There is no way the market for Castro forced Terry Ryan to give him two guaranteed years to secure his services, and even if it did, who cares? There are plenty of guys just like him who will play for a one-year deal.

    And if for some reason you feel the need to lock up your utility infielder for more than a year and you're going to give him a million bucks per season, why not at least try to sign someone with a little value? You're telling me none of Jose Vizcaino, Pokey Reese, Craig Counsell, Jose Valentin, Chris Gomez, Barry Larkin, Jose Hernandez or Ramon Martinez could have been had for $2 million over two years?

    Every year, every team in the majors signs a handful of guys like Castro to either fill bench roles in the big leagues or provide insurance at Triple-A. It's almost as if Ryan just decided to pick one of those guys at random and hand him this contract. I can't even begin to imagine the sales pitch Castro's agent gave to the Twins. "Listen Terry, he's just an useless as Rivas, but he'll only cost you one-third as much!"

    Oh, and here's a little stat I stumbled across while trying to find something to explain this deal: During Castro's 10-year career (1995-2004), no hitter in all of baseball has had a worse on-base percentage (.269) or OPS (.600) in as many plate appearances (1,742). Chew on that for a while, and then think about the fact that he'll make about three times as much as Justin Morneau over the life of his contract.

    Today at The Hardball Times:

    - About Those Predictions ... (by Aaron Gleeman)


    November 23, 2004

    My S--- Doesn't Work in the World Series

  • I know it's a slight variation of Billy Beane's now-famous line from Moneyball, but my s--- doesn't work in the World Series. Or at least it didn't this year. I advanced to the World Series in both of my Diamond-Mind keeper leagues this year, but came up empty each time. In the first league, I took a 3-2 lead over Bill Liming's team and then blew the final two games. Then I nearly got swept in the second league, staving off elimination with a Game 4 win, before losing 4-1 to Joe Dimino's team.

    Before the series, Joe told me, "It's going to take a miracle for me to beat you." Some miracle. My defense was as bad as a defense could possibly be, booting routine grounders, throwing balls into the stands, dropping fly balls, botching double plays, and overthrowing all sorts of cutoff men. It was a mess, although I suppose that's what I get for having an Aubrey Huff-Derek Jeter-Alfonso Soriano-Richie Sexson infield, along with Sammy Sosa in right field. Much like the idiot who threw a full beverage at Ron Artest in Detroit, I was asking for it (although unlike the guy in Detroit, I actually got it).

    It's back to the drawing board for next year. I am blowing up my team in one league, trading away all of my veteran players (Jim Thome, Andruw Jones, Brad Radke, etc.) and rebuilding on the fly. In the other league, I'm not planning on any huge changes, but it could be a sub par year thanks to guys like Barry Zito, Derek Lowe, Sexson and Sosa having rough seasons (Diamond-Mind replays the previous year, so "next year" will be 2004).

    The good news is that I have now played five full seasons of Diamond-Mind, three years in one league and two years in another. I have made the playoffs in all five seasons and have been to the World Series four times, which sounds really impressive. The bad news is that I have just one championship to show for it, with little hope of another next year.

  • Actors always talk about not wanting to get "type cast," and a fate even worse than that is when you have one memorable role and then spend the rest of your life being remembered solely for that. For instance, the guy who played "Steve Urkel" on Family Matters could make 1,000 incredible movies and play 1,000 incredible parts and he will still always be "the guy who played Steve Urkel." Just ask Jason Alexander how many people call him "George" every day.

    So there I was watching Elf, a very solid, entertaining movie starring Will Ferrell and James Caan. Right in the middle of it, I saw a familiar face on the screen -- Artie Lange from The Howard Stern Show, who was playing a mall Santa Claus. From the moment I saw Artie until the moment his scene was over, I couldn't concentrate on the movie or suspend reality for even a second. In fact, I literally yelled out, "Artie!" when he popped up on screen. Luckily for Artie his one memorable role is playing himself on a radio show.

    Speaking of Howard Stern, he had a funny bit on this very subject a few years ago. He was talking about the difficulty some actors have getting past their one famous role and he brought up Fred Gwynne from The Munsters as an example. Gwynne was an actor for 40 years and appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows, but as Howard said, when he saw Gwynne playing the role of "Judge Chamberlain Haller" in My Cousin Vinny, the only thing he could think of was, "Hey, Herman Munster is a judge!"

  • I talked a little while back about what a great show Scrubs is, and a bunch of you e-mailed me to recommend Garden State, a movie written by, directed by, and starring Scrubs star Zach Braff. I checked it out over the weekend and thought it was fantastic. Braff plays a very similar character to "J.D." from Scrubs (which is probably just himself, with different names) and his co-star, Natalie Portman, was also excellent.

    Her character is one of those girls you can't help but have a crush on, like Elisha Cuthbert's "Danielle" in The Girl Next Door and Scarlett Johansson's "Charlotte" in Lost in Translation. I wasn't a big Portman fan before this, but I have a newfound respect for her now. Either that or I just wish I could pick up a cute girl who is a pathological liar and has to wear a helmet at the doctor's office.

  • I was cruising the NFL boxscores from this weekend yesterday when I noticed Eagles fullback Thomas Tapeh rushed for 14 yards on four carries against the Redskins. It was the first I had seen Tapeh's name this year, although he apparently had three prior carries for three yards back in Week 1. Minnesotans will remember Tapeh from his days with the Gophers, where he was an oft-injured running back and then an oft-injured fullback who was very productive during the rare times he was healthy.

    What I will always remember Tapeh for is a game he had in high school against my alma mater, Highland Park. Tapeh rushed for a state-record 385 yards with me in attendance back in 1997. It was easily one of the most remarkable athletic feats I have ever seen, as Tapeh looked not totally unlike a pinball all night long. I would guess he was actually tackled no more than two or three times, either scoring a touchdown or mercifully running out of bounds every other time he touched the ball.

    I remember going to the concession stand near one end zone at some point in the second half, with Tapeh's team (Johnson) winning by multiple touchdowns. The play was at the other end of the field, at least 80 yards away, and all of a sudden I saw this lone player running towards me, getting bigger and bigger, closer and closer. Needless to say it was the longest of six touchdowns he scored that night. He also kicked an extra-point just for good measure and even lined up at quarterback a few times, just to screw with our minds a little bit.

    Tapeh is a guy to root for. He has a pretty intriguing personal story (grew up in Liberia, struggled to pass entrance exams to get into school) and is an example of an incredible talent who had a number of major setbacks and still persevered. He was a burner in high school, a guy who was a stud halfback and track star, and then had to completely change his body and his game because he kept breaking his feet in college (first he'd break one and recover, then he'd break the other one). And now he's an NFL fullback.

  • Today at The Hardball Times:

    - Of Fades, and Flops, and Zoilo (by Steve Treder)

    - The Free Agent Win Shares Chart (by Studes)


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