October 23, 2005

Open Chat: Wow

As painful as it was watching the White Sox take a 2-0 lead in the World Series -- seriously, read that again -- last night's game was amazing. For my extended take on one of the better games I've ever seen, head over to The Hardball Times and check out:


The Hardball Times: Playing in the Rain

And as always, feel free to discuss the game or anything else you feel like discussing in the comments section.

Today's Picks (128-109, +$1,930):
New York +7.5 (-110) over Atlanta


October 20, 2005

Link-O-Rama

  • I get a kick out of people who are completely delusional. I'm not talking about people who simply don't have a great grip on who they are, but rather the people whose opinion of themselves is almost completely opposite of reality. Because of that, I took great pleasure in reading the following about Royce Clayton in the Arizona Republic:
    Shortstop Royce Clayton indicated Thursday that he appears headed toward free agency, where he believes his market value will be greater than the one-year offer the Diamondbacks presented this week.

    Clayton, a Valley resident, would prefer the security of a multiyear deal, and he says he took a hometown discount to play this year and doesn't expect to do it again for the Diamondbacks, who are believed to have made an offer worth around $1.5 million.

    "Knowing that the average major league shortstop is making between $4 million and $5 million," Clayton said, "it would be a disservice to my family to entertain that offer after I put up the two types of seasons that I did."

    In case you're wondering about these two great seasons Clayton is referring to, he hit .279/.338/.397 in 2004 and .270/.320/.351 this year. Those numbers are bad enough taken at face value, but become even worse when you consider that he put them up while playing for the Rockies and Diamondbacks, who play their home games in two of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball. Oh, and Clayton turns 36 years old in January.

    Clayton's statements are like if I tried to sell my 1994 Pontiac Grand Am that occasionally fails to start and has an air-conditioner that works about half the time by saying, "Knowing that the average blue car sells for between $10,000 and $20,000, it would be a disservice to my family to entertain that offer after it drove like it did over the past two years." If there is any justice whatsoever in the world Clayton will have to settle for a spring-training invite and a non-guaranteed minor-league deal this spring.

  • This may come as a huge shock to everyone, but Jessica Alba looks really cute playing video games.
  • Not only can A.J. Pierzynski induce bad calls out of umpires in key playoff games, it turns out he is also an accomplished jello-shooter.
  • Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks the Minneapolis Star Tribune's re-designed website stinks. Seth Stohs, who is far less likely to criticize something than a jerk like me, had this to say about the new online layout:
    I hate to say this. I was a daily reader of the Star-Tribune online site. OK, fine, I would check it out a couple of times a day. It was a great source for information. I have to admit that its new format is awful. It is far more confusing. I don't understand how they could have thought that it was in any way easy. Maybe the online format was done to help the actual newspaper sales? Maybe others will become so frustrated with this horrible new format that they will have to go out and buy the newspaper! That is good news for the St. Paul Pioneer Press because I have started going there now for more sports information.

    So not only have the people in charge at the newspaper decided to put all their time and money into making things look better (rather than, say, making it read better), they've done a poor job of it. You know, because I needed it to be more of a challenge to get to Shecky Souhan's latest batch of one-liners.

  • Ryan Kobliska, whom I'm happy to report is in the AG.com fantasy basketball league, has an extremely good preview of the University of Minnesota basketball team over at his blog, Hawkeye Hoops. He breaks down the team's strengths and weaknesses from last year in a sabermetric style, and then provides in-depth stats and comments for each player.

    For instance, did you know that while Vincent Grier led the Gophers in scoring last season, he was just the fourth-most efficient scorer on the team? Or that the Gophers had the stingiest defense in the Big Ten last year by a fairly wide margin? By the way, for those of you who have been e-mailing me about joining the fantasy basketball league ... sorry, but it filled up about three hours after I posted about it Monday.

  • If you're not already visiting Dead Spin on a daily basis, you're really missing out. This week's highlight? Will Leitch's field trip to Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith.
  • Remember in last week's Link-O-Rama, when I linked to a Wired article about bloggers making money and said, "I remain convinced that a decent living can be scratched out solely from blogging if it's done right, although I have about a dozen too many other writing gigs (and not nearly enough money in the bank) to find out if I'm right"?

    Well, Wayne Hurlbert over at WebProNews.com actually devoted a column to it. I'm looking into hiring Hurlbert to walk around with me on a full-time basis for the sole purpose of introducing me to people, because he really makes me sound quite successful.

  • I can't remember the last time I was simultaneously this excited and this prepared for disappointment regarding a movie sequel: Saw II is apparently coming soon to a theater near you.
  • Paul Shirley had a blog on NBA.com last year describing his life as the 12th man on the Phoenix Suns. He's still trying to latch on with a team for this season, but wherever he ends up Shirley will be writing about his experiences at ESPN.com. I criticize ESPN.com a lot here, but this is a great move.
  • Speaking of criticizing ESPN, can you imagine how many negative things George Solomon would say about the network if he weren't working for them?
  • Larry Bird added to his considerable legend by tacking on three years to a man's jail sentence without even trying.
  • The Raptors began preparing for their horrendous season by losing to an Israeli team led by NBA reject Anthony Parker, who is under no circumstances to be confused with Eva Longoria dater Tony Parker.
  • Here are the links to my Football Daily Dose columns over at FoxSports.com this week: Monday ... Tuesday ... Wednesday ... Thursday. And in case you need to be convinced that reading my writing about football is worthwhile, here's an excerpt from yesterday's column:
    The Cardinals are playing coy with their quarterback situation, which is funny considering their quarterback situation consists of either starting Josh McCown or Kurt Warner Sunday against the Titans.

    "We made the decision, but we're not going to make an announcement until it's time to play the ballgame," coach Dennis Green told the Arizona Republic. "We're not going to make a big deal about it." The only problem is that making a big deal about it is exactly what Green is doing. His non-decision is getting daily coverage in the Arizona media, and the team went so far as having both McCown and Warner share the podium when speaking with reporters Wednesday.

    If ever there was much ado about nothing, this is it. It's like someone taking you to Pizza Hut for your birthday and telling you to keep your eyes closed because they don't want you to see what kind of pizza you're getting. It'll be a secret until the pizza comes out, but you'll still be eating Pizza Hut either way.

    See, I can make pithy comments and bad analogies about multiple sports.

  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - The Big Threes (by John Brattain)
    - Monkey Off Their Backs: Astros reach the World Series (by Brian Gunn)
    - The Windowbreakers (by Steve Treder)

    Today's Picks (126-106, +$2,060):
    Kansas City +1.5 (-110) over Miami

    Saturday's Picks:
    Virginia PK (-110) over North Carolina
    Northwestern +13.5 (-110) over Michigan State
    Iowa -2.5 (-110) over Michigan
    Texas Tech (-110) +17 over Texas


    October 18, 2005

    Hunter Rumors

    When the story about Torii Hunter selling his home in Golden Valley broke last month and rumors of Hunter being on the trading block started to circulate, a lot of Twins fans seemed to brush it off as having no basis in reality. I wrote an entry about potentially dealing Hunter and got quite a few e-mails telling me how silly I was for thinking that the Twins would even consider parting with him.

    Now, I have no idea whether or not Hunter is indeed on the block. However, I do know that his name has been popping up quite a bit in newspapers across the country over the last couple weeks. Below are a few of the Hunter mentions I've stumbled across already this week.

    In a column entitled "How To Fix The Yankees" in Tuesday's Bergen Record, Bob Klapisch wrote:

    Acquire Torii Hunter: The Yankees' defensive liability in center field arguably cost them the division series. Although Bubba Crosby did nothing wrong while crashing into Gary Sheffield in Game 5 - allowing the Angels to the score the decisive runs - a more confident, take-charge outfielder would've tracked the ball before Sheffield got that close.

    [...]

    What would it cost the Yankees to get a Gold Glove center fielder? Considering the drop-off they experienced with Bernie Williams and Crosby, Hunter is worth whatever the Twins ask for - up to and including Carl Pavano, prospects such as Eric Duncan and Phillip Hughes and, of course, old-school cash.

    This is why people love to hate the Yankees. In talking about dealing for a good but certainly not great player, Klapisch says, "Hunter is worth whatever the Twins ask for." Compare that sort of thinking to my reaction to the Twins possibly dealing for Alfonso Soriano a few months back, which was basically "I hope they don't give up anyone decent for him."

    If the Yankees want to give up solid prospects like Eric Duncan and Phillip Hughes, I'd gladly send them Hunter and spend his $10 million somewhere else in 2006. If they want to add in some money or pay for the Twins to take Carl Pavano, that's even better.

    As you might guess, Klapisch isn't even close to the only columnist suggesting the Yankees go after Hunter. In a column entitled "Yankees waiting for Brian's call" in Monday's New York Daily News, Sam Borden wrote:

    Figure out the outfield

    The first step is easy: Re-sign Hideki Matsui, who could be one of the biggest free agents available if the Yanks don't lock him up. Assuming they do - and assuming Matsui stays in left field - the next move is landing a center fielder, most likely via trade. ... [M]aybe a blockbuster with the Twins could be had: Torii Hunter for Robinson Cano?

    Hunter-for-Robinson Cano is actually a deal that has popped into my head, and I would do it without hesitation. Cano was a rookie this year and hit .297/.320/.458 as a 22-year-old second baseman. He has his faults, of course, but he'll make a total of about a million bucks over the next three seasons and would give the Twins a middle infielder with some pop for the first time in a while.

    Jon Heyman of New York Newsday also suggests the Hunter-for-Cano deal, and there are about a dozen other New York papers with writers suggesting Hunter as Bernie Williams' replacement in center field.

    While the Hunter rumors are the strongest in New York, they certainly aren't limited to the East Coast. In a column entitled "Disappointed Angels Look to the Future" in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times, Mike DiGiovanna wrote:

    The Angels could look to trade for a proven run-producer, with Minnesota center fielder Torii Hunter, Boston left fielder Manny Ramirez and Florida first baseman Carlos Delgado possibly in their sights.

    Aside from the fact that calling Hunter "a proven run producer" and then putting him in the same category as Manny Ramirez and Carlos Delgado is extremely amusing, the Angels seem like a believable destination. They have a need in center field, with Steve Finley struggling this year and turning 41 years old next season, they have an owner who is seemingly always willing to add payroll, and they have quite a few good prospects.

    I'd love to see the Twins go after Casey Kotchman, Kendry Morales, Alberto Callaspo, and/or Erick Aybar. I'm assuming Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick are off limits, and Jeff Mathis plays one of the few positions the Twins don't need help at, but I'd even add Dallas McPherson to the list of young guys the Twins would be smart to ask for in a deal.

    The more I think about what it's going to take for the Twins to compete with the White Sox and Indians going forward, the more I think dealing Hunter is a realistic option. It boils down to getting younger, cheaper offensive players to stick in the lineup, while simultaneously being able to use Hunter's significant salary elsewhere. The big question will be whether or not the players being mentioned in connection with Hunter are actually available to the Twins. If they are, Terry Ryan should make a move.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Champagne on Hold: Game 5 of the NLCS (by Brian Gunn)
    - Pujols Carries Cards to St. Louis (by Dan Fox)
    - Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)

    Today's Picks (124-106, +$1,815):
    Houston (Oswalt) +145 over St. Louis (Mulder)

    Thursday's Picks:
    Virginia Tech -10 (-110) over Maryland


    October 17, 2005

    Bargain Shopping

    It may be nothing more than wishful thinking considering how little the Twins have been involved in the free-agent market over the years, but I've been thinking about who the team should target to improve the lineup this offseason. Obviously someone like Brian Giles would be a great fit, but that's almost completely out of the realm of possibility.

    But what if the Twins actually commit to signing a mid-level free agent or two this winter? Who would be the best options? Well, it's tough to say until all the contract options and arbitration-eligible cases have been dealt with, but The Roto Authority had a nice list of who he considers to be the top 50 free agents for this offseason. Some names I think could help the Twins at a relatively reasonable price ...

  • Nomar Garciaparra: He'll likely come cheap and/or for a one-year deal after spending most of the year on the disabled list, especially considering he signed a one-year contract with the Cubs for this season. Nomar hit .283/.320/.452 in 62 games, spent time at third base down the stretch, and would break up the young lefties in the lineup nicely.
  • Reggie Sanders: After spending the first eight years of his career in Cincinnati, Sanders moved around on a yearly basis until sticking with the Cardinals in both 2004 and 2005. He turns 38 years old in December and is injury prone, but Sanders is a plus defender in either outfield corner and hit .271/.340/.546 in 93 games this year.
  • Matt Lawton: After spending parts of seven seasons with the Twins, Lawton is becoming a left-handed version of Sanders by playing for five teams in five years. Like Sanders he's also a little old and a little injury prone, but Matty Law still gets on base (.356 on-base percentage this year, .366 last year) and has quality at-bats.
  • Mike Piazza: I doubt Piazza would leave New York to come play for the Twins, but he'd certainly be a nice fit as the starting designated hitter for a season or two. Plus, if he still wants to get some time behind the plate, Piazza could start in place of Joe Mauer when the Twins face a tough lefty.
  • Erubiel Durazo: Durazo had his season wrecked by injuries, but he was one of the better hitters in the league in 2004, batting .321/.396/.523. Even during an off year in 2003, Durazo hit .259/.374/.430, drew 100 walks, and smacked 21 homers.
  • Mark Grudzielanek: Another guy who is a little old and a little injury prone, but Grudzielanek is a solid defensive second baseman and hit .294/.337/.407 for the Cardinals this season.
  • Tony Graffanino: One of the better utility men in baseball until the Red Sox decided to give him an everyday job this year, Graffanino responded by hitting .309/.366/.425 in 110 games between Boston and Kansas City.
  • Joe Randa: Randa is a decent option at third base, but I fear the Twins are too infatuated with him. He is an average defender and average hitter, batting .276/.335/.452 this year after a great start with the Reds. He'll also be 36 in 2006 and hit just .256/.303/.395 after a midseason trade to the Padres.
  • Bill Mueller: I was against dealing for Mueller at the trade deadline, but I'd be all for signing him to a reasonable one- or two-year deal as a free agent. After a slow start away from hitter-friendly Fenway Park this year, Mueller ended up hitting a solid .307/.380/.410 on the road. He'd plug in nicely in front of Mauer in the #2 hole.
  • Jose Cruz Jr.: His game is walks and power, which means the Twins probably won't be interested, but Cruz is a good defender and above-average offensive player at either outfield corner. There was talk of him being limited by back problems when the Diamondbacks let him go at midseason, but Cruz hit .301/.391/.532 in 47 games with the Dodgers down the stretch.
  • Rondell White: A slightly younger version of Sanders, White has bounced around from team to team over the years while spending too much time on the disabled list. He has played for Detroit over the past two seasons, hitting .270/.337/.453 in 2004 and .313/.348/.489 this year.
  • It's nearly impossible to say which of the above free agents would be the best signing for the Twins, in large part because we don't know how much money they'll command or how many years it will take to sign them.

    For two years and a total of $6 million, most of the players listed above are good buys. For three years and $15 million, I'd probably pass on every one of them. Everything being equal -- and all of these guys being available on the cheap -- I'd go after Mueller, Garciaparra, Sanders, and Durazo. For the right price, however, they'd all help.

    Today's Picks (124-105, +$1,915):
    Florida +155 over New Jersey


    October 16, 2005

    Fantasies

  • In over three years of having this blog, I have realized that very few people care about my fantasy teams. It makes sense, obviously, since I really don't care about anyone else's fantasy teams. But I do care a lot about mine, and this is my website, so that means you're forced to read about it every once in a while.

    Today, I'd like to brag a little bit about one of my Diamond-Mind keeper-league teams. The Minnesota Gophers of the Three Run Homer League -- which includes potentially familiar names like Will Young, Craig Burley, Robert Dudek, Greg Tamer, Bill Liming, Vinay Kumar, Joe Dimino, and Kent Williams -- took home their very first World Series title Saturday.

    The league replays the previous season, which means my team is the 2004 champions. The Gophers advanced to the playoffs as the AL Central winners, going 90-72, and swept the ALDS in four games by a combined score of 40-22. We were matched up against Kumar's powerful club in the ALCS -- his team went 94-68 and featured the 2004 versions of David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Eric Chavez -- and advanced to the World Series in six games.

    Once in the World Series the Gophers met up with Tamer's team, which went 97-65 and featured an offensive machine that scored the second-most runs in the entire league behind Barry Bonds, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, and Mark Kotsay. Sadly, he never got a chance to play me at full strength, as Johan Santana hit Bonds with a pitch in the first inning of Game 1, injuring him for the remainder of the series. With the likes of Tike Redman and Kerry Robinson subbing for Superman, Tamer's team went down without much fight, losing four straight games by the scores of 5-0, 9-2, 9-6, and 7-4.

    For anyone who isn't already bored to death by this recap, here is my team (and their regular-season TRHL numbers):

         HITTERS               G      AVG      OBP      SLG     RUN     RBI
    C Ivan Rodriguez 144 .327 .371 .496 94 75
    1B Justin Morneau 103 .258 .318 .510 50 62
    2B Placido Polanco 154 .275 .317 .394 76 78
    SS Khalil Greene 149 .265 .325 .406 78 64
    3B Mike Lowell 162 .278 .350 .462 90 82
    LF Jason Bay 134 .210 .262 .445 68 89
    CF Carl Crawford 157 .272 .307 .400 72 66
    RF David DeJesus 121 .332 .420 .471 62 49
    DH Shannon Stewart 121 .292 .365 .434 61 56

    Matthew LeCroy 79 .273 .319 .392 20 16
    Joe Mauer 46 .299 .359 .589 20 18
    Chone Figgins 142 .309 .357 .426 84 44
    Brandon Inge 129 .306 .343 .495 52 73
    Marquis Grissom 58 .230 .248 .421 15 26
    Frank Catalanotto 87 .311 .354 .416 23 21

    As you can see, I didn't have a very good offense. In fact, the Gophers ranked just fifth in the 12-team AL with 801 runs scored. The group should have produced more runs, but pretty much everyone but Ivan Rodriguez, David DeJesus, Chone Figgins, and Brandon Inge underperformed from their real-life numbers. Jason Bay's season was particularly brutal -- he hit just .210/.262/.445 after winning the NL Rookie of the Year in real life.

    Thankfully, I had the following pitching staff:

         PITCHERS               IP      W      L      ERA
    SP Johan Santana 242.1 25 6 1.49
    SP Jake Westbrook 243.0 21 9 3.52
    SP Jeff Weaver 223.0 12 14 4.48
    SP Jose Contreras 190.0 16 8 5.07
    SP Cliff Lee 180.2 11 13 5.48

    CL Julian Tavarez 63.0 2 2 2.14
    RP Ricky Bottalico 80.0 1 4 3.38
    RP Travis Harper 80.1 6 9 4.93
    RP Julio Mateo 59.1 1 1 4.70
    RP Steve Kline 56.0 1 3 3.05
    RP Mike Remlinger 39.1 2 2 2.29
    RP Horacio Ramirez 40.1 1 1 4.46

    It was pretty much the Johan Santana Show. Johan went 25-6 with a ridiculous 1.49 ERA in 242.1 innings of work, leading the staff to the second-fewest runs allowed (685) in the AL. I acquired Jake Westbrook midseason and he proved to be a capable #2 starter, going 6-2 with a 3.11 ERA in nine starts after joining the Gophers and 21-9 with a 3.52 ERA overall. Julian Tavarez was the star of the bullpen, posting a 2.14 ERA in 63 innings while saving 38 games.

    And finally, here's my year-by-year record in four TRHL seasons:

    YEAR       W       L     WIN%     POSTSEASON
    2001 84 78 .519 Lost in ALCS
    2002 112 50 .691 Lost in World Series
    2003 100 62 .617 Lost in World Series
    2004 90 72 .556 Won World Series

    Not bad, huh? A combined record of 386-262 (.596) in four seasons, with four AL Central titles, three AL pennants, and one TRHL championship.

  • Speaking of fantasy teams, I have set up the annual fantasy basketball league for readers of this blog. In years past the AG.com fantasy basketball league has been on ESPN.com, which costs money, but this year I've decided to switch to Yahoo.com's free leagues. It's a 12-team, roto-style league using the eight basic scoring categories. The draft is on Sunday, October 30 at 9:45 a.m. CST.

    If you're interested in joining the league, drop me an e-mail. It's always tough to gauge what sort of response there will be for something like this, so the spots will either be awarded first come first serve or I'll have to figure out some way to pick people to join. If you feel like including some information about yourself in the e-mail, feel free. The only real stipulation I have for joining is that you commit to managing your team throughout the season, regardless of its place in the standings.

  • I want to thank all the people who responded to my entry last week about the newspaper business. Entries like that -- full of opinion and personal stuff, without much sports at all -- are often asking for trouble, but the response was fantastic. Not all of you agreed with my points, of course, but even so the dialogue in the comments section was thoughtful, interesting, and peaceful.

    I'd also like to thank everyone who contacted me about the piece outside of the comments, from my friends and family to people in the newspaper business and people who want to be in the newspaper business. Again, not everyone agreed with my sentiments, but that's never my goal here anyway. As for the Minneapolis Star Tribune's re-design, suffice it to say that I've been reading the paper online even less than I was before. It's a mess.

  • Last but not least, congratulations to the White Sox and especially to their fans, who will no doubt be filling my e-mail box and the comments section with all sorts of interesting stuff today. I'd like to point out that while I didn't think the White Sox would win the AL Central or beat the Red Sox in the ALDS, I did correctly predict that they'd advance to the World Series by getting past the Angels.

    Of course, I was rooting against them the entire time. In fact, with the Twins out of it, my entire postseason viewing experience has essentially boiled down to rooting against the White Sox and Yankees. But hey, Chicago is four wins away from their first championship since 1917, the Twins stink, and I'm jealous. Feel free to gloat all you want, because I'm sure I'd be doing the same thing.

  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Killer B's: This Time It's Backe (by David Gassko)

    Today's Picks (123-105, +$1,815):
    Indianapolis -13.5 (-110) over St. Louis


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