July 13, 2003

My self-imposed ban

Sadly, the Minnesota Twins continued to suck this weekend.

Johan Santana made his first start of the season as an official member of the rotation on Friday night against the Angels and he pitched okay, but not great. Santana gave up 3 runs in 6 innings, while striking out 4 and walking none. One of those "earned" runs came when Luis Rivas lost a routine pop-up in the lights, which would have been the 3rd out of the inning. Instead, it fell for a "double" and the Angels scored their first run of the ballgame. For those of you who know how much I love Santana and how much I dislike Rivas, you can probably imagine my reaction to that particularly play (it sounded something like "@#$%&*^!RIVAS@#^&%$&$@!"). Nevertheless, it was a nice start for Santana and Ron Gardenhire and the rest of the team was very complimentary of his performance.

After losing Santana's start on Friday night, the Twins then dropped games to Anaheim on Saturday and Sunday too. They are now 44-49, 5 games below .500 and are now in third-place, behind both Kansas City and Chicago. The Twins, who won 94 games and the division last year and, at one point this season, were 38-27, are now closer to fourth-place than they are first-place. They have lost 8 games in a row and 22 of their last 28 since the middle of June.

The All-Star Game is coming at a good time for the Twins, because they could use a break from losing games and, at this point, the only way that's going to happen is if they don't have to actually play any games.

I am so completely frustrated/annoyed/confused with the Twins right now that I have decided I will stop writing about them until they get back to .500. I may throw in an occasional Johan update or a note about a trade or something, but if they don't get to .500, they won't have the honor of having thousands of words devoted to them on this blog. I'm sure that'll motivate them!

I've banned myself from discussing the Twins, so let's see what else I can find to talk about...

I have given Joe Morgan a ton of heat on this blog (and deservedly so, in my opinion), but Joe's most recent column on ESPN.com, entitled "Clemens, Sosa snubs prove All-Star criteria is wrong," is a very good one. Since I have no problem tearing into Morgan when I think he says dumb things, I should be equally willing to give him credit when he says things I think are intelligent.

Here's one particularly good point that Morgan makes, when discussing why Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa should be all-stars:

"To me, if you choose your roster based only on the first half of the season, that isn't a true All-Star team. Half of a season gets you media attention, but it doesn't make you an All-Star. An All-Star is a player who performs well for full seasons over the course of a career, not just one-half of a particular season. The main exception I would make is for rookies and other younger players who haven't had the opportunity to establish themselves as proven performers. For them, the first half should count more."

I agree 100% with Joe on this issue and could not have said it better myself (although I have tried, both here and other places).

Also, regarding the All-Star Game selections, I have wavered back and forth on my thoughts about the mandatory one-player-per-team rule and whether or not it is a good thing. In the end though, I don't like the rule and it comes down to the fact that all-time greats like Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Frank Thomas are being squeezed off of the teams because there is a rule requiring space be reserved for the Lance Carters and Rondell Whites of the world.

While the actual All-Star Game isn't until Tuesday, the "Futures Game" was played yesterday afternoon. Given the choice between watching either the All-Star Game or the Futures Game, I would take the Futures Game every single time. For those of you who are unfamilar with the Futures Game, it is essentially an all-star game for minor league prospects.

As anyone who has read my stuff over at Baseball Primer knows, I am a big-time minor league baseball nut, so being able to watch 50 of the best prospects in baseball all play on the same field, in the same game is a real treat for me.

There are many things about the way Major League Baseball markets the sport that confuse me, and the all-star break is a very good example. While FOX and Major League Baseball have been cramming commercials for the All-Star Game down our throats for months now ("THIS TIME IT COUNTS!"), I did not hear a single mention of the Futures Game. The NBA has their version of the Futures Game, the "Rookie Challenge," and they make it a featured part of their all-star festivities. Meanwhile, the MLB Futures Game was played on a Sunday afternoon, before the all-star break had even started. It was actually on at the same time as several regular season games, including the Twins/Angels contest.

It seems to me that a league seemingly desperate to find new attractions for their fans to be interested in, even at the expense of changing the long-held traditions of the sport, would be interested in promoting a game that features the young stars of the minor leagues, the men who eventually will be the stars in the major leagues, and the players whom Bud Selig and company will eventually be wanting fans to have an interest in.

I love watching the Futures Game every single year and I suspect there are tons of fans across the country who would love it too, if only it received a fraction of the promotion and hype that the All-Star Game gets.

Going back just one year, to last season's Futures Game, the roster is filled with guys currently playing big roles at the major league level. Angel Berroa, Jose Reyes, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau, Hee Seop Choi, Victor Martinez, Francisco Rodriguez, Carl Crawford, Marlon Byrd, Brandon Phillips, Orlando Hudson, Lyle Overbay, Brett Myers - the list goes on and on.

Going back just a few years, you find some pretty big-time names and several players who will be playing in the All-Star Game tomorrow. Lance Berkman, Hank Blalock, Mark Buehrle, Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles, Mark Mulder, Corey Patterson, Joel Pineiro, C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells and Barry Zito - just to name a few.

The fact that the game is a complete afterthought and is essentially ignored and lost in the endless All-Star Game promotion is a real shame and a big mistake. Of course, "real shames" and "big mistakes" are nothing new for Major League Baseball.

In other news...

The Texas Rangers and Florida Marlins completed a somewhat large transaction over the weekend, with the Rangers sending "proven closer" Ugueth Urbina to Florida in exchange for 3 minor league prospects.

Just a few weeks ago, I discussed all the Urbina trade rumors that were flying around:

"Baseball teams are very strange sometimes. This off-season, Ugueth Urbina was available to any team interested in signing him. After being let go by the Red Sox, Urbina ended up signing a 1-year deal with the Rangers for $4,500,000.

And now, just a few months after he was available to be had for less than $5 million and a one-season commitment, the Rangers are in a position to receive actual valuable players in return for trading him to another team, all because they were willing to pay his salary for like three months.

That's not to say that he's not worth trading for, because he is. And it's not to say that teams are stupid for giving up something in order to get him from Texas, because they're not. Just that, if there are so many teams interested in Urbina in June, you'd think a few of them would have been interested in him in January - when they could have had him for just a salary, instead of a salary and players."

Not only did the Rangers receive "actual valuable players" in exchange for Urbina, they got one of the top prospects in all of baseball. The headline name among the 3 prospects they received is Adrian Gonzalez, the former #1 overall pick in 2000 draft. Before the season, I rated Gonzalez as the #22 overall prospect in baseball. He has struggled at times this season and there are some injury concerns surrounding him, but he's still one of the better hitting prospects in baseball and the fact that the Rangers were able to get him and two other prospects for half a season of Ugueth Urbina is remarkable and a huge credit to Rangers' GM John Hart.

Of course, the Rangers aren't exactly hurting for more hitting, so adding Gonzalez, a first baseman, to the mix doesn't address their massive need for pitching, but adding good players to the organization is always a good idea and they can sort out the details later.

In exchange for Gonzalez, Ryan Snare and Will Smith, the Marlins receive the remainder of Urbina's 2003 season, which is likely about 30-35 innings, maybe 40 at the most. Considering his ERAs over the last 5 seasons are 3.69, 4.05, 3.65, 3.00 and 4.19 (so far this season), I just can't see any reason for the Marlins to make this deal. Florida is currently in 4th place in the NL East, 13 games behind the Braves. On the other hand, they are only 4.5 games out in the Wild Card standings, so they are actually in contention for a post-season spot still. But how much is 40 innings from a guy with a 4.19 ERA going to help a 49-46 team making a run for the playoffs? And, is whatever help he can give going to be worth the next 15 years of Adrian Gonzalez's career, let alone the careers of Ryan Snare and Will Smith? Of course not.

If a half-season of Urbina is worth 3 prospects, including a former #1 overall pick from just a few years ago, how much is legit superstar like Brian Giles worth to a team? Or even someone like Shannon Stewart? Hell, if I were the Twins (and yes, I realize I said I would stop talking about them), I'd be on the phone, seeing how many top prospects I could get for Eddie Guardado. He's just as much of a "proven closer" as Urbina.

Pardon the pun, but there seems to be something fishy going on here. Remember last year when the Expos traded for Bartolo Colon from Cleveland and sent the Indians 3 top prospects? And then remember, just a few months later, when the Expos sent Colon to the White Sox and all they got in return was a damaged Orlando Hernandez, Rocky Biddle and Jeff Liefer (whom they later released)? This Urbina deal feels the same way to me, but maybe I'm wrong. I get nervous when Jeffrey Loria is involved.

Today's picks:

No Games Scheduled

Total to date: + $1,015

W/L record: 170-169 (1-3 on Friday for -260 and just barely hanging on above 1,000 and above .500)

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