December 2010


Caught Looking wishes everyone a Merry Christmas. Please enjoy a great YouTube find of the Charlie Brown Christmas performed by the cast of Scrubs. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!

Advertisements

As the holiday season approaches (yes, Christmas is only one week away!), here are some offseason links on signings, trades and reactions from around the web…

MLB.com handed out their first GIBBY (Greatness in Baseball Yearly) awards during a one-hour show on MLB Network Friday night. The full list of winners can be found here.

Tom Boorstein of SNY.tv looks at life without Cliff Lee and what the Yankees can do from here.

The baseball world lost a legend earlier this week when news of Bob Feller‘s passing broke around the country. He was 92 years young. Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated remembers the Hall of Fame pitcher with a superb column on Feller’s career, and more importantly, his life.

Padres have been very active this month, especially this week when they finally acquired Jason Bartlett from the Rays. Today, they followed it up by signing infielder Orlando Hudson to a two-year deal. Dave Cameron discusses O-Dog’s underrated value over at FanGraphs.

Pat Lackey of WHYGAVS writes a detailed, passionate post on watching the broadcast of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series on MLB Network. I missed the original airing last Wednesday, but have it DVR’d and plan to watch it as soon as I find the time.

Thought the Red Sox were done adding players this offseason? Think again. The Sox continue their own Christmas shopping with the addition of closer Bobby Jenks.

Warning, warning! Shameless plug approaching. Checkout these baseball blogs featured Friday morning on MLB Trade Rumors. Third one down should be rather familiar.

“I can’t play anymore. I can’t hit the ball when I need to. I can’t steal second when I need to. I can’t go from first to third when I need to. I can’t score from second when I need to. I have to quit.”  -Mickey Mantle

What’s more potentially scary?

The Red Sox projected 2011 lineup?

CF Jason Ellsbury
2B Dustin Pedroia
LF Carl Crawford
1B Adrian Gonzalez
3B Kevin Youkilis
DH David Ortiz
RF J.D. Drew
C   Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Marco Scutaro

Or the Phillies 2011 rotation?

RH Roy Halladay
LH Cliff Lee
RH Roy Oswalt
LH Cole Hamels
5th spot: Insert any name here because it doesn’t matter

Speculation is that highly sought free agent pitcher Cliff Lee will make a decision early this week on which team to pitch for in 2011 and beyond to be said team’s ace for years to come. It’s basically down to two teams: Rangers or Yankees. But there have been reports that a third “mystery” team could be involved in talks, though it’s unlikely Lee would end up signing with this unknown team. Well, that kind of talk gets my mind thinking (never a good thing), and I thought what if my hometown Pittsburgh Pirates surprised everyone and signed Lee to a long-term deal? Hey, I can dream at least. Caught Looking enters my dreamland to see what the future would hold for a Cliff Lee-lead Pirates club…

Lee holds a press conference Tuesday afternoon to stun the baseball world with his announcement that he signed a six-year deal worth $146 with the Pittsburgh Pirates that includes a player option for a seventh year. The presser sends shock waves through the country as pundits wonder when the Pirates came into the Lee sweepstakes, and where did they suddenly get the money for the left-handed ace?

Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington is quick to tell media members that this is the move that will help put them over the top.

“We are serious about building a championship-caliber ballclub here in Pittsburgh. We actively pursued multiple starting pitchers this offseason with Correia and Olsen, and we felt that by adding Lee for the next six years gives us the move we have been looking for to make that next step and compete for a championship.”

Lee explains to a hoard of reporters that the Pirates came out of nowhere to sweep him off his feet.

“I honestly didn’t hear from Neal and the Pirates front office until about a week ago, but they brought me in and surprised me with the deal they laid on the table. I love what they are building here and the way they’ve gone about it. This team has a lot of young, talented players that are on the cusp of doing great things. Pittsburgh is a great town with a fantastic ballpark, and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my career here. The Yankees and Rangers made very enticing offers, and this was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but ultimately I felt that Pittsburgh is where I’m supposed to be.”

Columnists and experts around the country bash Lee in print and the internet throughout the rest of the offseason. Meanwhile, Lee mania officially hits the Steel Town as the Pirates see an immediate increase in season tickets, advertising, merchandise sells, etc. Lee’s number 37 jersey easily becomes the Pirates top-selling jersey.

The Pittsburgh Baseball Club opens its 2011 season at Wrigley Field on April 1 with an afternoon game against the Cubs. Lee is on the mound for the Pirates and looks in midseason form on his return to the NL, blanking the Cubs through 7.0 innings of work while striking out eight batters in a Pirates 4-1 victory. Six days later, Lee is on the hill in PNC Park for the home opener in front of a frenzied, sellout crowd the likes of which has not been seen in Pittsburgh for years. Lee mows down the Rockies with a four-hit shutout, and second-year slugger Pedro Alvarez hits two home runs, one into the Allegheny River, as the Bucs cruise to a 7-0 win.

The Pirates hover around .500 through April and May as Lee goes 7-2 with a 2.58 ERA in the first two months. They sit at 35-36 on June 17 when the Bucs travel to Cleveland for an interleague series with Lee’s former employer. Lee starts the first game of the series and has a no-hitter through five before finishing with 8.0 stellar innings and one run allowed to propel the Pirates to a 5-1 win. Lee’s brilliant performance against the Indians was the beginning of a three-game sweep to push the Pirates over .500 as Correia continued his surprising season by blanking the Tribe through seven innings of work the next night. The sweep turns the Bucs red-hot to finish the first half, going 12-6 through their next 18 games to take a 50-42 record (good for second place, 2 games behind the Cardinals) into the All-Star break, which is the first time the Pirates have taken a winning record into the break since 1992.

Lee’s return to the National League has proven to be a success as he owns a 12-4 record with 2.74 ERA in the first half, good enough to start the game for the NL. Lee tosses two scoreless innings in his brief work in the All-Star game. The NL goes on to win its second straight All-Star game with a 7-4 victory over the American League.

With the Pirates playoff aspirations the talk of Major League Baseball at the break, the Pirates fall into a rut to start the second half. The offense goes into a coma as the Bucs struggle to provide Lee any kind of run support. They scuffle back to .500 with a record of 56-56 in early August and fall eight games back in the NL Central. With the playoffs not looking like a realistic possibility, the fans now hold hope that this will at least be the year they can finally end their years of futility and pull out a winning season.

The Bucs enter the month of September one game above .500 with a 69-68 record. Thanks to two wins in the week by Lee, the Pirates bring their record to 74-70 as they desperately try to hold on to this winning season. The city of Pittsburgh gets behind the team hoping to see the end of the record losing seasons streak. Attendance is the highest it has been since PNC Park opened in 2001, and the near-sellout crowds in September show how far this team has come.

With the division out of reach thanks to a hot month of August by Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, the Pirates play .500 ball for the majority of the month and continue to countdown their own “magic number” to a winning season.

On September 23, 2011, with the Pirates hosting their last three-game series of the season against the Reds, they sit at 81-75 and need just one more victory to clinch a winning season. As fate would have it, Lee just happens to be starting for Pittsburgh that Friday night as a sellout crowd watches in anticipation. Lee pitches as if it was Game 3 of the ALCS, fanning 14 Reds on the night for a three-hit, one run complete game victory for his 20th win of the season. It’s the franchise’s first 20-game winner since John Smiley in 1991. Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Alvarez all go deep for the Pirates as the celebration starts early in a Pirates 12-1 rout. The win halts the franchise’s losing streak at 18 straight seasons and the Pirates celebrate like they have just won the pennant. Lee is given the key to the city prior to Saturday night’s game, and the Pirates finish the season with two more wins to end with an 84-78 record.

Lee is awarded the NL Cy Young award, the second of his career, with a 20-8 record and 2.89 ERA while leading the Majors in complete games and strikeout-walk ratio. Alvarez comes into his own in his second ML season as the Pirates premier power bat with 37 home runs, 42 doubles and a slash line of .272/.352/.528. McCutchen excels in his third season becoming the newest member of the 20-30 club after belting 26 home runs and swiping 31 bases in his first All-Star year. The rotation seems to have fed off of Lee all year as well. Correia turns out to be another solid pickup in the offseason as he finishes his surprising year with 14 wins and a 3.80 ERA. James McDonald and Paul Maholm each picked up 10+ wins, which rounds out a rotation that exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations.

The Pirates use 2011 as a stepping stone in the right direction and are ready to take the next leap forward. 2010 No. 1 draft pick Jameson Taillon arrives in 2012 and teams with Lee to become one of the best 1-2 punches in the game. The Pirates roll through a weak NL Central to finish 92-70 for their first division title since ’92. After defeating the Braves in the NLDS for a very late dose of revenge, the Pirates meet the Phillies in a NLCS battle of the Keystone state. Lee faces the pitcher the Phillies got to replace Lee years ago and defeats Roy Halladay in a pitching duel that goes down as an instant classic. The Pirates advance to the World Series for the first time since 1979 and meet the New York Yankees. Lee shows the Yankees what could have been if he had signed in the Bronx. He wins all three games he starts in the Fall Classic to lead the Bucs to their sixth world championship by defeating the Yankees in seven games.

Not even two months later on December 21, 2012, Earth spins off its axis, skips out of orbit and flies into the sun promptly ending the world.

In another life long ago, I worked in minor league baseball and was fortunate to attend a few winter meetings (Dallas in 2005 and Orlando in 2006). It’s a surreal experience for any baseball fan to suddenly be there in the midst of baseball personnel at every turn. Let me tell you what pretty much goes down as I remember it.

There’s a main hotel lobby that is the hub of everything. You stand there and look around to see famous reporters like Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal, agents like Scott Boras, managers like  Jim Leyland, front office executives and even some players. Barry Bonds made a splash was he unannounced made an appearance into the hotel in Orlando back in ’06. A friend and I would hang out in said lobby at night and rub elbows with reports and other baseball dignitaries while being an earshot of any rumor that Peter Gammons is hearing as well. MLB.com would have a remote set up in one of the hallways, which has now been joined by MLB Network. It’s truly a cool experience for fans. Anyway, just a brief recap of what I remember from ’05 and ’06. Here are some thoughts on the most recent meetings that just finished up from Orlando.

  • So much for that rough economy last year that limited teams’ spending. The Nationals are single-handedly trying to stimulate the economy themselves. Werth signs for $126MM, plus the Nats are in the hunt for Cliff Lee and Carl Pavano. Say what you want about the deals, but the Nats are suddenly willing to spend money to compete.
  • At this point I’m fairly certain Scott Boras would be able to negotiate a seven-year deal worth $22 million for me at my current job. Who thought we would see so much talk on seven-year deals to players in their 30s?
  • Here’s an intriguing thought—even though I do think Lee will eventually sign with the Yankees, what if he does decided that he loved Texas enough to accept their deal over the Yanks. How much of a blow would that be to New York? A team that has done pretty much nothing to this point in the offseason. Plus, they are still waiting to hear if Andy Pettitte is coming back, and the Red Sox just went out and made the biggest splash (or splashes) by acquiring Adrian Gonzalez via trade and signing free agent Carl Crawford and are considered the frontrunners for catcher Russell Martin. Lee signing anywhere else but New York would be a disaster for the Yankees at this point.
  • The Orioles were certainly active in deals by trading with the Twins for shortstop J.J. Hardy and infielder Brendan Harris, and picked up slugger Mark Reynolds in a trade from Arizona. That’s all great for the O’s, but if you saw this team in 2010 they need pitching. Though they did just sign Koji Uehara and just offered reliever Kevin Gregg a two-year deal so that’s a start.
  • The Royals apparently have a liking for ex-Braves. Melky and Francoeur in one week? How will the Braves recover from losing these two studs?
  • It’s really discouraging as a Pirates fan or a fan of any small market team to see the big boys go out and sign Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee and other big names and then see the Buccos pull in guys like Scott Olsen, Kevin Correia and Matt Diaz. The Pirates were definitely active at the meetings, but ugh. Olsen and Correia may just be an upgrade to Zach Duke, who was dealt to Arizona for Cesar Valdez earlier this offseason.

There you have it as the winter meetings conclude for another year. The next question this offseason is who will Lee sign with and when?

“Irresponsible.”

“Absolutely batshit crazy.”

These are just a few of the great quotes from the reaction to the Jayson Werth deal. Years from now we may look at free agency and remember deals before the Jayson Werth contract and deals after the Jayson Werth contract.

Werth is not a superstar. Yet the Nationals seem to think he is one when they threw the free agent market out of whack by signing him to a seven-year deal for $126 million. It’s the third largest contract for an outfielder in MLB history. Manny Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano are the only two OFs to land larger deals than Werth’s mega contract.

Werth did not become an everyday player until 2008 with the Phillies. In three years in Philadelphia, Werth hit 24, 36 and 27 home runs, but has yet to have a 100-RBI season. Not to mention his clutch ability left something to be desired in Philly…he hit .186 with runners in scoring position in 2010. His career slash line is .272/.367/.481. He will turn 32 years old next May, which means he’ll be 39 once this contract expires. Werth was a nice complement piece in Philadelphia with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins being the stars. In Washington, Werth will be expected to be a star on a team that features one other top hitter in Ryan Zimmerman. This signing screams of a panic move by the Nats for losing slugger Adam Dunn to the White Sox, which begs the question of if they can afford Werth for $126MM why couldn’t they keep Dunn at $56MM over four years? The Dunn deal is less risk, more proven, and in my opinion, a more valuable player.

I just can’t envision a scenario where the Nats don’t end up regretting this signing. Even if Werth has a couple great seasons in that nation’s capital, I don’t see him producing all the way until he’s almost 40 years old. These are the kind of contracts that get teams like the Nationals in trouble. See the Rangers committing a good portion of their payroll to A-Rod years ago. It took them years to get out of that hole. The Yankees of the world can get away making a

This ridiculous contract will not only affect the Nationals, but will also leave a lasting mark on the entire free agent landscape this offseason. Carlos Pena picked up $10 million for a one-year deal with the Cubs, Carl Crawford is about to become a very rich man to play for the Red Sox and who knows what other crazy deals we’ll see before we reach spring training.

I was just about to work on a post on the biggest move this offseason being that of the White Sox signing slugger Adam Dunn when the Red Sox go out and acquire Adrian Gonzalez in a trade with San Diego.

The whole Gonzalez trade rumors have been discussed for a couple of years now at every trade deadline, but a move was never made until now. The Padres surprising success this year had something to do with them holding onto him throughout the season. But now he is a Red Sox, and we finally get to see what he can do is a ballpark outside of Petco.

Details on the trade are not official yet, but obviously the Red Sox will have an immediate return with a A+ power bat to plug into the lineup next to Big Papi and Kevin Youkilis. I just can’t wait to see what Gonzo can do going from an extreme pitcher’s park to a hitting haven like Fenway Park. Let’s break down Gonzalez’s career in San Diego…

In his five years with the Padres, Gonzalez hit a total of 161 home runs, an average of 32 bombs per year. This was coming out of a park that is considered one of the worst hitter’s park for homers in the league. Out of the 168 home runs in his career, 64 percent of those have come on the road. Plus, his average is 40 points higher away from Petco.

According to park factors.com, Petco Park is a -74 rating (76R, 72 HR), meaning that in the years 2007-2009 Petco produced 76 runs for every 100 runs scored in an average MLB park and 72 home runs for every 100 home runs. Petco’s ranking is dead last among all ballparks. On the flip side, Fenway plays close to neutral with a +101 rating (111R, 90HR).

Not only is the ballpark change going to be a huge factor, but Gonzalez rarely had any protection whatsoever in his seasons with the Padres. Add that up with him being in his prime (29 years old next year), and we could see a ridiculous 2011 season for Gonzalez in Fenway.

Berkman and Dunn signings
In other news, Dunn signed a four-year deal with the White Sox worth $56MM. This deal isn’t much of a surprise considering it’s no secret that the Sox have wanted Dunn for a while now. They went as far last year to acquire Edwin Jackson from the Diamondbacks in hopes that they could flip him to the Nationals for Dunn. There were plenty of rumors in July at the trade deadline of the White Sox front office being furious with the Nats for apparently backing off of a deal for Jackson after telling them they would deal Dunn for Jackson. Maybe if the White Sox acquire Dunn, their second half of the season would have been different, but anyway they have him on their roster now for four years. Speaking of park factors, Dunn moves into an absolute launching pad at Chicago’s US Cellular Field (+118 rating, 109R, 126HR) so expect to see his home run totals climb at a high rate.

Last up for today is the news that the Cardinals signed Lance Berkman to a one-year deal for $8 million. I’m not sure how much the 37-year-old slugger has left as he’s coming off his worst ML season (.248/.368/.413). He still gets on base a ton, but his power looks to be in serious decline. The weird thing about this pickup is there’s talk that the Cards will put Berkman in the outfield. Who would allow Berkman to touch the outfield? He hasn’t played it since 2007, and while I don’t live by some of the advanced defensive sabermetric statistics, his numbers in the outfield were pretty horrid.

Next Page »