January 2011

About a month ago I was approached through this blog to participate in a GM-only Strat-O-Matic baseball league (The Franchise League) as one owner to take over a MLB franchise as of January 1. The objective is to act as that team’s general manager and make trades, sign free agents, release players and work within a salary cap of $100 million payroll.

As a fantasy baseball junkie for years, I jumped at the opportunity. This was something right up my alley that I planned on getting involved in sooner or later. Unfortunately the Pirates franchise was already taken by the time I was asked, so I went with the ol’ Colorado Rockies. My primary reason for taking them over was I like their young players and they still had about $30 mil to work with under the cap.

We went live at the new year and since then there’s been a plethora of trades, and I’m talking about a shit ton of deals. I quietly made a couple deals myself that helped turn my rotation into one of the best in the league…in my opinion at least. If you are interested in reading up on the league, here’s the link to the TFL Constitution. And if you’re interested in possibly joining the league yourself in the future, contact me on my email to the right or through the comments section. There’s currently a small waiting list, but some owners have dropped out due to lack of free time to properly run a team.

Anyway, the following is a write-up by my fictional beat writer—Xander Force. I’ll continue to post my updates from The Franchise League throughout the year to see how my version of the Rockies are doing in a salary cap world. Here’s the Rockies outlook for 2011…


Rockies focus on pitching this offseason
By: Xander Force

DENVER (AP) – Just one month into Ryan Alexander’s reign as Colorado Rockies owner in The Franchise League, it’s easy to decode his number one philosophy—pitching is paramount.

While the majority of TFL owners were busy turning their entire 40-man roster upside down, the Rockies didn’t panic and methodically made a couple of under-the-radar type trades to quietly put together one of the best rotations in the league.

Strapped with RHP Aaron Cook’s $10 million contract, the Rockies shipped him out-of-town while bringing in RHP Matt Garza and LHP John Danks in separate moves. The Garza deal cost the most as Alexander had to give up perennial All-Star player Troy Tulowitski to acquire Garza from the Rays. Then shortly after picking up RHP Justin Masterson in a small deal with the Phillies, the Rockies turned around and dealt Masterson and others to the Twins for Danks.

Danks (15-11, 3.72) and Garza (15-10, 3.91) will join RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (19-8, 2.88), LHP Jorge De la Rosa (8-7, 4.22) and one of the best young pitches in the game in RHP Jhoulys Chacin (9-11, 3.28) in what should be a loaded five-man rotation in 2011. As for the bullpen, RP Huston Street will be in Colorado once again to close the door on Rockies opponents with Matt Lindstrom serving as the setup man. Manny Delcarmen, Matt Belisle, Michael Dunn and free agent pickups Todd Coffey and J.C. Romero appear to be the other arms to round out the Rockies pen in the upcoming season.

As for the lineup, the loss of Tulowitski will hurt in terms of power and leadership, but the Rockies made a couple of moves to solidify the top of their order. They picked up Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki, who is coming off his 10th straight 200-hit season, in a trade with San Diego to pick up hits at the top of the order. Alexander also answered the big hole at shortstop with Tulo leaving town and dealt infielders Eric Young Jr and Reid Brinac for Phillies All-Star Jimmy Rollins. The former Phillies star will most likely bat second behind Ichiro and in front of budding star Carlos Gonzalez.

Free agent pickup Ty Wigginton slugged 22 home runs in 2010, and the Rockies will be banking on that power and more in the four hole as he will split time at third base and first as he spells longtime Rockies first baseman Todd Helton. Wigginton figures to get a lot of time at first due to Helton’s age and the fact that Ian Stewart needs to see the field a lot this year at third base. Speedy center fielder Dexter Fowler was slated to lead off the season, but will now most likely drop in the order behind the heavy bats thanks to the acquisition of Ichiro and Rollins. Catcher Chris Iannetta will look to have a rebound year deep in the lineup with him or 2B Jose Lopez rounding out the eight hitters in front of the pitcher. A dark horse in this lineup could the extra power at the bottom of the order from Lopez, who needs to revert back to his 2009 where he belted 29 home runs for the Mariners. A change of scenery, especially the thin air in Coors Field may be just what Lopez needs to bounce back.

The outlook for this season will depend heavily on the rotation. If healthy, the Rockies own one of the best young rotations in TFL and the most talented staff in the NL West division. If Colorado can find the necessary power from the Wigginton/Stewart/Helton trifecta, this team should be right there in the division and/or wildcard hunt all season. See below for the Rockies projected rotation, bullpen and lineup.

Starting rotation:
1. Ubaldo Jimenez
2. Jon Danks (L)
3. Matt Garza
4. Jorge de la Rosa (L)
5. Jhoulys Chacin

Closer: Huston Street
Setup: Matt Lindstrom
Middle Relief: Manny Delcarmen
Middle Relief: Matt Belisle
Middle Relief: Todd Coffey
Middle Relief: Michael Dunn (L)
Lefty Spec: J.C. Romero (L)

Ichiro Suzuki – RF
Jimmy Rollins – SS
Carlos Gonzalez – LF
Ty Wigginton/Ian Stewart – 3B
Todd Helton – 1B
Dexter Fowler – CF
Chris Iannetta – C
Jose Lopez – 2B

Pitcher spot


Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby has a magnificent quote about what to do during wintertime with no baseball.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” —Rogers Hornsby

Well when the snow’s falling down, there’s no better way to spend the day then looking back to warmer, better days. Today, I’ve decided to reflect on my time in Florida last March for spring training.

A perfect sunsplash day in Bradenton

A friend and I flew down to Florida in mid-March to see a Tigers game in Lakeland (he’s a Tigers fan) and a Pirates-Yankees game in Bradenton. That was the plan anyway. A two-day long downpour of rain washed out the Tigers game the day after we arrived and suddenly we were stuck in a state that was pretty much useless to us for what we had traveled there to see.

Thankfully, the rain ceased on day three and the sun came out just in time for us to enjoy the Pirates-Yankees game. A picture is worth a thousand words, at least that’s how the saying goes. I don’t think I’ll get to a thousand on this post, but maybe 500.

As you can see from the picture, it was a perfect day for baseball in Bradenton at McKechnie Field. C.C. Sabathia took the mound for the Bronx Bombers against Charlie Morton of the Pirates. I don’t recall his exact line that day, but I know Morton pitched well. He definitely fared a lot better than his counterpart as the Pirates hit CC around the park, including a couple bombs out of the park. I remember saying to my friend that afternoon, what a boost it would be for the Pirates rotation if Morton caught on and put together a decent year. Oh, if only we had known where his season was headed (2-12, 7.57). Who would have known that his four shutout innings with one hit allowed that day would be his best outing of the season? Morton picked up the win and Sabathia was handed the loss after the Pirates scored three off of the big guy.

The Pirates offense ruled the day as they looked like Bombers out there more than New York. The Bucs hit five home runs, including two by free agent pickup Bobby Crosby. In 61 games in the regular season, Crosby would only hit one home run yet he hit two on this day. Aki Iwamura homered too, I actually laughed when I looked the boxscore up and saw his name. Delwyn Young hit a long ball as well, though his biggest homer would come later in the summer when he hit the first home run off of Stephen Strasburg in Washington. And yes, the Pirates were led that day by the trio of Morton, Crosby and Aki. Three players that had promising seasons in front of them, but ended up in Triple-A, traded and cut after being sent to the minors, respectively. Wow, only with the Pirates.

The Pirates picked up the victory that afternoon, 10-5, to move to 4-7 overall that spring. As a Pirates fan over the past two decades, a meaningless win over the Yankees in spring training is strange to watch. You have players taking All-Stars like Sabathia deep as other future Hall of Famers like Derek Jeter struggle against a team that you know in your gut will lose more than 100 games in the upcoming season. So you take the game in as only you can, by savoring the moment like it’s Game 7 of the World Series and acting like an obnoxious fan throughout the game. Hey, sometimes spring training and a single game in the middle of 162 is all we have as a Pirates fan these days.

I plan on booking my trip to spring training soon for more games this March to see how the Pirates are looking heading into the 2011 season. Here’s hoping the rain holds off this year for the duration of my short trip. I cannot wait to fly south and feel the warm sun on my skin and hear the crack of the bat again. Caught Looking’s picture series reflecting on the 2010 season will continue next week with a look at Opening Day. And according to this post, a picture is worth 720+ words.

Congratulations to Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven on being elected to Cooperstown this week. Every year once the Hall of Fame voting is complete, you’ll hear the outrage of fans, players and sabermetric lovers.

How could Blyleven be a Hall of Famer in 2010 when the writers didn’t think he was worthy in 2006?!

How could the writers not look at sabermetrics stats like WAR?!

How did Jack Morris get 52 percent of the vote?! How did Kevin Brown only get two percent of the vote?!

The Hall of Fame debate always frustrates me because everyone thinks they know exactly who and who should not be in the Hall. If it was that easy to decide who goes and who doesn’t, we wouldn’t even need to vote. I’m OK with having the writers determine the votes. Of course, you’re going to have idiots out there who are bitter at this guy or that guy, but the majority of them are trying to do the right thing. That’s why it’s a subjective vote.

Sabermetrics took no time claiming that Blyleven’s election was a sign of the writers acceptance of lesser used baseball statistics like WAR in which Bert is 13th among all pitchers all-time. Wrong again. Blyleven’s vote into the Hall is just another example of the player being due. Look at how long it took Jim Rice to get in. Blyleven’s journey took a while as well. Besides the no doubt Hall of Famers which are elected in their first year, the voters tend to make some of the players wait a while and let the debate build up on that particular player. It was just Blyleven’s time.

Anyway, the talk should focus around appreciating Alomar and Blyleven’s careers instead of why another player only received 40 percent of the vote. Blyleven is obviously remembered more for his career with the Twins, but the “We Are Family” ’79 Pirates team couldn’t have done it without him. That’s what I’ll remember.