Wednesday, July 29, 2009

July 29 - A Big Day of Trades

The July 31 deadline was still two days away, but July 29 felt like the trading deadline. There were four deals on July 29, with the Pirates and the Mariners each doing two deals but the monster trade was between the Indians and the Phillies.

1) The Indians send Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco to the Phillies for four of their top ten minor league prospects - pitcher Carlos Carrasco, shortstop Jason Donald, catcher Lou Marson and pitcher Jason Knapp. Lee, the 2008 Cy Young award winner, was 7-9 this season with a very solid 3.14 ERA inn 22 starts. He immediately gives the Phillies a great 1-2 punch with Cole Hamels. Lee has an $8 million option for next year, which the Phillies will most certainly pick up (considering Oliver Perez makes $12 million a year, Lee is a bargain at $8 million). Francisco has 10 HRs, 33 RBIs and 13 steals and was starting most games for the Indians. He will now be the fourth outfielder.

Carrasco, signed by Philadelphia as a free agent in 2003, was the Phillies #2 prospect. He was struggling at Triple A this season with a 5.18 ERA. However he has 112 strikeouts in 114 innings and his strikeouts to walks ratio is a very good 3-1 ratio (only 38 walks in 114 innings). Donald, drafted in the third round of 2006, recently just came back from surgery on his knee. He has struggled as well at Triple A, hitting only .230. However, when healthy, in his last two seasons at A and AA ball, he hit over .300. Marson, a fourth round pick in 2004, has terrific patience at the plate, having drawn 239 walks in his major league career. He can hit for average but not for power. Knapp, a former second round pick in 2008, is currently on the minor league DL with shoulder fatigue. However Knapp has struck out 111 batters in 85 innings in A ball this season with a strikeouts to walks ratio of nearly 3 to 1.

Analysis - Fair deal for both sides with the advantage going to the Phillies. The Phillies get their ace without giving up their two top prospects, Kyle Drabek or Dominic Brown (or even Michael Taylor, their top prospect closest to being ready). They also get a good fourth outfielder in Francisco who gives them speed off the bench, something they are really lacking. The Phillies now can be considered right along with the Dodgers as the team to beat in the National League.

The Indians get a good deal of talent. Each of the four players they received were listed by Baseball America as being one of the Phillies Top Ten prospects. Carrasco and Marson are the closest to helping right now, especially if the Indians trade Victor Martinez today as rumored. Knapp gives them a pitching prospect so desperately needed considering all the pitching prospect failures they have. And if Donald regains his hitting stroke at Triple A, then the Indians may have their second baseman of the future.

2) The Pirates send shortstop Jack Wilson and pitcher Ian Snell to the Mariners for shortstop Ronny Cedeno, first baseman/catcher Jeff Clement and pitching prospects Aaron Pribanic, Brett Lorin and Nathan Adcock. Wilson, who could be a free agent after this season (his contract has a club option of $8 million for 2010), was hitting .267 with four homers and 31 RBIs. But Wilson has been always known for his defense. Snell, who had his best year in 2007 ( 3.76 ERA in 208 innings with 177 innings), has struggled since. So much so that he was sent down to Triple A, where he was downright dominant (0.96 ERA and 47 Ks in 37 innings).

Clement, a former first round draft pick, was hitting .288 at Tacoma with 14 HRs, 33 doubles and 68 RBIs. With Seattle last season, Clement struggled in 200 plus at bats, hitting .227 with 5 HRs and 23 RBIs. As for Cedeno, at the plate, he makes Jack Wilson look like Derek Jeter. This season, Cedeno was hitting .170 with 5 HRs and 17 RBIs in 182 at bats. He is a lifetime .238 hitter. Pribanic, a third round pick in 2008, had a 3.21 ERA at Class A Clinton. Lorin, a fifth round pick in 2008 and a teammate of Pribanic's at Clinton, has an ERA of 2.44 and is averaging a strikeout per inning in 88 innings. Adcock, a fifth round pick in 2006, has struggled at high A High Desert with a 5.21 ERA and 4.5 walks per 9 innings (he does have 260 strikeouts in 320 minor league innings).

Trade Analysis - Well, lo and behold. Two days after I wrote at length about Neal Huntington's bad deals, Neal pulls off his first of two good trades of the day. This is the gem of the two. Wilson is a great fielder with some pop. His one home run is not really indicative of Wilson, who averaged nearly 10 HRs a season the past five seasons. Still, a relatively light hitting Wilson is not worth $8 million for next season. Snell wore out his welcome in Pittsburgh with an attitude that often didn't match his stats. He actually requested his demotion to Triple A, noting that there was "Too much negativity." He was due to make $4.25 million next season and that's too much to pay a Triple A pitcher who wants no part of the Pirates. The Pirates should immediately call Clement up and let him play. He definitely has 20 HR potential with the short but high porch at PNC. Lorin and Pribanic look to be future middle starting rotation guys, so the Pirates did very well here.

Seattle made this trade thinking they still have a chance for the wild card being five and a half games behind the Red Sox coming into Thursday's play (they are not out of the AL West but have a bigger deficit to overcome being seven and a half games behind the Angels). However, there had been talk that Seattle was going to trade Jarrod Washburn (and they still might). Wilson will give them the everyday shortstop they need for the next year and two months. But again, he is not worth $8 million. Snell is an absolute wild card. He might pitched to his potential like he did in 2007. Or he might implode again and be the 2009 pitcher with a 5.32 ERA who for his career has averaged 4.5 walks per nine innings. Clement never had a chance to show his potential while with the Mariners and that might come back to haunt them.

3) The Pirates send Freddy Sanchez to the Giants for pitching prospect Tim Alderson. Sanchez, the 2006 NL batting champ and a lifetime .300 hitter, was hitting .296 this season Sanchez plugs an immediate hole for the Giants at second base and gives them a top of the order hitter so desperately needed on a team that is next to last in the National League in runs scored. The doubles machine should find the gaps at AT&T Park to his liking.

In Alderson, the Pirates get the #62 rated prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus. Alderson, the 22nd overall pick in the 2007 draft, has pitched well since promoted to Double A. Alderson has a 6-1 record with a 3.47 ERA and a strikeouts to walks ratio of 3 to 1. The Baseball Cube's scouting report gives Alderson 100 percent efficiency rating, a 97 control rating and a 84 K rating. Pretty damn good.

Trade Analysis - Good for both sides. Right now, Giants GM Brian Sabean is going for this year. Sanchez gives the Giants a legitimate two hitter and solid play in the field. He will make $8 million next year which I guess is fine, but here's another team that could have got Orlando Hudson a lot cheaper. Sabean must also think that with Lincecum, Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, he could afford to trade Alderson. But with Zito and Randy Johnson on their way out, trading Alderson could be a huge mistake if the Giants don't make the playoffs.

As for the Pirates, this is two for two for Huntington on the day. Alderson is a legitimate top of the rotation pitching prospect, something they desperately needed. It's clearly evident that Huntington thought that his farm system and team needed to be completely rebuilt. With the trades of Sanchez and Wilson, Huntington has traded 5/8 of his starting lineup from the beginning of this season (Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Adam LaRoche, Wilson and Sanchez).

4) Mariners trade outfielder Vladimir Balentien to the Reds for pitcher Robert Manuel. Balentien was always a top prospect for the Mariners (was listed as the #5 prospect in 2008). However, he didn't get his 11 rating in contact from the Baseball Cube for nothing. In his two plus years playing for the Mariners, Balentien has struck out 122 times in 401 at bats, hitting .209. But he did have 12 homers during that time and he has a 97 rating on power. Meanwhile Manuel, an undrafted free agent, quietly has been one of the Reds best prospects, averaging 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings with a strikeouts to walks ratio of more than 5 to 1 (yes, you read that right). He was the closer at Louisville for the Reds with 10 saves and a 2.70 ERA. He has pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings for the Reds

Analysis - Balentien wore out his welcome with the Mariners with his lack of contact. Thus he was designated for assignment in favor of Michael Saunders before the trade. That the Mariners got such a good pitcher like Manuel in return for him is a win win situation. The Reds, desperate for offense, hope to straighten Balentien out. Since they are short in the outfield, Balentien will get to play right away. Time will tell if the Reds can straighten Balentien out, but I give the advantage for now to the Mariners, who certainly could use the bullpen help.

5) From July 27 - The Indians trade Ryan Garko to the Giants for pitcher Scott Barnes. Garko, who had 90 RBIs last year in less than 500 at bats, was hitting .280 this season with 11 HRs and 39 RBIs in 246 at bats. Garko immediately becomes the everyday first baseman for the Giants. Barnes, the ninth rated prospect in the Giants system this season, is having a stellar year at Class High A San Jose with a 12-3 record, 2.85 ERA averaging a strikeout per inning in 98 innings.

Analysis - Again, the Giants trade a solid pitching prospect for an everyday bat. Sabean has certainly upgraded his offense with Garko and Sanchez. Has he mortgaged the future trading two solid pitching prospects in Alderson and Barnes. Again, its a matter of time, but Sabean had to do something with the current putrid state of the Giants offense. Will Garko and Sanchez make the difference we'll see.

For the Indians, its curious to see them trade a player who had 90 RBIs last season and is just arbitration eligible for the next three years. They could have signed him to a reasonable contract. But with Andy Marte, Matt LaPorta and others available to play first, including even Victor Martinez, Garko was expendable. Barnes gives the Indians another solid arm in the minors but he is at least two years away. Give the advantage to the Giants for getting a reasonably inexpensive every day bat here.

There is still a good amount of time left till the July 31 4:00 PM trade deadline. Roy Halladay, Victor Martinez, George Sherill among others are the big names being talked about. Something interesting usually happens but the past two days have been pretty eventful already.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Curious Case of Neal Huntington

Last Wednesday afternoon, shortly before the Pirates were to play the Brewers at PNC Park, there was a buzz around the clubhouse that Adam LaRoche (pictured to the left) was being traded. Sure enough, the Pirates shortly later announced that LaRoche was traded to the Red Sox for a Double AA shortstop, Argenis Diaz and Single A RHP Hunter Strickland. LaRoche, a free agent after this season was hitting .247 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs. The last three seasons, LaRoche averaged 26 HRs and 88 RBIs.

Now I don't have a problem with LaRoche being traded. The Pirates are a small market team, and LaRoche is going to be a free agent. Thus, they needed to trade him. But I have two questions for the Pirates.

1) Since LaRoche was going to be a free agent at the end of the season, why didn't they trade him sooner and keep Nate McLouth instead? Nate McLouth (pictured here) was signed in February of this season to a three year 15.75 million dollar contract with an option for 2012. Pretty reasonable for an all star hitting outfielder who had 26 HRs, 93 RBIs, 113 runs scored and 23 steals in 2008 and won't turn 28 till October.

Yet the Pirates traded McLouth to the Braves in the beginning of June for pitchers Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez. What was the reason behind this? Money? Did they think the 27 year old McLouth had reached his ceiling and couldn't get any better? If it was money, why sign him to the three year contract in February? Certainly you thought he was worth it then. What would change your mind barely two full months in the season?! If it was money, why not trade LaRoche then? He was the free agent at the end of the season. There were teams that certainly needed a power hitting first baseman at the time McLouth was traded. Carlos Delgado was already on the shelf for the Mets by the time the Pirates traded McLouth. Just doesn't make sense.

2) If you are going to trade LaRoche, couldn't you have got one good prospect that's nearly ready or at least one very good prospect? Seriously, Diaz was hitting .253 at Double A, with no pop (no HRs, 14 doubles and 1 triple in 277 at bats). He is a very good fielder (named Boston's best minor league defensive player of the year three years in a row). But he hasn't shown he can hit nor does he have speed (only seven steals in eleven attempts this season). And the other player, Hunter Strickland was an 18th round pick of the Red Sox who had a 3.35 ERA at Single A Greenville in the South Atlantic League. LaRoche's numbers were down this season but his career OPS in the second half of the season is .941, which is pretty impressive. Yet, the Pirates could get only two minor league players who may never get to the majors and if they do, it will certainly take Strickland at least two years and Diaz probably one full year.

It's a pretty simple reason. Money. The Red Sox were willing to assume the rest of LaRoche's contract for the season (nearly 3 million). Apparently other teams were willing to offer a better prospect but couldn't take all the money. Even more the reason to have traded LaRoche sooner. They could have eaten some of the money (say the 4 million they paid him already this year), traded him sooner and got a better player in return. The Pirates already have moved Diaz to Triple A Indianapolis to try to placate their remaining fan base.

If these two trades don't make you start questioning the Pirate franchise, then perhaps this dandy of one done on my baseball trip will finally convince you. On Monday, June 29th, I saw Nyjer Morgan (pictured left) play left field and bat second for the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC against the Chicago Cubs. On Friday, July 3rd, I saw Nyjer Morgan play centerfield and hit leadoff for the Washington Nationals against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park. That's because the Pirates traded Morgan on Wednesday, July 1st to the Nationals for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan.

In 278 at bats, Morgan was hitting .277 for the Pirates with 18 steals and an on base percentage of .351. In 70 at bats for the Nationals, Morgan is hitting .329 with 11 steals and an on base percentage of .368. Milledge, had been sent down by the Nationals after the first month and was still out due to an injury he suffered in the minors. Hanrahan, briefly the Nats closer had a ERA of 7.71 with the Nationals while giving up FIFTY hits in 32 innings this season.

Morgan is also known as an excellent defensive outfielder (just ask the Mets on their recent road trip to DC on how good Morgan is) while also being a really positive influence in the clubhouse. Milledge is a well known cancer who the Mets happily traded away to Nats (during the moronic Jim Bowden era) and the Nats couldn't be more happy to be rid of as well (on that same day they got rid of Milledge, they sent down the equally troublesome Elijah Dukes to make a spot for Morgan - a win, win, win situation for the Nats). As I noted in my previous trip post of the Nats-Braves game, one fan described the Pirates getting Hanrahan as "I guess the Pirates saw something in Hanrahan that we hadn't seen in the first sixty games".

What do all these moves have in common? One man, Neal Huntington, general manager of the Pirates. Huntington was hired as general manager of the Pirates in October, 2007. Under Huntington, the Pirates have stressed sabermetrics, or perhaps I should say Huntington's brand of sabermetrics. Under Huntington, the following trades were made.

1) Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the New York Yankees in exchange for minor leaguers Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, and Dan McCutchen. Nady at the time was hitting .330 with 13 HRs and 57 RBIs in 327 at bats. He added 12 HRs and 40 RBIs in 227 ABs for the Yankees (giving him 25 HRs 97 RBIs in 554 ABs - very nice numbers). Marte at the time of the trade had a 3.47 ERA and averaged a strikeout per inning in 47 innings pitched. Marte would struggle with the Yankees the remainder of the year posting an ERA of 5.00. Nady and Marte have been hurt most of the 2009 season, Nady needing Tommy John surgery on his elbow.

As for the "booty" the Pirates received in return, the prize prospect was Jose Tabata, an outfielder with a questionable attitude and background. Tabata, 21, is repeating Double A ball again this year at Altoona, showing very little power (2 HRs and 13 doubles in 200 ABs) while hitting .290 with only six steals. McCutchen, a little old for a prospect at 26 (turns 27 in October), has been OK with Triple A Indianapolis with a 9-5 record with a 4.19 ERA and a ratio of 3-1 in strikeouts to walks. He was a 13th round pick of the Yankees back in 2006. Both

Karstens and Ohlendorf have been up with the Pirates since the trade last year. Karstens, a 19th round pick of the Yankees in 2003, got off to a good start in 2008 for the Pirates before cooling off with a 4.03 ERA in nine starts. This season Karstens struggled and was sent to the bullpen. Currently he has a ERA of 4.26 ERA in 25 games (with 10 starts). Karstens has a very poor strikeouts to walks ratio of 1-1 (36-36) in 82 innings. Ohlendorf, a fourth round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2004 (traded to the Yankees in the 2007 Randy Johnson deal), has equally as struggled. In 2006, Ohlendorf had an ERA of 6.46 in 62 innings with the Pirates. This season, Ohlendorf has a 4.59 ERA in 19 starts. Ks to walks are also a problem for Ohlendorf. Last year it was 49-31 and this season it's 62-32 in 111 innings (the walks have improved).

2) Jason Bay to the Red Sox, Manny Ramirez from the Sox to the Dodgers for Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche, Craig Hansen and Bryan Morris (Pirates picked up two players each from the Dodgers and the Red Sox). Bay, of course, was an All Star for the Pirates, having two 100+ RBI seasons. He would end up with 101 RBIs in 2008 with a combined 31 HRs for both the Pirates and the Red Sox and he is having a good year with 20 HRs and 72 RBIs. The return for Bay was not horrible, but not great either. Moss is hitting .254 with 5 HRs and 27 RBIs, while LaRoche is hitting .262 with 4 HRs and 37 RBIs. So Moss and LaRoche have 11 less HRs and 8 less RBIs combined than Bay. LaRoche is a former 39th round pick of the Dodgers while Moss was an eighth round pick of the Sox.

Hansen, who makes as much money as LaRoche and Moss combined ($825,500) is a former first round pick who has been out most of the season with a nerve issue in his neck. Hansen had struggled in his two seasons with the Red Sox putting up ERAs over 6.00 in both seasons. Hansen was consistent in his time with the Pirates last season, also putting up an ERA of 6.00. Meanwhile, Bryan Morris, who was selected in the first round by the Dodgers in 2006 is struggling at A Ball with an ERA over 5.00.

3) Pirates acquire Delwyn Young for two players to be named. The Dodgers had designated Young for assignment and the Pirates traded two minor league players for Young. It was actually Huntington's best move as general manager. Young, a switch hitter, has hit .321 for the Pirates with 4 HRs and 21 RBIs in 159 at bats. He is probably not an everyday player, but certainly is a nice bat to have off the bench.

4) Nate McLouth to the Braves for pitchers Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez. Morton is now with the Pirates and actually has shown some talent in his seven starts with a 3.86 ERA. Locke, a former second round pick of the Braves, has struggled in his two seasons in the minors and currently has a ERA of nearly 6.00 in 82 innings at A ball. Hernandez, signed as a free agent by the Tigers in Venezuela in 2005, is at Double A Altoona, where he is hitting .294 overall for the season with an ugly 93 strikeouts in 391 at bats and an even worse ratio of 14 steals in 26 attempts. Hernandez also only has 2 HRs on the year.

The deal was so criticized by the Pirates media and fans that Huntington had to send an "open letter" e-mail out to Pirates fans to defend the deal. In fact, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did an editorial after the deal noting the Pirates ownership should sell the team, stating "It's time Pittsburgh baseball had ownership worthy of the game." Ouch!

5) Eric Hinske to the Yankees for pitcher Casey Erickson and outfielder/catcher Eric Fryer. Hinske was signed as a free agent for one year at 1.5 million by the Pirates. He strictly was a role player for the Pirates and really was not needed on the Pirates with a crowded outfield and LaRoche at the time playing first. Hinske has 5 HRs on the year, most of that coming with the Yankees. Erickson is a former 10th round pick of the Yankees and actually has pitched well in A Ball averaging a 3-1 strikeouts to walks ratio. Fryer was selected by the Brewers in the 10th round in 2007 before being trading to the Yankees. Fryer has struggled at Single A, hitting .245 overall.

6) Nyjer Morgan to the Nationals for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan. At least Milledge and Hanrahan are major leaguers, albeit Hanrahan is not a very good one. The jury is still out on Milledge, who has three big league seasons under his belt, hit .268 last season for the Nats with 14 HRs, 61 RBIs and 24 steals in 523 at bats. Currently Milledge is hitting .354 for Indianapolis since the trade.

My favorite Lastings Milledge moment when he was the with the Mets in 2007 and I was at my friend Joe's house on a Friday night for a party. A friend of his stunningly said the Mets should move Carlos Beltran (he of the two gold gloves) to right and put Milledge in centerfield (I was already aware of the scouting reports that said Milledge was a corner outfielder). Milledge was traded after the season to the Mets for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. As many baseball people know, Milledge proved with his erratic play last season that he is not a centerfielder, while Beltran won another Gold Glove. That guy was also a supposed computer expert and he was also clueless about Macbook Pros too, so he was two for two on the idiot scale.

Now Milledge might turn out to be a good ball player. But two teams, the Mets and the Nats, both cut Milledge loose. Two teams who weren't exactly stocked with good outfielders. Milledge was considered a risk by the Mets when they drafted him due to a questionable reputation. He has proved with his behavior in the majors so far that his reputation might have been warranted. And when the trade went down for Nyjer Morgan, a well liked player in the Pirates clubhouse, the Pirates' players sounded off.

6) LaRoche to the Red Sox for Argenis Diaz and Hunter Strickland. See above for analysis.

So out of six trades Huntington has made, only one, the Delwyn Young trade, looks to be good so far. The Hinske deal was strictly a salary dump. However, he should never have been signed in the first place. And LaRoche should have been traded in late May, early June. That could have been money used towards keeping McLouth. Look at the lineup the Pirates could have had today, had they kept McLouth.

CF Andrewl McCutchen
LF Nyjer Morgan
RF Nate McClouth
C Ryan Doumit
1B Garrett Jones
2B Freddy Sanchez
3B Andy LaRoche
SS Jack Wilson

Not bad and you very might have one of the best defensive teams in the major leagues. Alas, no. And you can't say that the McLouth trade was not money. The Brewers have 2/3 the market size that Pittsburgh has. Yet Milwaukee has a $80M payroll while the Pirates maybe have $50 million (if even that).

Now I went back in time and I noticed that Huntingtons were involved in several major deals in history.

1) Neal's grandfather, M. Donald Grant Huntington, was responsible for the trade in 1977 that sent Tom Seaver from the Mets to the Reds for Pat Zachary, Doug Flynn, Dan Norman, and Steve Henderson . Apparently Neal idolized Donald so much that he swore when he was GM of a club someday, he too would make such great deals.

2) Neal's great great great great grandfather, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours Huntington, was responsible for selling the United States the 828,000 acres of land in the Louisiana Purchase (cost, $15 million). Apparently Huntington was on orders from Napoleon Bonaparte to "find any means necessary to fund my war with Russia, even if you have to dump the Three Musketeers."
The United States ended up getting 14 states and Canada getting 2 provinces, kind of like the Red Sox getting Jason Bay and the Dodgers getting Manny Ramirez.

3) Neal's long ago descendant, Grand Chief Huntington, a member of the Canarsee Tribe, was the chief negotiatior responsible for selling the island of Manhattan to Peter Minuit, aka the Theo Epstein of New Amsterdam, for 60 guilders in 1626 (which would be $1000 now). Huntington did get a get town in Brooklyn, Canarsie, named after his tribe.

Now of course, I am being facetious about the long line of Huntingtons involved in these deals. However, all of the other facts in those above mentioned deals did occur (sans the Bonaparte quote). I have two points. One, Huntington is like M. Donald Grant, the French, and the Canarsee Tribe. Perhaps you might want to hold onto what you have. Down the road, it might be worth a lot more than now. Don't be so quick to deal your assets.

Second, Neal might want to tell his employers, you need to spend money to make money. Nickel and dime your team and you will end up with a team worth a nickel and a dime. Just look a few hours west to Milwaukee to see what you can do with a little more salary and better minor league development. Sadly, there's a reason why only 15,000 a night to come out to see the Pirates in what I think is the best baseball park in the major leagues . The proof is in the management.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Neal Huntington

There have been a few trades in major league baseball the last few days. They have a range of good, bad and ugly, or as I like to call it "The Good, The Bad and the Neal Huntington."

The Good - The A's trade star outfielder Matt Holliday to the Cardinals for third baseman Brett Wallace, outfielder Shane Peterson and right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen. The A's also threw in 1.5 million in cash in the deal.

The A's got two former first round picks in Wallace and Mortensen, who are in Triple A, and a former second round pick in Peterson who is in Double A. This is in exchange for an outfielder in Holliday who was hitting 286 with 11 homers and 54 RBIs but last season hit .321 with 25 HRs and 88 RBIs, and who is a free agent in two months and 1.5 million in cash.

The Cardinals got the star hitter that Tony LaRussa so desperately wanted to back up Albert Pujols with and Holliday responded with a four for five first night as the Cards pounded the Phillies. The lifetime .316 hitter will be very happy to be playing for a first place team and should see LOTS of good pitches to hit with Pujols in front of him.

However, the Cards did give up a lot for a player they will have for a little more than 2 months (3 months if they make the playoffs). Wallace is one of the top 10 prospects in baseball currently and his bat is ready for the major leagues. However, his glove is a question mark and he may end up at 1B for the A's. Mortensen is only spending his second year in the minors and is already at Triple A. He projects as a back end of the rotation starter. Peterson is an OBP machine who fits in with Billy Beane's ideal type of players. He is starting to hit for a little more power, as he has hit seven home runs this season as opposed to only one home run last season. But for Peterson, this is also his second year in the minors and the A's desperately need a leadoff hitter

But give Cardinals GM John Mozeliak credit for at least going for the brass ring. He knows with a starting staff of Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainright and Joel Pineiro, his team probably has the best starting rotation in the NL Central. And now with Holliday to combine with Pujols and hopefully Ryan Ludwick resurging, the Cards are now the team to beat. Sometimes you have to give up a lot to get a lot. As for Billy Beane, he again proves how to get talent for talent.

The Bad - The Cardinals trade outfielder Chris Duncan to the Red Sox for shortstop Julio Lugo. Now the Cardinals needed a shortstop really bad with Khalil Greene's anxiety issues and Brendan Ryan not really a true shortstop. The question is will Lugo be the starting shortstop and are the Cardinals kicking in any salary? Lugo has 13.5 million left on his contract (not one of Theo Epstein's better moves).

The Boston Herald says that the Sox are going to be responsible for his contract, but does that mean the Cards are responsible for Duncan's $825,000? Who knows, but I find it hard to believe that Theo Epstein would pay for the entire remaining contract of Lugo plus the 2.5 million for LaRoche (see below), plus the the $825,000 for Duncan. Lugo by the way was hurt most of the season till recently, when the Red Sox designated him for assignment. He was hitting .284 with one home run in 37 games, so he still can play. Duncan was hitting .227 with 5 home runs and 32 RBIs and was sent to Triple A. Duncan will be strictly depth on a crowded Sox bench. You just wonder if the Cards could have just waited for Lugo to be released, which is what most people thought and then sign him.

The Neal Huntington - The Pirates trade Adam LaRoche for shorstop Argenis Diaz and pitcher Hunter Strickland. The Red Sox will assume the rest of LaRoche's salary for the season, 2.5 million.

The Pirates got a .253 hitting Double A shortstop who was signed as a free agent and a 18th round pick pitcher in Single A ball for a first baseman who was hitting .247 with 12 HRs and 40 RBIs (last season .270 25 HRs and 85 RBIs), who was a free agent at the end of the season, but historically has a .900 OPS the second half of the season and also averaged 26 HRs and 88 RBIs the last three seasons.

The A's got two players who were former first round picks and another player who was a former second round pick for Holliday. Huntington couldn't even get a player considered in the top ten prospects for the Boston Red Sox in his deal. The Holliday deal only reinforces how bad this deal was for the Pirates. In fact, the #11 prospect for the Sox, Yamaico Navarro was immediately moved up to Portland to replace Diaz. Somehow I don't think the Sox are going to miss Diaz.

That's just real awesome work by Huntington. Nice to see he is continuing in the tradition of inept Pirate GMs such as Dave Littlefield and Cam Bonifay. In fact, I have been so impressed by the ineptitude of Huntington, he will be featured in my next article entitled "The Curious Case of Neal Huntington".

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Halladay Sweepstakes

I will do my AL second half preview in the next day or two. But more important news. As many of you have heard, the Blue Jays have set a July 28 deadline for trading Roy Halladay. Halladay's start next week would be July 29, so Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi decided that if Halladay would be traded, it would be before that next start. Ricciardi has also stated that it is most likely a deal will not get done. This is because, as CNN/SI's Jon Heyman reports, the Phillies refused to include Kyle Drabek (Doug's son) in any trade offer, despite what Buster Olney says, and the Mets turned down a 4-1 offer of Jon Niese, Fernando Martinez, Bobby Parnell and minor league shortstop Ruben Tejada for Halladay. Apparently Ricciardi is not getting the offers he wants.

This is not surprising considering the offers the Twins got or more importantly didn't get for Johan Santana, before settling on the Mets offer. However, the Blue Jays need to trade Halladay now as Buster Olney also says, because his trade value will go down after the season since teams will only have him for one season (see Santana above). The fact is that when J.P. Ricciardi made that announcement that they would look at offers for Halladay, he made his own bed. If he doesn't trade Halladay now and waits till the off season, he will be offered less and the result will be a deal that may likely end his tenure as Jays GM. Ricciardi made the bed, now he has to lay in it.

If Heyman's report is true, the GM who really needs his head examined is Omar Minaya. Now, yes the Mets this season, even with Halladay, are not going anywhere most likely. However, there are other factors to consider.

1) N ext season, you will have a healthy Reyes, Beltran and most likely a better hitting David Wright back. Put Halladay and Santana together, and you have the most dominant 1-2 punch rotation in the majors.

2) Halladay keeps the Mets fan base together. Can't stress that fact enough. Brand new ballpark that the Mets want to get revenue back for and right now, due to the Mets struggling play, there are lots of seats available on Stubhub and other ticket sites for Mets games. If the Mets don't make any deals at the deadline and wave the white flag, the Mets ticket base will dwindle for this season and next, especially with this economy. A Halladay deal tells the fans "The Mets still care and want a winning product". Mets fans will be more likely to stick with the ship.

3) Citi Field is a pitchers park. I repeat CITI FIELD IS A PITCHER'S PARK! Why not get the best pitcher in the game and use the park to your advantage?! Think about this, the Mets offense is terrible. Yet Johan Santana is 11-7. Compare that with Cliff Lee who has similar numbers on the Indians, a team with a better offense, yet he is 5-9. That's because CITI FIELD IS A PITCHER'S PARK! Duh!

4) Halladay makes the staff better. Think about it. Halladay is your #2 starter. That makes Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine (if healthy) your backend starters. Pelfrey is not a #2 and right now he is facing other teams #2 starters. It's not a good matchup. Make him the #3 or #4 and it's a more favorable matchup.

5) I have seen enough of Niese, martinez and Parnell to say that of the three, Niese is probably the best of the bunch. He might be good, but definitely not on a level for Halladay for years to come and still hasn't cracked the Mets rotation this season, despite how mediocre its been. When Martinez played with the Mets, Keith Hernandez consistently commented (probably to the detriment of Martinez' trade value) that Martinez can not turn around on fastballs consistently with the stance he has. Third, Parnell is a work in progress. He might be good someday, but he was originally a starter in the minors who the Mets moved to the bullpen. That might be a signal. Finally, Ruben Tejada is in Double A. He is hitting for a decent average and has shown the ability to take a walk and yes he turns 20 years old on September 1st. But he doesn't have a lot of pop yet nor does he have big numbers in the steals department (8 stolen bases in ten chances).

6) Based on #5 above and how the Santana deal worked out, how can you not trade for Halladay?

Anyway, the Phillies minor league system is better than the Mets and their starting rotation numbers are terrible (#25 in the major leagues). Cole Hamels has been a disappointment, Jamie Moyer is starting to show his age, Joe Blanton is well Joe Blanton, a decent back end of the rotation guy and Rodrigo Lopez was picked up off the scrap heap. Only J.A. Happ has been very good consistently for the Phillies. Add Halladay and you're talking a legitimate chance to repeat as World Series Champs. It's a no brainer for the Phillies to add a guy who throws 200+ quality innings the past three years and in the past four years is 63-26 on a team with a middle of the row offense (Blue Jays are 7th in the AL in runs scored). Put him on the Phils, 2o wins for sure!

The sleeper team in the Halladay Sweepstakes is the Yankees. I know they are going good right now having won seven in a row and Brian Cashman has publicly stated that he won't be trading any prospects at the deadline. However, if the Phillies won't part with Drabek, if the Mets don't wake up out of their coma and Boston stands Pat, the Yankees might come in and swoop in and take Halladay for 75 cents on the dollar. They know that their back end of the rotation has struggled with Andy Pettitte, Wang and to a lesser extent Joba Chamberlain (hello Sergio Mitre). They have the minor league system to offer prospects and they can swap a good young outfielder like Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera and have the Jays include Vernon Wells in the deal. I could see that happen.

Anyway, the time to trade Halladay is now. Ricciardi has to live up to his own words. Now will he pull the trigger or wait till he finds out he has less ammunition in the off season. Lets hope for his sake, he shoots first and asks questions later. Otherwise, others will be asking questions later.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Second Half of the Season Starts Today - National League Preview

The All Star Break is over (thank god!). And now we can look forward to the second half of the season. For many fans, especially Mets fans, the second half couldn't be worse than the first....or could it? There are a lot of interesting pennant and wild card races to discuss, so let's get to it by starting with the NL.

NL East

The Phillies have a 6 1/2 game lead and seem to be on all cylinders having nine of their last ten. Jimmy Rollins has fix his swing and apparently awaken from his seemingly endless first half coma. That's bad news for the rest of the NL East. Throw in a healthy Ibanez, a surging Ryan Howard and good pitching from J.A. Happ and the outlook looks bad for the other NL East contenders. However, there is hope for the rest of the NL East. Cole Hamels has struggled. Brad Lidge, though now healthy, has been far from lights out. The rest of the pitching staff is so beleaguered that the Phils went out and signed Pedro "5 Innings is the Limit" Martinez. That sounds like an act of desperation and that may also say the Phils are not going to go after Roy Halladay. The Phils are a better road team (26-15) than home team (22-23) so that also bodes well for the contenders. As the Mets have shown the past two years, no lead is safe in the NL East.

The Marlins have been surging too, going back up over .500 due to a strong June and July despite a .500 record in their last ten games. The reason, the duo of Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. Good pitching takes you far and great pitching even farther and lately they have been great. A healthy Hanley Ramirez also helps. Ramirez has been on fire and is hitting now .349 with a sick OPS of .979. The one weakness has been the bullpen where Matt Lindstrom struggled before going on the DL. He is due back in August and Leo Nunez and company must now hold the fort. The question will be "Will the Fish take on payroll to make a run?" Supposedly the answer is yes. We'll see.

The Braves have been as mediocre as their record, 43-45. This is due in large part to the Braves struggling to score runs. Only four teams in the National League have scored less runs than the Braves (and no, the Mets are not one of those teams). Nate McClouth has not been the answer so far to the Braves hitting woes and if Bobby Cox thinks Ryan Church is, he is sadly mistaken. However, the Braves pitching staff rocks. Javier Vasquez, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrens and Tommy Hanson make a very formidable row. If the Braves can get Tim Hudson back in August, there is hope. However the Braves don't seem to be capable of adding payroll so the team they have now is it. Chipper Jones, specifically his (pictured here) health, is the key to whether the Braves can at least compete for the wild card.

The Mets were probably the biggest disappointment in all of major league baseball in the first half. Everyone understands losing your leadoff (Jose Reyes), three hole (Carlos Beltran) and cleanup (Carlos Delgado) hitters for a significant amount of time will be very difficult to overcome. But to be such a bad fielding and fundamentally lacking team is amazing (and not a good amazing). Top that with substandard starting pitching (seriously who thought signing Oliver Perez to a three year 36 million dollar deal was a good thing - a topic for another day) and you have the recipe for a unmitigated disaster. It's really surprising the Mets are NOT WORSE than 42-45 at the moment. Credit David Wright (pictured here), Johan Santana and Frankie Rodriguez for keeping the Mets afloat. Beltran, Reyes and Delgado don't look to be back soon. John Maine might be, but it probably won't matter. Could be lots of empty seats at the new Citi Field in August and September.

The Nationals are barely worth mentioning. Jim Riggleman will try to play spoiler now that management has fired the inept Manny Acta. Ryan Zimmermann (pictured here) has a chance to establish himself as one of the NL's elite in the second half. Nyjer Morgan was a nice acquisition by the Nats and should provide a little spark for a team that sorely needs it.

NL Central

The Cardinals
have Albert Pujols. I repeat. The Cardinals have Albert Pujols. That alone will keep the Cards in contention. Factor in a starting staff with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainright and a rejuvenated Joel Pineiro and the Redbirds are the team to beat in the Central. St. Louis could stand a little more hitting and a little bit of bullpen help. But if Ryan Ludwick rights himself and Troy Glaus and recently acquired Mark DeRosa both can come back from injury, the Cards should be just fine. Colby Rasmus will be a future star, that's if the Cards don't trade him to Toronto for Halladay. If that happens though, the Cards now jump to the top of the class with the Dodgers.

The Brewers are the feel good story of the first half of the season. No Sabathia. No Sheets. No problem. Thanks to a terrific effort by Yovani Gallardo, and of course the stellar hitting of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brewers are two games out and only two and half games out from first place. The biggest concern for the Brewers is the rest of the rotation after Gallardo. David Bush could be out a significant amount of time. Manny Parra has been relegated to the pen (rightly so with that 6.78 ERA), while Braden Looper and Jeff Suppan have struggled. For the Brewers to succeed, they will need more starting pitching to compete with the Cards. Could we see a dark horse in the Halladay sweepstakes?

The Cubs have had really good pitching the first half (this despite a disappointing first half by Rich Harden, pictured here). Only the Dodgers and the Giants have given up less runs. Problem. No team in the National League has scored less runs than the Cubs. Thus a 43-43 record. The Cubs have the most upside of any other teams in the Central not named St. Louis. With the return of Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs offense should improve. Derrek Lee looks to be on a mission right now. Now if someone could find the Milton Bradley of last season and just keep Carlos Zambrano grounded, then the Cubs could be the team to beat. Rich Harden must have a better second half. If he does, the Cubs are in very good shape.

The Astros can hit. It's the usual suspects - Berkman, Pence, Tejada, and Lee. But surprisingly enough, Michael Bourn has also been a very effective leadoff hitter. The problem is similar to the Brewers - pitching. When you trot out Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler and Russ Ortiz regularly as part of your rotation, you are asking for trouble. Thus a 44-44 record. Yes Hampton and Ortiz have been serviceable, but their history points to a rough second half for both. Moehler just plain stinks. If the Astros can add a third starter to complement the always solid Roy Oswalt and the emerging Wandy Rodriguez, then the Minute Maid Park faithful will be happy and the Stros will be competitive.

The Reds are on the precipice at 42-45. The Reds have talent with Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto (pictured here), Brandon Phillips and Chris Dickerson. Francisco Cordero has been very good. Unfortunately Edison Volquez has been hurt a lot and the Reds can't hit as a team in general. Only the Padres and the Cubs have scored less runs than the Reds. The lineup has struggled with Jay Bruce in a year long batting average funk (now on the DL with a fractured wrist) and no production at third base since Edwin Encarnacion was out for most of the first half due to injury. Encarnacion is back so hopefully the offense picks up. However Volquez needs to be back and Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo must step up and help Cueto in the rotation for the Reds to contend. Don't expect the Reds to make any moves.

The Pirates won't be in the hunt but have a chance to affect the hunt. Expect to see the Pirates try to trade Freddy Sanchez, Adam LaRoche and Matt Capps before the deadline. The Pirates have some young players who can stand out in Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones. But Neal Huntington has done a poor job in receiving enough talent for his top traded players in the past year. Huntington has traded Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan in the past year and only really so far has Brandon Moss, Adam LaRoche and the medicore Ross Ohlendorf to show for it (perhaps Charlie Morton acquired in the McLouth trade will help). It's another long August and September for the Buccos.

NL West

The Dodgers
are the elite of the National League. They have the best record at in the majors at 56-32 and now they have Manny Ramirez back from his suspension. The reason they were so good is they have depth in the outfield and Juan Pierre did an absolutely terrific job while Ramirez is out. The Dodgers' lineup is so good that Matt Kemp, he of the .316 batting average often hits eighth. EIGHTH! Orlando Hudson was a huge pickup on the cheap and made the Dodgers infield defense even better. Andre Ethier and Chad Billingsley are stars in the making. If the Dodgers can add one more starter to complement Billingsley and Wolf, they have a chance to win it all.

The Giants have been the surprise of the National League so far with a 49-39 record. They certainly aren't doing it with hitting as only the Padres, Cubs and Reds have scored fewer runs going into the start of the second half. The Giants have done it with the one - two punch of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, both of whom are 10-2 and both have an ERA of under 2.40. When your first two starters are 20-4, chances are you are going to be over .500. However, the rest of the staff is a mediocre 29-35. Jonathan Sanchez has come on of late with the no hitter and a 3.66 ERA. But his 3-8 record shows that when the Giants don't limit their opponents under three runs, outside of the terrific Pablo Sandoval, they can't hit their way out of trouble. Randy Johnson and Barry Zito have also struggled. The Giants are the team most likely to come back down to earth. The Giants can use another starter and another bat..desperately.

The Rockies are the other big surprise of the National League the first half of the season. Left for dead by many after the firing of Clint Hurdle, new manager Jim Tracy resurrected his team. The Rockies have gone 30-13 since Tracy took over the reigns. Much of this can be traced to the pitching staff, where Jason Marquis has learned to throw strikes with great results. Marquis leads the pitching staff with an 11-6 record and a 3.65 ERA. Marquis is one of the three starters, along with Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jiminez who have ERAs under 4.00, which is incredibly impressive at Coors Field. The bats have been solid too, as Brad Hawpe and the re-emergence of Todd Helton have led the way. Throw in a fine season by Huston Street and the Rockies are right in the hunt for the wild card.

The Diamondbacks were crushed from the outset with the loss of Brandon Webb and Conor Jackson to injury. Toss in a really weak bottom of the lineup and thus the 38-51 record. Mark Reynolds, Felipe Lopez and the absolutely terrific Juston Upton (pictured here) are a nice trio to build around. And Dan Haren is having an absolutely terrific season (9-5 , 2.01 ERA) that's been overshadowed by the injury to Webb and the weak overall hitting.

The Padres are brutal at 36-53. What did you expect when you don't have Jake Peavy, the rest of your pitching staff has given up the second most runs in the National League IN A PITCHER'S PARK! And you have the worst scoring offense in the major leagues with a starting outfield by all regards should be in Triple A. Ladies and Gentlemen, your San Diego Padres.

Wild Card

Right now, I am going to go on record saying the Phillies and Dodgers will win their divisions. I think that's a pretty safe bet. That leaves the NL Central. Somehow I think the Cards hold off the Cubs thanks to a better top of the rotation and one Albert Pujols. That leaves the wild card. Right now, nine teams are within seven games of the wild card, with five teams with 4.5 games.

Ok, let's start eliminating some teams. The Mets, the Reds and the Astros will all ultimately fall by the waste side. Too many holes in each of these teams. The Brewers simply don't have enough starting pitching to hang, so eliminate them eventually as well. The Braves have the starting pitching but have to deal with the Phillies and the Marlins. Their lack of hitting might cost them against those teams so I will rule them out. Likewise, I think the Marlins are out, because after Johnson and Nolasco, the rest of the staff is suspect (and that includes Chris Volstad who has struggled lately). I think the Braves and Marlins cancel each other out.

That leaves the Cubs, the Rockies and the Giants, the wild card leaders. I really think if the Giants don't make any moves, they will drop down to earth. I really don't like the back of their rotation. Sanchez is the key here. If he continues to pitch like he did in his no-hitter, then the Giants stand a real good chance. If he returns to his wild form, then it stands to believe that Cain and Lincecum will be hard pressed to match their 10-2 records from the first half. Brian Wilson is also not Mariano Rivera. I think the Giants fade in the second half.

So now that leaves the Cubs and the Rockies. The Cubs have very solid pitching, if they get their act together. Zambrano needs to focus and Harden needs to think Wrigley Field is on the road (his road ERA is terrific). A healthy Ryan Dempster will help. Aramis Ramirez should return to form and make a really solid 1-2 punch with Derrek Lee. The questions are the rest of the team. Can they get enough hitting from Milton Bradley and Alfonso Soriano? When will Geovany Soto be back? Can the bullpen led by Kevin Gregg hold on? There's a reason why the Marlins cut bait with Gregg. Just two many questions with the Cubs for my liking. Plus they will be battling with the Astros, Brewers and Reds who all think they are still in the hunt not just for the wild card bu the NL Central too.

That leaves the Rockies. I have seen nine baseball games live this season. No team impressed me more than the Colorado Rockies. I have already mentioned their starting pitching staff and also the job Huston Street has done this season. I have also mentioned the terrific hitting they have got from Hawpe and Helton. Throw in solid seasons by Clint Barmes and Troy Tulowitski and the lineup is solid. Derek Fowler will be a future star and his speed adds a lot to the Rockies lineup. But what I liked most about the Rockies when I saw them against the Pirates is that they play defense. That infield now with Ian Stewart playing third is quite possibly the best defensive infield in the National League. And Fowler and Hawpe in the outfield are really solid.

The key will be if Marquis doesn't have one of his second half swoons. If Marquis continues to throw strikes and pitch as well as he has, then the Rockies are going to be difficult to beat. Plus the Rockies are as good on the road (25-22) as they are at home (23-19). They are consistent. Finally they play in the weakest of the three NL divisions. They should be able to feast on the DBacks and the Padres, plus they should start beating the Giants as well. The Rockies are my pick for the NL Wild Card.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Baseball Trip - Epilogue

The American League beat the National League 4-3 last night. The American League has not lost an All Star Game since 1996 (hey that's because Chelle and I got married a month prior - I am telling ya, 96 was a great year for a National League guy!) Carl Crawford (image courtesy of the NY Times) may have saved the day by robbing Brad Hawpe of a home run in the bottom of the seventh.

With the win, the American League champion will have home field advantage during the World Series. Yeah, that's fair..not. That rule was enacted after the 2002 game ended in a tie because they ran out of players during an extra inning game. If I was Joe Torre, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team with the best record in baseball, I would be furious right now. Then again, it's Torre and his mismanagement of the 2002 AL roster that resulted in this "brilliant" Bud Selig idea.

Now on to the epilogue of our trip. You don't have a trip like ours, the six ball games in six days, without people who made it possible. First, I have to thank my wife Michelle, commonly referred to by me as "Chelle". She let me go on this trip, while yeomanly taking care of our two boys during this time. Chelle didn't have any vacation time till August so unfortunately there was no way she or the kids could have gone (we are making up for that by going to the Curious George Festival in Waterville, New Hampshire in early August..have to see if there are any minor league teams there.. LOL).

As you can see from the picture with Mr. Met from our friend Scott's July 4th party, Chelle, like me, is a life long met fan. She also has a fondness for baseball, as she has traveled with me to games in San Diego, Arizona, Durham and Charlotte (or maybe it's a tolerance). The last two games were on a trip to North Carolina. She's been to many a Mets games with me over the years. She's also the world's biggest Todd Pratt fan! That last comment is an inside joke. I'll share it sometime. :-) Anyway, she's the main reason this trip happened. So honey, thank you and I love you dearly!

This trip also doesn't happen without the vision, organization and good nature of one man, Anthony J. Terentieff, my dear friend of nearly 25 years (we met in college). Tieff, as I call him, is pictured here in the left in full Phil Laak mode (if you don't know Laak, google him and you'll understand the reference). Hey, it was a cool rainy day in Pittsburgh.

Originally, when I came up with this idea of the trip to Tieff, I had imagined a four day, three game trip, leaving Sunday for Pittsburgh's game Monday, then Cleveland, then Cincinnatti. Tieff called me back a few days later and on the phone, he had me write down the itinerary that it became to be. I was stunned as was my wife because Tieff is not exactly known for being Mr. Plan Ahead. Well, he liked my idea so much that he ran with it. Tieff was also responsible for the Comfort Inn Marathon we had (six days, five different Comfort Inns) and also drove in his Dodge Durango, which I have nicknamed the Big Red Machine.

I was responsible for getting all the game tickets (basically all field level except for the Terrace Box seats near home plate for the Orioles game). I was also Sulu the navigator, responsible for picking towns to stop and eat in (Somerset PA - good choice) and to crack the whip when we needed to go faster (which we didn't need to, but I have not only a lead foot, but a lead foot navigation..LOL). But Tieff was the main man here and without him, this trip would never have been so fun and also so expansive. Tieff also had to endure endless calls from his job, so this vacation helped deal with that crap. Thanks so much Tieff!

As for the Comfort Inns, I want to thank all the staff at every Comfort Inn we stayed at; Pittsburgh East, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cambridge (OH), and Greencastle, PA. The staff were incredibly friendly at all of these Comfort Inns. The rooms were clean, comfortable and the breakfast free. To Bob at the Greencastle Comfort Inn - it was an absolute pleasure talking to you. Special thanks to the clerk at the Comfort Inn Pittsburgh, our second leg of the trip. Without you, we don't find the Birdsfoot Golf Club.

Speaking of which, a big thank you to Dennis, the part time manager of the Birdsfoot Golf Club. Dennis, you couldn't have been nicer going over the course with us. But especially, thank you for the best hoagie, I ever had. Don't know if your home-made meatball heroes can top the pepperoni one, but I hope to someday find out. And the course is a really gem of a find. I highly recommend those of you reading the blog who like golf to check it out.

To all the friendly ushers, security, concession staff and gift shop people at Orioles Park, PNC, Progressive Field, Great American Ballpark and Nationals Park, thanks for being so kind and courteous. Tieff and I did not have one issue or problem at any of the ball parks we were at. The management at each of these ball parks should be proud of the people that work for them. I also want to throw a special kudos to the D.C. Police department. You had two very helpful and friendly police officers help us out the final day of our trip in D.C. And finally, a special thank you to the desk attendant at the Smithsonian Art Museum. She kindly gave us a map and pointed us on our way to the Air and Space Museum and Nationals Park.

To HOK and the people responsible for the ball parks in each of the cities we visited. Thanks for creating such wonderful ball parks, each of which we enjoyed immensely.

Finally, to the people of Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnatti. Hang in there. We could tell by the sparse crowds at each of these games that many of you right now can't afford to go to the ballpark often enough as you would want. Driving by the closed GM plant on our way to Cincinnatti reminded us how how the economy has hurt you guys the most. It's my sincere hope that the economy will rebound and you will again get to enjoy three of the best ballparks in the country on a regular basis (and here's hoping to meaningful pennant races in each of your cities in the near future). Hopefully this blog will spur others to take a similar baseball trip and visit your great ball parks and other attractions in your cities.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my log of our six day baseball trip. Don't worry, just because the trip ended doesn't mean the blog ends. This blog is my take on the baseball world and there will be plenty to write about the next two and a half months. There's pennant races, the July trade deadline. The soap opera known "As the NY Baseball World Turns." And of course, nothing is better than October baseball.

Come along for the ride. Remember, here you're always only ninety feet from home.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Day 6 - The Final Day of the Baseball Trip - Braves vs. Nationals

So the day had come, our final day of our baseball trip. We stayed in another Comfort Inn in Greencastle, PA (I think Comfort should start being a sponsor of my blog), which is right along the Penn - Maryland border. Our hotel clerk (I think his name was Bob) late Friday evening was a Korean War veteran who had family and friends on Long Island, so we struck up a conversation with him. Nice man.

Since we got in so late (again), we stumbled out of bed Friday morning just in time for the continental breakfast. We were the only ones there at 9:30 in the morning. So, we headed off the D.C. for the last game of our trip, the Atlanta Braves vs. the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park (notice no sponsor - Yea!). We decided to leave early because we knew traffic in D.C. on the July 4 weekend would be crazy and we also knew that we had to find someplace to park in the city. So, we got there early and found a reasonable ($10 for the day) parking garage that was open until 3:00 am. Now where do we go?

Easy, go to the Air and Space Museum. Tieff had never been there and I had been there twice over the years and it's a great place to go. First, you have to stand on a line to get in and go through security. It's not bad though, it moves and I think in our case it was no longer than 30 minutes (I think it was less actually). Once past security, the picture to my left is the first thing you see in the open area.

Now, I have this knack of running into people I know over the years in places not even located in New York. This is happened on the ferry from New London to Orient Point, in the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory in Shelburne, Vermont and other places such as Penn Station at 2:00 in the morning (several times). So, as we passed through security on that Friday, I heard "Gary!". I was like what are the chances, so I ignored it. Again, I hear "Gary!". Again, I ignore it. Finally, I hear "GARY!", I look and there is my colleague, Jen Gundlach, the Vice Dean for Academic Affairs for Hofstra Law School (where I work) and a terrific person. We hugged and laughed about how we were both here. She told me she was here to visit family and friends (she used to teach at American University Law School before going to Hofstra) and I told her and her family about our trip. Her son thought it was so cool, he gave me a fist bump. Too funny!

I love the Air and Space Museum! To me, that is the first destination anyone should go to when they are in D.C. I grew up loving planes, especially World War II planes. When he was in the Air Force stationed in England, my brother would draw World War II planes, send them to me in the mail and I would hang them up on my wall in my bedroom. So for me, the best exhibit in the Air and Space Museum is the World War II exhibit, as pictured with that B17 Flying Fortress mural to the left. In that exhibit is a glass case listing of ALL the World War II aircraft by country with miniature replicas of each plane. There are several World War II planes there as well on exhibit, including a P51 Mustang and a Messerschmidt ME 109, including the engine for it (damn that was huge!).

Also, they have a World War I exhibit which features a WW I Collectibles glass case montage which features Snoopy and his Sopwith Camel, fighting the Red Baron. It also includes the Snoopy and the Red Baron game AND the Milton Bradley "Dogfight" Game, both of which I had growing up! When you're eight years old, who knew they would be collectibles! Yeah, just like baseball cards. Sigh. There are a lot of other great exhibits, including the Naval exhibit and the Space exhibits of course. Anyway, after touring the entire wonderful museum which will take you a good two hours (and it is a GOOD two hours), I got a couple of little planes for my two sons, Matthew and Jonathan and left for the Nats game.

We decided to walk from the Air and Space Museum to Nationals Park. My guess is this took 20-30 minutes and got a little help in the location from a D.C. police officer parked in his car. Once we got to Nationals Park, another very friendly D.C. police officer saw me taking a picture of the stadium and offered to take a picture of me with the stadium, which is pictured at the beginning of this article. I guess he saw the Notre Dame shirt I was wearing, and he figured I was from out of town. But he couldn't have been nicer. We went into the Nats Team Store where the staff there couldn't have been any nicer as well. We noticed some Braves' jerseys out on display, since the Braves were in town. There was another rack of other team jerseys. We moved the jerseys around so that the Mets' jerseys stood at the front. :-)

As for Nationals Park itself, which opened last year, well the Red Porch restaurant area and the unique hat look to it stood out. We thought an Uncle Sam hat would rise up every time a Nats player hit a home run (alas, not the case). The second impression once I got a look at the field is that unlike PNC Park, which is very intimate, Nationals Park is really big. Too big. Now here is the kicker. It only seats 41,888. It sure seems a lot bigger than that. It is definitely a pitchers park. The dimensions are 332 down the left field line, 377 in left center, 402 in dead center field, 375 in right center and 335 down the right field line. It doesn't seem that large, but it plays bigger. Unless you're Adam Dunn and no park, including Yellowstone National, can keep your moonshots from leaving the field. Now, don't get me wrong, it's a nice park, but it's kind of plain. No uniqueness to the outfield. They had a live band playing in the picnic area, which I thought was great. The picnic area is expansive, but it needs more chairs and the concessions are not that great outside of Ben's Chili Bowl (which I had to pass on due to an upset stomach) and a neat little gelato stand a little down the ways in the second deck (which I definitely didn't pass on).

As for the game itself, we got treated to another wild affair. The Nats are the worst team in baseball. Often bad baseball teams are the result of a pitching staff that consists of retreads and young pitchers who could use some more seasoning in the minors, but are the best the team has to offer at the moment. Such is the case with one Ross Detwiler, a lefthander out of Michigan State. Detwiler was picked in the first round of the 2007 draft and was rushed up to the big leagues this year. Detwiler has struggled this year with a 6.40 ERA and has given up 69 hits in only 52 innings pitched. Detwiler is not the first to experience struggling as a rookie. Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz struggled as rookies to name a few. Detwiler could eventually be good. But right now, he is not good at all.

That night was no different for Detwiler. However, it was the Nationals who jumped on the Braves early. Nyjer Morgan, who was just traded to the Nats the day before, singled, stole second and scored on a Josh Willingham single. The Braves would score a run in the second to tie the game at one. However, the Nationals would score again in the second on an infield RBI single by Detwiler and then a single by Nick Johnson that scored Detwiler. However a Chipper Jones RBI double and a Yunel Escobar single brought the Braves fans to their feet and the game was tied at three.

By the way, is there any hitter with a prettier swing from either side of the plate than Chipper Jones? Seriously, the guy is just a great hitter and that comes from a great swing.

But the game was not tied for long. Adam Dunn, pictured here, hit a rocket off Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami over the right center field fence and put the Nats up 4-3. It was Dunn's second home run of our trip, as he had hit one on Sunday vs. the Orioles. Dunn would be the center of a mini argument that I had with a Nationals fan in the top of the fourth. After Chipper Jones tied the game at four with a single, Yunel Escobar hit an absolute shot on a line to left field. Dunn immediately realized it was going to be over his head, and turned his back and ran. The ball hit off the track and short hopped the wall for a RBI double. The Braves were now ahead 5-4. The fan in front of me yelled "A real left fielder would have caught that. I had to respond, which I did with "Cmon, be serious. Willie Mays would not have caught that ball (and he wouldn't have)." He responded in kind and we had a discussion, with Tieff even chiming in that there was no chance for anyone to catch that (Tieff later said to me in Tieffspeak as I call it "That was a missile!").

Now think about this for a second. Most corner outfielders are in the majors are built like Dunn, or Willingham (pictured here) or in the Braves case that night Matt Diaz (an adventure himself in left) and Jeff Francouer. They are power guys, possess usually a good arm, but are short on speed. In fact the only corner outfielder I thought who remotely had a chance of catching it (but wouldn't have) when he was the Pirates left fielder was Morgan. Also a ball hit to left field is going to get up on an outfielder quicker than in center (at least from my experience of playing the outfield over the years in softball). So not even a left fielder that possesses the range of a center fielder is going to catch a shot like that. I will give the rabid Nats fan credit. He was the one who made the great Joel Hanrahan comment that I used in my posting of Monday's game.

Ok, enough of corner outfielder talk. Let's get to something very relevant to today's news. Manny Acta was fired as manager of the Nationals after yesterday's game. Everyone saw this coming and many of the Nats fans, including the rabid guy in front of me I got into an argument with wanted him fired. If there ever was a game that was used as evidence for Acta being fired, this was it.

Acta replaced Detwiler in the middle of the fourth inning with Tyler Clippard (who once had a cup of coffee with the Yankees). Clippard gave up the "missile" to Escobar but struck out the next two batters to end the inning. Clippard then retired the Braves in order in the fifth. The Nats tied up the game in the bottom of the fifth as Kawakami hit Willingham with a pitch, then threw a Christian Guzman grounder back to him into center field. Kawakami's night ended as Bobby Cox brought in Brooke Logan. Logan gave up a RBI groundout to Bard before getting out of the inning.

Now here's where it gets interesting. In the top of the sixth, Clippard got the first batter, Martin Prado, out. So Clippard has now retired six Braves in a row. Acta comes out and relieves him with Sean Burnett! Reason - the old take the righty out, Clippard, and bring in a lefty, Burnett, to face two lefties. Problem - the first batter Burnett faces is Chipper Jones, who is a switch hitter and a lifetime .312 hitter against lefties. Nice! Jones hits Burnett's first pitch on a line to right center where only a great racing catch by Morgan saves it from being at least a double. Then Brian McCann just gets under one and flies out to deep center. So Burnett throws batting practice fodder and barely gets out of the inning while Clippard is somewhere in the clubhouse scratching his head saying "What did I do?"

Wait, it gets better! Acta then pinch hits for Burnett in the bottom of the sixth. So Acta uses Burnett for two batters that Clippard could have faced instead and pinch hits for Burnett in the sixth. One reliever wasted. But it still gets even better!! Acta brings out the well traveled Jesus Colome for the seventh. Now Colome is well traveled because he is the living embodiment of Nuke LaLoosh. Million dollar arm. Five cent head. Colome was once a top prospect with the Oakland A's and was touted as their future closer. Problem was, and still is, Colome doesn't know exactly where his mid 90's fastball is going. Thus he has a career average of four plus walks per nine innings. Tonight would be no different. Colome walked two batters, then Brooks Conrad (pictured here), a rookie just called up from the minors, deposited a fat Colome fastball over the right field fence. Braves take an 8-5 lead.

In the eighth, after the Nats cut the lead to 8-6, Acta replaces Colome with another well traveled pitcher, lefty Ron Villone. Villone also shows why he is well traveled by giving up a double, a walk, then after a sacrifice, an intentional walk. Villone is replaced with even another well traveled reliever, Julian Tavarez. Tavarez also immediately shows why he too is well traveled by walking the first batter he faces, Matt Diaz. Braves up 9-6. Bobby Cox sends up the left handed hitting Garrett Anderson to pinch hit for Jeff Francoeur. Now here's where Acta really could have used Burnett, but since he wasted him in the sixth, Acta decides not to burn a sixth reliever, lefty Joe Beimel. Anderson hits an absolute bullet to right field, but Willingham was standing right there to make the catch. Since Willingham has a gun for an arm, Jones doesn't even try to tag on him as Willingham fires a one hopper to home. Tavarez escapes the eighth. Acta burned through five relievers in the span of two plus innings. That was more than enough evidence for me to see Acta be relieved of his duties. Also it was further evidence of my previous statement in the eighth paragraph about the Nats.

Give the Nationals credit though, they didn't go gently in that good good night. After a scoreless top of the ninth for the Braves (as Acta used his sixth reliever, Beimel), the Nationals threatened against Braves co-closer Rafael Soriano. Soriano promptly walked the first two batters he faced, before getting Dunn on a sky high popup to third and striking out Willingham. Christian Guzman though smacked a double to right center, plating two runners and the Nats were down 9-8 with the tying run on second. But Soriano got Josh Bard to ground out to Casey Kotchman and the Braves held on for the 9-8 win. It was our second straight exciting 9-8 game as we had watched the Mets beat the Pirates the day before 9-8 in extra innings. What are the chances of that?

We stayed around for the fireworks show after the game. Strangely, you had to move to the third base side to see them, so those, like us, who had first base side tickets and remained had to walk to the third base side to see them. We decided (or more to the point, I decided for us) to stand in the aisle instead of getting a seat, so that we could leave ahead of the others that had stayed out of the 33,982 that attended the game. That was by far the largest crowd of any game that we saw during our trip. It's also proof that if the Nats become a winning team, there is more than enough of a fan base in D.C. for them to succeed.

After the nice fireworks show, we took the 30 minute walk back to our car and headed home. A long five hours plus drive awaited us, and I didn't get back into my house till about 4:30 am Saturday morning. The trip had ended but the memories will always remain. More on that in my next post.