The Diamondbacks fired their manager, so does a change of field leadership improve the team? Do the Giants try to trade for a bat to help their fine pitching staff win with a good ERA? If you think the Dodgers are going to run away with the division, maybe you don’t make moves to try to catch them. With Manny out, however, there’s an opening to catch them by improving your team.
I’m skeptical that this will trigger any big moves unless either of those teams close the gap significantly, because both are relatively budget conscious these days. The Diamondbacks spent the winter bracing for hard economic times, laying off around 30 front office employees and letting expensive free agents such as Adam Dunn, Orlando Hudson and Randy Johnson depart; they then turned around and signed Jon Garland for nearly the same price as the Big Unit. For all of their belt-tightening, their payroll rose by abut $7.3 million over last year; they ranked 20th in Opening Day payroll at $73.5 million.
The notoriously tight-fisted Giants, on the other hand, increased their payroll from $76.6 to $82.6 million (13th) this winter in an effort to break their two-year streak of 90+ losses. They made $37.25 million in salary commitments, the NL West’s largest outlay and the eighth-largest in the game, though admittedly that’s a rounding error relative to the Yankees’ $441 million worth of commitments. Aside from a few untouchable blue-chippers, including giggleworthy pitcher Madison Bumgarner (yes, really) they don’t have a lot to deal in a midseason prospects-for-veterans swap.
Both teams probably have some wiggle room to add salary if they’re truly contenders, but recently we’ve seen a shift in the way teams value prospects in general. Even if either one pulls the trigger, the Dodgers have far more resources — prospects as well as mony — and more leeway, as they cut salary from $118.6 million to $100.4 million while still signing making an NL-high $105.9 million in commitments via free agents Hudson, Ramirez, Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, Randy Wolf et al. Certainly, I don’t think you’ll see either of their competitors go to the whip early and trade for a CC Sabathia or an Adam Dunn until they make up considerable ground on the Mannyless Dodgers.
• • •
Here’s this week’s Hit List. That’s my fourth article at BP in the last three days, breaking last week’s record of four in four. Mixing things up from my usual selection, here are the Yankees as well as a couple of the more interesting entries:
[#13 Braves] You’re a Dull Boy, Frenchy: After supposedly finding the religion of plate discipline over the winter, Jeff Francoeur is back to his old ways, drawing just four walks in 118 PA, and getting on base at a .305 OBP clip that’s actually seven points below his career rate. “If on-base percentage is so important, then why don’t they put it up on the scoreboard?” he muses, indicating that yes, there are questions so dumb they shouldn’t be asked.
[#14 Angels] Nap Time At Last: Just three days shy of three full years in the majors, Mike Napoli finally gets a start at DH—three of them, in fact — and responds by going 8-for-11 with 13 total bases. You’d think such a move would have been glaringly obvious by now given the presence of a defensively superior catcher and the absence of Vlad Guerrero, the lone Angel with a higher OPS since Napoli hit Anaheim back in 2006. Alas, old-schooler Mike Scioscia labors under the notion that there are only two positions for a backstop: a-squattin’ and a-sittin’. Napoli’s hitting .328/.444/.642, just two points of batting average shy of leading the team in all three triple-slash categories.
[#19 Yankees] The Yanks lose five straight and fall to 3-10 within the AL East after defeats by Boston and Tampa Bay, and they lose Jorge Posada to the disabled list due to a hamstring strain along the way. The good news is that Alex Rodriguez will rejoin the lineup on Friday; in his absence, Yankee third basemen have hit .202/.248/.283. The bad news is that he can’t do anything about the MLB-worst 6.3 runs per game the pitching staff is allowing.
In the East, history suggests that we ignore Toronto’s hot start at our peril; 18-10 teams with three straight seasons above .500 tend to keep the good times rolling. On the other hand, particularly with three teams forecast to win at least 94 games, the PECOTA-based odds suggest a deck still stacked heavily against the Blue Jays, and last week I identified a handful of reasons they might regress. Forecast to have the league’s lowest-scoring offense, they’re suddenly and improbably the highest-scoring unit, fueled by an infield that’s hitting a combined .303/.380/.479, with Aaron Hill (.360/.404/.552) and Marco Scutaro (.262/.400/.458) both particularly over their heads. Their rotation has been decimated by injuries, and it’s possible that three starters who helped them post the league’s top ERA last year — Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum, both rehabbing from off-season arm surgeries, as well as departed free agent A.J. Burnett — won’t throw a single pitch for them this year. Through the end of April they had played the league’s second-easiest schedule (.474, based on PECOTA-projections), but they’ll face the AL’s second-hardest (.513) overall. Not helping the Jays is the fact that the indicators suggest that neither the Yankees nor Rays have scuffled enough to rule them out, and both have substantial upgrades waiting in the wings — the former in the form of Alex Rodriguez, the latter via David Price, the game’s top pitching prospect.
• • •
Thanks to Manny, A-Rod’s latest controversy is old, old news. I don’t feel particularly inclined to weigh in to great extent except to note that it seems clear the worm has turned for Selena Roberts, author of the dumpster-diving exposé which has rocked the baseball world with revelations that Rodriguez only tips 15 percent at Hooters. Where her discovery that the slugger tested positive during the supposedly anonymous 2004 survey testing was a legitimate (if rather unsavory) journalistic coup, her latest allegations reek of smear tactics and innuendo, serving to remind the world of her own tarnished past and her execrable writing style.
Before you close your mental drawer on the situation, here are a few must-read links:
• The Kansas City Star’s Jason Whitlock reminds readers of Roberts’ infamous handling of the Duke lacrosse rape allegations:
She claimed that the players’ unwillingness to confess to or snitch about a rape (that did not happen) was the equivalent of drug dealers and gang members promoting antisnitching campaigns.
When since-disgraced district attorney Mike Nifong whipped up a media posse to rain justice on the drunken, male college students, Roberts jumped on the fastest, most influential horse, using her New York Times column to convict the players and the culture of privilege that created them.
Proven inaccurate, Roberts never wrote a retraction for the columns that contributed to the public lynching of Reade Seligmann, Colin Finnerty and David Evans.
In a follow-up column at Fox Sports, Whitlock continues his attack: “By refusing to acknowledge her mistakes in the Duke case, she creates the impression that her agenda trumps the truth.” Ahem.
• Steve Goldman weighs in with an excellent Pinstriped Bible:
I don’t trust Roberts’ judgment, I don’t trust her understanding of baseball, and I don’t trust her motives in writing a book about Alex Rodriguez that surely would not exist were it not intended to be a hit piece. If Rodriguez was juicing in high school or kindergarten, it goes to character, not performance, and we have had countless reasons to know that he’s not Mother Theresa in the clubhouse or off the field. Neither were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, et al. Cobb’s reward was to die friendless, Ruth and Mantle died young, the causes of their cancer probably not unrelated to their youthful carousing, and Williams’ own son had him decapitated and stuck in a freezer.
…If Rodriguez used steroids in high school, that tells us a little more about Rodriguez the man but nothing of substance about Rodriguez the ballplayer. If he used HGH as a Yankees, well, HGH seems to help athletes with recovery time and healing, not performance. So does aspirin. Move on. Xavier Nady is having platelets shot into his elbow. The dividing line between these two therapies is entirely arbitrary.
As for Roberts’ allegations of Rodriguez tipping pitches as a Ranger, they had best be better sourced than her work on the Duke case. According to SI.com, “Roberts said that over the course of a couple years, some people with the Rangers began to detect a pattern whereby Rodriguez would appear to be giving away pitch type and location to hitters, always middle infielders who would then be able to repay him in kind when he was at the plate, with his body movement.”
It is extraordinary to think that “some people” would notice this and not alert management as to the practice. Unless there is videotape evidence, or Roberts’ sources are willing to come forward and explain why they sat on their knowledge that Rodriguez was damaging his own pitchers, this must be dismissed as the worst kind of hearsay. That Roberts knows relatively little about baseball must be considered here — her credulity and our skepticism must be of equal proportion.
• Of all people, it’s noted blogger/blog-hater Murray Chass who offers the definitive takedown of Roberts:
In general, Roberts makes far too many serious allegations about Rodriguez to hide them behind anonymous quotes. Rodriguez deserves more, but more importantly readers deserve more. There is far too much in this attack book for Roberts to expect readers to take it on faith that her anonymous sources are real and they can be trusted.
The use of anonymous sources has come under increasing criticism from readers of all types of publications. Having used them frequently in my decades as a reporter and columnist, I am aware of the problems they pose. Reporters have to establish their credibility with their use of unidentified sources for readers to accept them.
Roberts and I were once colleagues at The New York Times, and I can’t say she established that credibility. She also didn’t strike me as being a top-flight reporter. As a result, I don’t feel I can trust her book full of anonymous sources. Even if every single A-Rod transgression she reports is accurate, it’s too easy for her to write one former teammate said this and another player said that.
…Roberts belies her understanding of baseball with an observation she makes in trying to offer an example of A-Rod on steroids. Citing the game in August 2002 in which he hit three home runs, she writes that his “performance set off the steroid alarms,” explaining, “In the dog days of the season, when players are wilting, A-Rod had fresh legs and a fresher bat.”
And she quotes an unnamed “Ranger teammate” as saying, “It’s that stuff that makes you say no (bleeping) way.”
No way? Both Roberts and the teammate should consult The Elias Book of Baseball Records,” pages 359 through 362. The list of players who hit three or more home runs shows that 76 players other than Rodriguez hit three or more home runs in August.
Gil Hodges slugged four for the Brooklyn Dodgers Aug. 31, 1950. Hall of Famer Jim Rice hit three in a game twice, both games being played Aug. 29. Other Hall of Famers who hit three in an August game were Ralph Kiner, Larry Doby, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray (twice).
It has never been suggested that any of those players used steroids.