Tim Hudson is a reminder that prices are going up. Baseball teams have money to spend, and with a thin free agent market and at least 20 clubs thinking they’ve got a chance to win the World Series in 2014, it’s a great off-season to be a free agent.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann are going to get very, very rich, but Marlon Byrd did just fine for himself as well. This is the way the system is supposed to work.
If you’re Braves GM Frank Wren this morning, what are you thinking? You probably had Hudson penciled in for $9 million in 2014. Instead, he got $23 million over two years from the Giants.
Wren simply could not go there, and so he’s left with a hole in his rotation. At 38, Hudson was still good for 25-30 starts and 175-200 quality innings.
He’s also a great teammate, a great influence on all those young guys. On the other hand, this could be one of those moments that show off what a great organization the Braves have.
Here’s the Braves rotation in the wake of Hudson’s departure:
- Mike Minor.
- Kris Medlen.
- Julio Teheran.
- Brandon Beachy.
- Alex Wood or David Hale.
Not bad, huh? Yes, there are questions. Beachy has made five starts since recovering from Tommy John surgery. He appears to be good to go, but there are questions. Wood has made 11 big league starts, Hale two.
Because the Braves don’t have unlimited resources, they have to build a great top-to-bottom organization, and that’s what Wren has done.
Atlanta was one of baseball’s three youngest teams in 2013. Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman were all 23 on Opening Day. Craig Kimbrel was 25.
Now it’s McCann’s turn. He’s one of the most sought-after players on the market and could be gone, too.
If you look at the Braves from a certain angle, you can convince yourself they’re good enough to hang with the Nationals in the NL East.
They still have baseball’s best bullpen and a front of the rotation that could be tremendous. In Freeman, Simmons and Heyward, they have three of the National League’s best players. If B.J. Upton can get his career back on track, if Justin Upton has a productive year, the Braves could have a dynamic offense.
But there are questions at second, where Dan Uggla has worked furiously to get his swing back. And there are questions in the rotation and behind the plate.
Wren will then have to decide if Evan Gattis can handle the everyday catching duties. In the end, Wren will figure something out.
And the Braves move on. They’ll be fine.
Revisionist history says the Phillies made terrible decisions in giving all these longterm commitments to Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, etc.
This is just silly. What were they supposed to do with these guys? Walk away from them? Allow Ryan Howard to leave via free agency?
This group of players has transformed the Phillies from a losing franchise to one of the best in baseball. Between 1984 and 2006, the Phillies went to the postseason one time.
And then this group arrived and took them to the playoffs five years in a row, won the National League pennant twice and won the World Series in 2008.
Along the way, the franchise became monstrously successful. Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, and 3 million became the norm. The Phillies led the NL in attendance three straight years.
So what did the Phillies do? They made a commitment to keeping the band together as long as possible. In a perfect world, their farm system would be supplying a pipeline of talent, but that’s another story.
With an older roster, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has done whatever he can to patch together one more run. That’s why Marlon Byrd makes sense. That’s also why Carlos Ruiz makes sense.
Yes, he may have overpaid for both players. If he stood around and waited for the market to settle, he probably could have found bargains in January or February.
But he was comfortable with Byrd and Ruiz. He thought they fit into his clubhouse. The Phillies did get younger last year as Domonic Brown made the National League All-Star team and Cody Asche and Freddy Galvis contributed.
But they’re built around Howard, Utley, Rollins, Hamel, Cliff Lee, etc. They’re going to go as far as those guys take them. If they’re all still productive, the Phillies have a chance to be a factor in a division in which the Nationals and Braves appear to be a cut above every other team.
To second guess Amaro is great fun. It’s part of the deal. Having spent his life in this game, he understands how it works.
He’s believed to be in the last year of his contract, so he probably feels some pressure to get the Phillies back on track. Now he has his manager, Ryne Sandberg, in place, and is getting closer to having a roster he believes in.
Again, it comes down to those familiar names being what they once more. In the end, that’s what matters, and it’s those guys who’ll either decide whether the Byrd and Ruiz signings pay off.
Until the moment the World Series was won on Wednesday night, the Red Sox were focused only on the job at hand. One pitch at a time. One inning at a time. Et cetera.
“Whatever the task is in front of us, that’s the one we address,” manager John Farrell said earlier in the week.
His players did a splendid job of thinking small, so in these last few days, as they approached another championship, they simply wouldn’t allow themselves to think about what it all meant.
“You know what we’re concerned with?” Dustin Pedroia asked after the Red Sox won the American League pennant. “That would be the first pitch of the next game.”
He paused for emphasis.
Pedroia’s point was that there would be plenty of time to consider legacies and the team’s place in the history books in the weeks and months ahead. First they wanted to finish the deal.
Even when they clinched a playoff berth, even when they won the AL, there were no crazy celebrations.
There was always another mountain to climb. The players’ message to the world — and to one another — was that there was always another threshold to cross.
Most World Series titles
Rank Team Last Total
1. Yankees 2009 27
2. Cardinals 2011 11
3. Athletics 1989 9
4. Red Sox 2013 8
5. Giants 2012 7
6. Dodgers 1988 6
7. (tie) Reds 1990 5
7. (tie) Pirates 1979 5
Now it’s done. A season that began with the Red Sox widely picked to finish last in the AL East ended with a 6-1 victory in the World Series-clinching Game 6 at Fenway Park.
Right fielder Shane Victorino slapped a three-run double off the Green Monster in the bottom of the third inning to get the Red Sox rolling. Boston added three runs in the fourth, and that was pretty much that.
David Ortiz was named the World Series Most Valuable Player after reaching base four more times, all on walks, as the Cardinals finally decided to stop giving him pitches to hit.
And right-hander John Lackey, who won Game 7 for the Angels 11 years ago, when he was a 23-year-old rookie, was tremendous in another clincher, allowing one run in 6 2/3 innings.
When the game ended, the emotions of a season that began nine months ago in Fort Myers, Fla., were unleashed in a torrent of bear hugs, laughter and accomplishment. In this era of unprecedented parity in baseball, Boston is the closest thing to a dynasty, having won the World Series three times in the last 10 seasons.
Remember when they were the team that couldn’t quite get over the hump? Remember the bitter disappointments of 1967, ’75 and ’86?
Now they’re the franchise that is operated shrewdly, managed brilliantly and fueled by such old-fashioned values as hard work and unselfishness.
They are cursed no more. This championship was different from those of 2004 and ’07 because it was won in their 101-year-old cathedral in front of a raucous home crowd.
This one was also different because it was so improbable. Who remembers that the Red Sox lost 93 games last season?
No general manager had a better offseason than Ben Cherington.
In a rush of signings, Cherington brought in seven free agents. None of them would be considered stars. None of them got really big money.
Cherington wanted players who had reputations for being good clubhouse guys. He wanted players who understand that playing for the Red Sox is a unique experience — that is, expectations are high, and players are held accountable.
Cherington was methodical, adding a Shane Victorino one day, a Jonny Gomes the next. Mike Napoli signed on, too. And so did David Ross, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara and Stephen Drew.
Everything clicked. The same things drove these players. They loved to work, and they cared for one another. Though the Red Sox got their star power from familiar names — Ortiz and Pedroia and Jon Lester — they were fueled by all of them. They improved by 28 games, led the Majors in runs and spent 164 days in first place. In short, they were pretty much a perfect hardball team.
It was hokey at times hearing the things they said about one another. It was magical, too.
“We love each other,” Napoli said. “We don’t just hang out while we’re here. We hang out off the field. Our families get together. It’s a group that’s so tight. We play for each other. No one is selfish on this team. We play for one another.”
Maybe the Astros came to town at just the right time to save the Rangers. Speaking of the Astros, this is the two-week anniversary of their last victory. During this little 0-12 run, they’ve been outscored 69-19.
The Reds, Indians and Rangers all swept ‘em at a time when all three teams needed victories. The Rangers were hanging by a thread when the Astros came to town on Monday. They got the sweep, and then kept going with a Jurickson Profar walk-off home run to beat the Angels on Thursday.
So they begin this final weekend of the season trailing the Rays by two games and the Indians by one. The Rays and Indians are on the road in Toronto and Minneapolis for their final series while the Rangers have three more against the Angels. The Rays and Indians begin the day with seven-game winning streaks.
How crazy is this American League Wild Card race? Don’t blink or you’ll miss something important, and I speak as one who stayed with the Rays and Orioles for their 6-hour, 54-minute marathon that ended at 2:05 a.m. Saturday.
In case you missed it, the Rays won it 5-4 in the bottom of the 18th inning. Forty-nine players got into the game, including 28 pitchers, who threw 593 pitches.
It was a huge loss to the Orioles because it dropped them two games behind the Indians in the loss column.
Anyway, the Rays have 69 losses, the Indians and Rangers 70, the Orioles and Royals 72 and the Yankees 73. Here are some numbers:
- The last time the top three Wild Card teams were this close this late in the season was 1998 when the Cubs, Mets and Giants were 88-72 on Sept. 25.
- This is the first time six teams have been within 3 1/2 games of the top Wild Card spot on this date since the Wild Card was born in 1995.
- The Rays and Rangers have had a terrible few weeks, but they’re still in good shape to grab the two spots. There’s some history to be made there, too.
The Rays have won six of nine after losing 13 of 17. The Rangers have lost 14 of 18. Only four teams in the Wild Card era have made the postseason have enduring slumps of 4-13 or worse in the final six games. Here’s the list: 2008 Brewers, 2000 Yankees, 2000 Mariners and 1995 Yankees.
The Rays have won three of five in a stretch in which they’re playing 11 in a row against teams within 3 1/2 games of a postseason berth. They’ve got two more against the Orioles and then three at Yankee Stadium beginning Tuesday.
- Dodgers starters are 21-5 with a 1.91 ERA since July 26. In that time, they’ve had 12 games in which the starter didn’t allow an earned run.
- The Dodgers are 22-6 in August and 32-8 since the All-Star Break and 49-13 since June 22.
- 22 wins in August is a Los Angeles record for the franchise.
- July and August are the second- and third-winningest months in LA franchise history.
- The Dodgers have eight shutouts this month, second-most in franchise history behind 10 in September 1965.
- Last MLB team to have eight shutouts in a month was the Dodgers in September 1988.
- Three Dodgers starters are in the Top 5 in NL ERA this month among pitchers with at least five starters. Jose Fernandez (0.82), Alex Wood (0.90), Clayton Kershaw (1.01), Zack Greinke (1.23) and Rick Nolasco (1.64).
- Nolasco, Greinke and Kershaw are 13-2 with a 1.30 ERA this month. Since the mound was lowered in 1969, no other three starters has combined in a single month for 13 wins and an ERA as low as 1.30 with each making four or more starts. (Source: Elias.)
- Since the All-Star break, Dodger relievers have a 2.10 ERA, third-lowest in NL.
If you’re the manager of the Diamondbacks, Nationals, etc., you might want to remind your players of baseball’s recent history. Hint: it ain’t over ’til it’s over.
Tom Boswell of The Washington Post has an excellent column about baseball’s recent September surprises. He’s reminding his hometown team that it’s important to play the season out because you just never know.
Here are some highlights:
- In just the past two years, six teams have imploded to lose division titles or a playoff spot.
- The Cardinals, Rays and A’s all seemed to be eliminated, but they played it out and were rewarded.
- It’s sometimes easier to have a we’ve-got-to-win-every-game mentality than to simply be trying to keep what they already appear to have.
There are extreme examples: the 2011 Cardinals were 10 1/2 games out of the Wild Card on August 25th, but won the World Series. That year, the Rays were nine games out on September 2, but clinched a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season.
Both teams needed help. Had the Red Sox not finished 7-20, it wouldn’t have mattered that the Rays went 17-8 down the stretch. Likewise, the Braves opened the door for the Cardinals by losing 16 of their final 23. But the Cardinals did their part with a 16-5 finish.
The 2012 White Sox spent 126 days in first place in the American League Central. But they couldn’t close the deal, losing 11 of their final 15 to escort the Tigers to the postseason. The Tigers were given an opportunity and took advantage with a 15-7 finish.
In fact, two of the three American League’s first-place teams on September 1st last season—Texas and Chicago—ended up finishing second. The White Sox missed the playoffs entirely. The Rangers didn’t get out of the Wild Card game despite spending 186 days in first place and leading the AL West by 6 1/2 games on August 12th.
The A’s didn’t give up on last season either even when they trailed the Rangers by five games with nine to play. They had the lead down to two when the two teams finished the regular season with a three-game series at the Coliseum. In other words, the Rangers needed to win once to clinch the AL West.
The A’s won the opener 4-3. Lead down to one. Okay, no big deal.
Only thing is, you could see it coming from miles away. Baseball is the weirdest of sports. Teams can reel off five- and six-game winning streaks all season long. But when the finish line is near, when the heat is on, sometimes the simplest things become impossible.
If you’d been around awhile, you knew the only thing that was going to save the Rangers was for one player to step up. In the first round of the playoffs, that one player was Justin Verlander rescuing a series against the very same A’s.
Who stepped up for the Rangers? No one did. Oakland’s Travis Blackley beat the Rangers in the second game. Tie division.
On the final day of the regular season, Rangers starter Ryan Dempster couldn’t hold a four-run lead, Josh Hamilton dropped a fly ball and the A’s won 12-5 and staged a wild clubhouse celebration. The Rangers limped back to Texas and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Orioles.
The Nationals are 2-0 in a stretch of 19 straight games against the Marlins, Mets and Phillies. An offense that averaged just 3.4 runs per game in the first 114 games has scored 5.3 per game as the Nationals have won 13 of 18. Finally, they look like the team we all thought they’d be. The Reds play 15 of their final 28 against teams with losing record. But they’ve got six of their final nine against the Pirates, and those games could be critical.
The Nationals trail the Reds by seven games for the second Wild Card, and while that’s a large number, it was 9 1/2 games a week ago. They’ve at least chipped away. They have little margin for error, but they also might be able to create a little excitement in a season that has been hugely disappointing.
The Diamondbacks are just six out. Problem is, unlike the Nationals, Arizona is showing no signs of getting hot. That’s why these next 10 games—seven against the Giants, three against the Blue Jays—are hugely important. If the D-backs are going to make a run this is the time.
As for looking ahead at their schedule, they shouldn’t. They’ve dug themselves too much of a hole to worry about tomorrow or next week. Never mind those seven games against the Dodgers. Besides, if they can creep closer during these 10 games against the Giants and Blue Jays, they’ll start to feel the possibilities.
They certainly don’t want to fast forward to the bottom of the schedule because it’s absolutely too delicious to even consider. If they get to the final weekend, they may be able to take care of business themselves with three home games against the—wait for it—Nationals.
I’m sure Ryan Braun was told that the reaction to whatever apology he issued would be negative. There’s nothing columnists and talk show nitwits like more than climbing on their soapbox and trashing another man’s ethics. As a matter of fact, I enjoy it myself.
Some people were going to be satisfied only if Braun had cut off both hands and announced he was going to spend the rest of his days working in soup kitchens. Otherwise, he was going to get trashed for whatever he said.
He offered a little more detail than most guys do and blamed no one except himself. He didn’t offer dates, names, places for how he scored the stuff, but that was his choice. None of it was going to change anyone’s mind, but nothing is going to do that.
I hope those editors at the Milwaukee Journal whose sensibilities were so offended by Braun using performance-enhancing drugs that they demanded he be shipped out of town can find some peace. I hope those poor boys and girls can still stomach living in Wisconsin when Braun steps to home plate next season.
Now Braun ought to shut up for awhile. He’ll have to face reporters on this topic at some point, most likely next spring, and he won’t make people happy then, either. As Brewers GM Doug Melvin said, Braun just needs to get back on the field next season and produce.
If he plays well, he can begin to write a different ending to his career. He’ll never erase this chapter of his legacy, but he can leave people with a different memory. Those who beat their chests and say Braun let them down with his ethical failings need to take a long look at themselves.
Braun is a great baseball player. Speed and strength. Balance and vision. He has a high baseball IQ. He’s a joy to watch. Speaking as someone who has lived in a former NL Central city the last 13 years, it was amazing watching the damage Braun and Prince Fielder did in the middle of that lineup.
To transfer a moral component to their greatness as baseball players reflects our own failings more than theirs. Again, though, I digress.
Braun took banned substances because he wanted to be a better baseball player. Maybe he did it because he was injured. Or maybe he’s insecure about his abilities. Regardless, he blurred the lines between ambition and judgement. Lord knows, he wasn’t the only one. We want these guys to care as much as we care, and some guys got carried away.
Whether they did it to make millions or break records or win a World Series, we’ll probably never know. Now that would be the perfect apology.
This whole Braun thing has been fascinating. First, the leaks about him testing positive. Then his ridiculous denials and unconscionable trashing of the specimen collector. He didn’t utter one believable word. Still, some some people believed him.
Finally—and this is the part of his apology I liked most—Braun did what he should have done. He looked himself in the mirror and said, “Okay, enough.” At least it appears that’s what he did.
He decided to negotiate a suspension and move on. Next season, he starts fresh. Well, not fresh completely. Those poor Milwaukee Journal editors will still be running down the street screaming in horror. Mostly, though, we’ll sit back with our brats and beer and see what kind of player he’ll be.
Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig made the following statement today regarding the discipline issued to players in relation to Major League Baseball’s Biogenesis investigation:
“Major League Baseball has worked diligently with the Players Association for more than a decade to make our Joint Drug Program the best in all of professional sports. I am proud of the comprehensive nature of our efforts – not only with regard to random testing, groundbreaking blood testing for human Growth Hormone and one of the most significant longitudinal profiling programs in the world, but also our investigative capabilities, which proved vital to the Biogenesis case. Upon learning that players were linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, we vigorously pursued evidence that linked those individuals to violations of our Program. We conducted a thorough, aggressive investigation guided by facts so that we could justly enforce our rules.
“Despite the challenges this situation has created during a great season on the field, we pursued this matter because it was not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do. For weeks, I have noted the many players throughout the game who have strongly voiced their support on this issue, and I thank them for it. I appreciate the unwavering support of our owners and club personnel, who share my ardent desire to address this situation appropriately. I am also grateful to the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society and our club physicians, who were instrumental in the banning of amphetamines and whose expertise remains invaluable to me. As an institution, we have made unprecedented strides together.
“It is important to point out that 16,000 total urine and blood tests were conducted on players worldwide under MLB Drug Programs in 2012. With the important additions of the hGH testing and longitudinal profiling this season, we are more confident than ever in the effectiveness of the testing program. Those players who have violated the Program have created scrutiny for the vast majority of our players, who play the game the right way.
“This case resoundingly illustrates that the strength of our Program is not limited only to testing. We continue to attack this issue on every front – from science and research, to education and awareness, to fact-finding and investigative skills. Major League Baseball is proud of the enormous progress we have made, and we look forward to working with the players to make the penalties for violations of the Drug Program even more stringent and a stronger deterrent.
“As a social institution with enormous social responsibilities, Baseball must do everything it can to maintain integrity, fairness and a level playing field. We are committed to working together with players to reiterate that performance-enhancing drugs will not be tolerated in our game.”
It was the spring of 1993 in Fort Lauderdale when Orioles manager Johnny Oates introduced Cal Ripken Jr. to a skinny, 17-year-old kid from Miami. Alex Rodriguez would be the overall No. 1 pick in the draft that summer and had asked to meet with his boyhood idol.
Ripken redefined the position of shortstop, proving that big guys could play there. Not only could they handle the position defensively, but they could also hit home runs, which only a few shortstops had done through the years.
Rodriguez apparently had begun watching Ripken years earlier when the Orioles trained in Miami. Anyway, they had a brief, cordial meeting that day and stayed in touch through the years. A-Rod made his Major League debut 16 months after the meeting when he was 18.
Lots has happened since. Ripken played nine more seasons and was a first-ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame in 2007. He was named on 98.5 percent of ballots, third-highest behind only Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan.
(Wouldn’t you like to meet the fools who didn’t vote for Seaver, Ryan and Ripken? But I digress.)
A-Rod was on the right track in his high regard for Ripken. He was just about the perfect baseball player in terms of production and preparation and work ethic.
But he was more than that. He tried to sign every autograph, do every interview and took pride in representing the Orioles the right way.
True story: Once on a train ride in Japan, he fretted about an interview he’d just read with country star Bill Anderson. In the interview, Anderson said he’d never turned down an autograph request.
This comment bothered Ripken.
“How is that possible?” he asked. “There are times you just can’t sign.”
In his final seasons, Ripken would stay on the field after games an hour or more trying to accommodate every autograph request. He couldn’t sign ‘em all, but he tried.
My point is that A-Rod would have been well served to have consulted Cal a few times over the years before he said or did things. Like Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, Cal believed his play should speak for him and that the focus of his career should be about his team and his play.
A-Rod did so many things that called attention to himself. He took some veiled shots at Jeter. In short, he never really seemed comfortable in his own skin.
Maybe that’s why he chose to use performance-enhancing drugs. Even though plenty of scouts say he was the best young player they ever saw, maybe A-Rod thought otherwise.
Or maybe he wanted to be greater than great. Maybe he thought he could be the greatest of all-time only by cheating. He had the right idea in that first meeting with Cal, but things got off the track somewhere.
My favorite A-Rod story is kind of a sad one. Late in the 2001 season, I was having lunch with Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News at a Houston’s at Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza.
At some point, Evan pointed toward a guy at the hostess stand.
“That’s A-Rod’s guy,” he said.
We watched as the guy whispered to the hostess, pointed toward the back and appeared to be arranging for A-Rod to have a table in a quiet corner, a corner where he wouldn’t be bothered by the thousands of screaming fans who were sure to mob him when he sat down.
Sure enough, moments later, A-Rod entered the restaurant and was escorted quietly and quickly to a table near the back of the restaurant.
Only thing is, no one recognized him. Not when he entered the restaurant. Not when he walked through the restaurant. Not when he began having lunch.
That story spoke volumes about A-Rod’s perception of himself and how he sometimes just wasn’t in touch with reality. Plenty of people have raged about him in recent years, but there was always a touch of sadness with him.
That said, he attempted to cheat the game, and in doing so, he sent a message to young players everywhere, young players that don’t have his talent, that they needed to cheat, too.
He apparently thought the rules didn’t apply to him, and that if he was caught, he’d never be held accountable because, after all, everyone loves Alex. It’ll be interesting to see if he can be a productive player, but at 38, nothing he can do now will repair the damage done to his reputation.