A conversation about MLB, on the field, off the field.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

From the Basement January 31 07

Well, what's the chatter today?

Barry Bonds, the man everyone ( except me ) loves to hate.

Random thoughts re Barry today:

He opted out of the PA licensing agreement in 03, to the best of my knowledge he remains not part of it. Will the PA hold this against him? He might well need their lawyers, cheaper than paying for it himself, what with all the sabre rattling from MLB about not ratifying his contract and the Giants stipulation that if he is indicted they can cut him loose. Lots of speculation about how enforcable that would be.

Does MLB honestly believe that there will be a fan backlash as a result of Bonds breaking Ruth's record? Or are they just wacking his pee pee to appease the fans? I think the latter, this will be the biggest story in sports this year. I believe no publicity is bad publicity. I'll be shocked if attendance is down in 07. Bet your ass, finger waggling moralists across America will be flocking to their home parks in droves when Barry comes to town to express their contrived outrage.

Congress made some noise today about stepping in to clean up the game if George Mitchell doesn't get the cooperation from players and management that he wants, the threat of subpoena is powerful. You have to wonder though if this story was orchestrated by Mitchell himself. Somebody, Barry? is going to pay for everyones sins and then we can all move on.

Speaking of steroids, Sammy, one of the incredible shrinking men, signed with the Rangers. I heard somebody say recently that he is the size of a jockey. Will he make the team? I say yes unless he stinks in spring training. I can only conclude that the Rangers think the novelty will put some butts in the seats, and if he gets close to 600 that will generate a lot of interest. Sammy is still a celebrity. Will he be scorned like Barry? No, because the fans soak up all that false humility that Sammy exudes. Baseball been berry.......I love the fans......bs. Barry's the opposite, I'm the greatest and I don't give a shit what you think. I prefer Barry.

Why did the Jason Grimsley HGH scandal die? Because Caucasian ( in the extreme ) American sports legend Roger Clemens had his name linked to it?

This about steroids but not necessarily Barry. Many baseball fans, including me, wonder why our game is ridiculed far and wide over performance enhancing drugs while the NFL receives in comparison very little criticism. Stephen Brunt in the Globe & Mail has an excellent column on this subject today. He quotes one of his readers on this subject "Baseball is the game of American myth. Football is the game of American reality." Wonderfully stated and I think true. Read Mr. Brunt - I haven't figured out yet how to stick the link in to the blog ( sounds sexual).

Baseball stuff I read today NOT about drugs.

Blue Jays sign Victor Zambrano. Why not. When he was healthy he was better than the stats, he played for awful teams in Tampa Bay with awful bullpens.

Baseball America published their Top 10 Pirates prospects today. No surprise, Andrew McCutchen is #1. If he comes to Ottawa this year ( he'll probably start the year in AA) I hope to see him. Good things appear to be happening with the Bucs. Fellow canuck Jason Bay is the best kept secret in Canada, he's a great player.

Maury Brown of Bizofbaseball.com reports that John Kerry is concerned about the MLB Extra Innings out of market package being available solely on DirecTV. Arlen Specter has been making hay with it as well, can you say anti-trust? Kerry is currying favor with Red Sox Nation, and Specter is going to bat for his Pennsylvania home boys at COMCAST on this one. Specter has been threatening the NFL over this same issue, their out of market package is on DirecTV as well. I hate politicians. The bigger picture, there is a showdown looming between pro sports leagues and cable. Cable is pissed, see the NFL Network story as well.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


On November 14, 2001 Paul Godfrey, President of the Blue Jays, named J.P. Ricciardi as his GM.

Mr.Godfrey presented Ricciardi to Toronto baseball fans as the man with a plan. The man who knew how to compete in baseball's most competitive division on a then limited budget, because he was from the new school, the Billy Beane so called "Moneyball" school. Mr. Godfrey had the zeal of the newly converted and told us to wait 5 years and the Jays would be the AL East version of the A's, playoff teams on a regular basis.

We all know the Moneyball player development tenents, more emphasis on statistical analysis as opposed to "tools evaluation", college players over high school players - more "projectable", less risk, earlier returns on drafts.

So Ricciardi went to work, he fired approximately 30 scouts who weren't compatible with his approach, hired and promoted younger guys who were compatible. ( I do give him full marks for providing Canadians with opportunities in player development, Andrew Tinnish, Kevin Briand, Jon Lalonde ) and hired Keith Law. Keith Law was to Ricciardi as Paul DePodesta was to Billy Beane. Ricciardi hired Mr. Law, a 28 year old Harvard graduate and contributor to the statistical analysis web site Baseball Prospectus as his Special Assistant.

This quote is from Baseball America 01/14/04 "The Blue Jays now stress college players in the draft and rely heavily on statistical analysis as a way of measuring a player’s performance. They also have replaced many veteran scouts and minor league coaches with younger ones who follow their new philosophical approach."

This quote is from Jon Lalonde, Director Scouting Blue Jays, in a June 05 interview with The Baseball Analyst. "I think that when J.P. came into the organization, one of the first conclusions he reached was that pitching was an area of need through each of our minor league levels right into our Major League team. Therefore, in his first couple of drafts, he really wanted to emphasize pitching. Specifically, more mature college pitchers that could be pushed quickly through the system."

So we fast forward to the present and of the Jays projected starting 9 this year, Vernon Wells, Reed Johnson, Aaron Hill and Alex Rios are products of the system. The pitching staff is more homegrown, Roy Halladay, Gustavo Chacin, Brandon League and probably/maybe Casey Janssen, Dustin McGowan, Francisco Rosario & Shaun Marcum are products of the system. In fairness the Jays dealt away 2 homegrown major leaguers Gabe Gross & David Bush, in the Lyle Overbay deal.

Of the above players only Halladay & Wells are stars. Hill will be an everyday big league second baseman for the next 10 years. Rios, League & McGowan have high ceilings but plenty of question marks, the others should be servicable. What is most troubling is that Hill and Bush are the only players drafted during Ricciardi's tenure that are certain to be regulars this year. Wells, Rios and Johnson were drafted during the Gord Ash era and as for the pitchers I refer to this quote from Baseball America "The system is stocked primarily with control pitchers, with most of the electric arms (led by 2006 rookie righthanders Brandon League, Dustin McGowan and Francisco Rosario) signed on former GM Gord Ash's watch.

Is it too early to conclude that Ricciardi's drafts have been a bust?

Perhaps Ricciardi is becoming less dogmatic in his approach. The Jays 2006 First Round pick was a high school hitter, Travis Snider. As well he parted ways during the 06 season with his statistical analysis hire Keith Law. To the best of my knowledge he has not replaced Mr. Law but often teams keep the stat guys away from the public eye, because of criticism from the media & fans ( see "The Numbers Game" by Alan Schwarz ).

In the mood for more pessimism? This is a response from Jim Callis @ BA to my questions about the Blue Jays spending in the June 06 draft. "They came in at 26th among the 30 teams despite giving out more late six-figure bonuses than most clubs. In the past, they haven't spent exorbitantly on anyone, and my guess is they'd rank below average on an annual basis." Ok, they had no picks in the 2nd or 3rd round this year ( free agent signings compensation ) but the point is they are consistently cheap buggers in the draft. It's tough to be frugal and productive in the draft because draft is a misnomer. It's actually an auction ( Steve Boras being the most skilful auctioneer ). Are Ricciardi's hands tied on this? Certainly he can't be in favor of skimping on the draft.

We all know there is more to player to Player Development than the draft. The percentage of players in affiliated ball coming from outside the US is steadily and quickly increasing. ( Good for us Canucks, record # of 23 in the bigs last year! ). International player development is increasingly important. How are the Blue Jays efforts scouting outside North America?
Maybe it's the emphasis on College players, it's probably a lot to do with the rapidly declining number of African American players in affiliated ball, but there were widespread accusations in 2003 - namely in The Toronto Star by Geoff Baker & Richard Griffin - that under Ricciardi the Blue Jays were becoming shall we say, less ethnically diverse. Mr. Baker actually referred to them in print as the "White Jays". Ricciardi went so far as to appear on a Blue JaysTV broadcast to refute the charges. I never put much stock in the allegations because the newspaper is ultra Liberal and ultra politically correct, but....last season, after he left The Jays, Mr. Law started blogging for ESPN.com. On August 18 06 he posted these comments, which to this day I find very curious. "Vernon Wells has told Blue Jays'management that he has no intention of signing a contract extension to stay in Toronto; he and his family would like to move closer to his home in Texas, and he has become increasingly disenchanted in Toronto as he has faced public criticism from general manager J.P. Ricciardi. It hasn't helped matters that the Blue Jays' clubhouse has become one of the least diverse in baseball, with Wells currently the only African-American player on Toronto's 25-man roster." Ricciardi went on to comment that Law is "officially an idiot". Yes, Wells signed for 126 million and Thomas for 20 million, but on the whole is there merit to these allegations?

Mr. Ricciardi is not the Jays savior that he was purported to be, and that is not his fault. Teams sell hope to fans, and Mr. Godfrey ( very media savvy by the way ) peddled J.P. as the man to lead the flock back to the Promised Land. Hey, it was better than selling the nostalgia of the glory years associated with the hiring of Buck Martinez as manager. The Jays have potentially a very good team, but it has everything to do with their increased payroll the last few seasons, nothing to do with J.P. outwitting his peers. I suspect that Ricciardi's predecessor Gord Ash ( another fine Canadian ) could have done just as well with the same $90 million payroll.

Anyway, good luck to Mr. Ricciardi this year, health for all the pitchers and Thomas.

If nothing else I love the New England accent.


The simple & obvious reason that there is widespread steroid use in MLB is that it is good for everyone in the game. BIGGER, FASTER, STRONGER is what sells. In every sport, the evolution of the athlete is a key element of the appeal.

Baseball's chattering classes are in a tither, their hallowed game being ridiculed far and wide for allowing the proliferation of steroids amongst it's players. As much as we like to debate and proselytize about BALCO, Bonds, McGwire, The Hall, Canseco, Game of Shadows, Congress et al., the fact is MLB is healthier than ever. Attendance hit a record 76 million last season, revenues are at a record 5.2 billion per year ( still don't understand the Gil Meche contract? ) up 40% from the last CBA and triple what they were in the early 90's. The Juiced era and the era of record MLB revenues coincide. I am not arguing that steroids in the game are directly responsible for it's growth in revenues, but it is clearly apparent that it hasn't had a negative impact.

Fans know the players are juiced, we've known for years and evidently most of us don't care. The fans who expend the most time and energy on this subject are the hardcore geeks like myself and we will never abandon the game over drugs / cheating, because we love it. The casual fans, who comprise most of the gate, don't engage in these debates. They want cold beer, sunny weather, a 6-4-3 double play, a home run, a win for the good guys and a game played in under3 hours.

So if the fans didn't, don't care, why should the owners & players?

Let's accept as fact that the owners have known about steroid use in the game for a long time. What motive did they have to change anything? Fans loved the home run era, and not just the McGwire / Sosa sideshow. Balls were flying over fences at record levels across the game and fans were coming in droves.

What about the players? With money falling out of the sky and no drug testing in the sport, why should they have cared? ( Well for health reasons, but the lust for fame and fortune trumps concerns about mortality ). Players don't care about the "sanctity of the game", we members of the geekdom take care of that for them. They care about making it, and once they make it staying there as long as they possibly can. So a lot, I guess most, take steroids, HGH, amphetamines, to help in accomplishing those goals. Talk to Chad Motolla.

That leaves us with the PA. If this were a John Sayles movie, Donald Fehr would be Chris Cooper, and he would be on a crusade to remove steroids & amphetamines from the game because they are destroying the lives of players and families and lining the pockets of evil captialists. ( I don't disagree entirely. ). Well, this ain't a John Sayles movie and the PA, which is de facto the Player Agents, were stuffing their pockets with cash as well.

So, what next? The Chattering Classes will talk and talk. George Mitchell will point some fingers. There will be more positive tests and suspensions until there is sufficient public opinion that " the problem " is being managed and starts to fade from our consciousness. Barry Bonds will continue to be everyone's whipping boy.

But what is most important and only time will tell, is will there be a fan backlash to the Juiced Era? Will attendance decline this year and in years to follow? I'm betting no, and I am absolutely certain of this, THE GAME WILL NOT GET SMALLER, SLOWER, WEAKER.