The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

 

Clearing the Bases

Hola amigos, been awhile since I rapped at ya, at least in this forum. The past week and a half has been a whirlwind: four promotional appearances on behalf of Baseball Prospectus 2007 in such exotic places as New Haven, Montclair, New Jersey and the Columbia University campus, five radio appearances in markets such as Atlanta, Baltimore, St. Louis, and wherever it is that gets Sirius' "The Fellas," (which completes my sweep of the satellite radio networks), one article for BP's preseason "Hope and Faith" series (with an accompanying BP Radio interview), about 16,000 words worth of Fantasy Baseball Index spring update coverage, and the chance to break bread or bend elbows with a fine bunch of BP colleagues and assorted friends. Oh, and one sushi bet on the length of Doug Mientkiewicz's leash. Suffice it to say that I've talked a lot of baseball since you last saw me here. If you came out to see or tuned in to hear me, so much the better -- and thank you for showing up.

About that "Hope and Faith" piece, the idea was to take Bud Selig's deathless catchphrase from the 2001-2002 labor negotiations about how few teams actually had a chance to win it all, and to illustrate -- sometimes with the aid of fiction or pharmaceuticals -- how that particular team might win the World Series. I had one of the easier ones, the Dodgers:
As you've seen throughout the past month here at Baseball Prospectus, hope and faith is not distributed evenly among major league baseball clubs. Some teams' shots at October are relatively straightforward, while for others, the fine writers who have graced this series have often need to wax creative or even wander in the desert under the influence of peyote-like substances to summon the requisite visions of champagne-soaked glory.

The Dodgers would appear to fall into the former category. In General Manager Ned Colletti's first year at the helm, the team won the NL Wild Card despite a wildly up-and-down season. But for a few bad breaks (such as the beer glass that sliced up Joe Beimel's hand) and assorted aches (Nomar Garciaparra's hamstring, Brad Penny's back), they might have played ball deep into October. Salve a few wounds, spackle a few dings and cracks, paint liberally with Dodger blue and--voilà--contender, right?

Not so fast. As has been the case since the moment he took over, Colletti spent the past winter confounding both admirers and detractors with his wheelings and dealings. One minute he was overcompensating for J.D. Drew's abrupt departure by re-upping Garciaparra to a two-year deal, drawing ridicule for dishing out one of the winter's worst contracts to Juan Pierre, and signing a Luis Gonzalez so long in the tooth he could be mistaken for Bugs Bunny. The next minute, he was earning kudos for inking Jason Schmidt to the kind of short-term, big-dollar deal that has served the team's interests well with regards to Rafael Furcal and Jeff Kent. Other good news? Non-tendering Toby Hall, and... um... avoiding the temptation to trade Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche, and Chad Billingsley to the Devil Rays in a package deal for the bleached bones of Doug Waechter and a pair of unwashed Mark Hendrickson lederhosen (the Rays won't accept a return to sender on Hendrickson himself).
I went on to identify four players and one executive whose seasons will be the bellwether of the Dodgers' fate. For Brad Penny and Nomar Garciaparra, the key is to stay healthy and provide more of the good stuff they gave the Dodgers when healthy last year, and -- duh -- less of the bad. For Matt Kemp and Chad Billingsley, the key is to live up to all that potential and force their way into the lineup or rotation, burying the mediocrities by the wayside. For Ned Colletti, it's staying away from his "Stupid Flanders" tendency to burn off high-upside prospects for the next Toby Hall/Hendrickson package.

You can hear the accompanying BP Radio spot I did for this piece here. And be sure to check out Rany Jazayerli's fantastic finale to the H&F series here.

• Speaking of Toby Hall, man, did I put the hex on him or what?

• Alex Belth chipped in the Yankees' Hope and Faith piece, but the Belth piece you should really read is his interview with Curt Schiling at SI.com. For all of the bad things I've said about Schilling over the years -- and there have been plenty -- I have to applaud the way his new blog does an end run around the Dan Shaughnessys of the world, the self-important insiders whose only real skill, at this point, is knowing how to procure a press pass. Schilling more or less broke the news about the Sox returning Jonathan Papelbon to the closer role, and you know some of those hacks had to break out in a cold sweat, knowing they were just a little bit less relevant than before.

The Big Schill even stuck up for BP in one question:
SI.com: Do you think that Internet-based baseball analysts and writers should be available for BBWAA awards and Hall of Fame voting?

Schilling: Oh, it'll come full-circle at some point. Why wouldn't it? They already have a much larger impact than the Murray Chass' of the world would like to believe. I mean, you've got guys who are putting out what I know to be legitimately valuable statistical information and its relevance to a game in a win or a loss at Baseball Prospectus. Then you have guys that I'm not too fond of, like Murray Chass, who says, "What is VORP and who cares?" It was a stupid article. The only thing it did was show his ignorance to me in modern day baseball. Because those numbers do matter, those numbers do have value. Do they have value to me in getting a player out? No. But I would tell you that there are a lot of front offices that use those numbers for a lot of important decision making.
I'm not so sure that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but Schilling's going to have to work extra hard to make my blood boil the way he usually does. I'll wager he can pull it off.

• Tangential to Alex B., Allen Barra makes his debut as a guest blogger at Bronx Banter, and part of the pleasure of reading his very entertaining piece is that after sitting across the table from him after BP's recent outing at the Yogi Berra Museum, I can practically hear him reciting it:
Hello. Some of you may know me as Allen Barra. Some of you may know me under my pseudonyms, Norman Mailer -- check out The Naked and The Dead, it kicks butt -- or Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the black congresswoman from D.C -- I'm thinking of giving up that identity as it forces me to do too much writing from the bleachers while watching Nationals games.

I promised Alex Belth that I would do this blog, so here I am. I wanted to call him up this morning and say, "I'm not responsible for the decisions I make when I've been drinking." But then the horrible truth struck me: I don't drink, and I actually made the decision to do this while sober. This has to rank with the worst decisions I ever made in my life, right up there with not returning Angelina Jolie's phone call.
Bemoan that though he may, Barra must have eventually returned Ms. Jolie's call, because in the handful of times I've hung out with him, he's always got a new story about hanging out with her (my favorite is the one about this photo). I wonder if she's a baseball fan.

• Elsewhere on Baseball Toaster, I stumbled into the wonderful Cardboard Gods blog and killed a good hour laughing my ass off. I've read and re-read the most recent Kurt Bevacqua entry, where writer Josh Wilker notes the horrible airbrushing done to the Mariners' expansion draftees in the 1977 Topps set and imagines the new team materializing just beyond the blurry horizon, like figures in a classic Leone western but trapped in some horrible existential limbo. "I think we’re in a horseshit operation," grumbles the Bevacqua character to the Pete Broberg character, and you know it's going to be a long eternity for both.

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