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.

Friday, August 03, 2007

 

Swap Meet Spectacular

The post-trade deadline Hit List is up at Baseball Prospectus, with a look at which teams improved themselves, which ones dropped the ball, and which ones merely treaded water. The Yankees, thanks to their recent offensive onslaught, climb all the way to #2 behind the Red Sox, with the Mets third.

The Dodgers come in at #7:
With rotation injuries sprouting up like mushrooms--Randy Wolf may be done for the year, while Brad Penny and Derek Lowe narrowly escape DL stints--the Dodgers trade away their most productive third baseman for an overworked reliever and spend the rest of their deadline arguing internally over which prospects to keep and which to deal without pulling the trigger. That this one's so obvious even Bill Plaschke gets it right is a sign that whatever the current regime's faults, they know how to deal in PR. Bad news: Jeff Kent strains a hammy after a .447/.500/.737 July.
Yes, that's a Bill Plaschke link in the Hit List, and for once, my nemesis actually written something about the Dodgers that I agree with:
For the first time in a decade, they are no longer the kind of team that needs to do calisthenics every July to be strong for many Octobers.

They have a nucleus. They have a surplus. They have a clue.

What they may not eventually have this season is a spot in the playoffs, but -- and I can't believe I'm writing this -- maybe that can wait.

Maybe they have to sacrifice a September for James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier to learn how to play in the heat.

Maybe they have to lose a division for Jonathon Broxton to learn how to pitch under the glare.

Maybe Dodgers fans, just this once, will agree to pay for two months of soaring, skidding fun with an October of silence.

Having finally collected enough good players to contend for several years, the Dodgers smartly refused to break them up for the sake of this one.

Maybe, by taking no big steps, they have actually taken a giant one.
Sorry about that spacing; like high-powered magnets, Plaschke's thoughts continue to be too weighty to put side-by-side. Anyway, while none of the prospects Dodger GM Ned Colletti has traded have come back to bite the Dodgers thus far, every deadline gives Dodger fans the feeling that he's playing Russian roulette, willing to sacrifice a prospect or two in spectacularly shocking fashion. The GM puts up a unified front in the Plaschke piece, but the buzz leading up to the deadline had Colletti clashing with the team's player development arm over which prospects were tradable, particularly 19-year-old southpaw Clayton Kershaw, who stands a good chance of being one of the top three pitching prospects on next year's lists. Even with the Dodgers on the edge of a playoff spot, I can't fault them for keeping the kids together; 2007 won't be their last playoff chase by any means.

Anyway, elsewhere in the Hit List, you'll find Willy Wonka, Nightmare on Elm Street, "Twas the Night Before Christmas," Lays potato chips, Thomas Hardy, and Coach Krupt. I challenge you to find a more eclectic assortment in any set of power rankings for the big four sports (baseball, chess, curling, and yak rodeo).

As for the Dodgers, I watched most of their three-game series against the Giants, with Barry Bonds perched on the precipice of history at 754 home runs. As negative as I am about the whole record chase, the the idea of Vin Scully calling the shot, as he did Aaron's 715th, certainly held some appeal, as did the idea of Bonds at least tying the record in the ultimate enemy territory as a chorus of boos rained down. The possibility of that contrast wasn't lost on Scully:
“This to me is different,” Scully said. “Aaron was received with great love, affection, adoration. I’m not sure how this one will be received. The story won’t be what I say. The story will be what the crowd will say. So I will shut up and let them take it.”

Scully is famous for going silent at the right times. When Aaron hit his 715th home run, passing Babe Ruth, Scully let 26 seconds pass, allowing the crowd in Atlanta to roar. Only then did he reflect on the setting, the meaning and the times:

“What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron.”
Speaking of that call, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Furman Bisher recently did a completely irresponsible hatchet job by taking Scully's call out of context, as though race were the first thing he mentioned.

Anyway, though they neutralized Bonds, the Dodgers dropped two out of the three games. They did win the middle one in dramatic fashion, outlasting rookie phenom Tim Lincecum with a four-run eighth-inning rally capped by a two-run homer by Nomar Garciaparra. Ironically, that was the one game called by the delightfully bent Giants' announcing team of Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper (futility personified, with one home run in 3,379 career at bats); they're about the only Giants-related thing I can stand. Overall, Bonds went 1-for-7 with five walks during the series, thereby halting a 19 at-bat hitless streak against the Dodgers. He only faced Dodger lefty specialist Joe Beimel once, resulting in a reach-on-error; Beimel, as the New York Times notes in a recent article, came into the series having held Bonds to 1-for-15 with a homer and two walks over the last two years.

The middle game also featured Scott Proctor's Dodger debut; he threw one pitch that resulted in an inning-ending caught stealing, and that was his night. When he reappeared the next night with somewhat less success (1.1 innings, one run on two walks and a hit), the sickening realization came over me that I am stuck with the guy like he's some felonious in-law trying to goad me into joining his next shady venture at every family event. There's no relief from Scott Proctor.

Meanwhile, Proctor's opposite number made a splash with the Yankees yesterday, belting a three-run homer in his first official at-bat as part of an eight-run comeback that eventually went for naught. I was at the stadium on Wednesday night and actually saw his Yankee debut as a defensive replacement for Alex Rodriguez. The more I think about the deal, the more I like it from the Yanks' perspective. Betemit's in his Age 25 season (he's listed as 27 on ESPN, but they're still using the false date that got the Braves in trouble several years back when it was revealed they signed him at 15), he's got a .264/.339/.445 career line that if you remove the first 50 at bats in 2001 and 2004 becomes .270/.344/.463, and he's arbitration-eligible for the first time this coming winter, meaning he'll be under the Yanks' control for the next three years. If he never wins a starting spot he's still the best hitter on the Yankee bench in ages.

A few links to note:

• Via Rob Neyer, the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee is being revamped again, with managers, umpires and executives screened and voted upon separately from the players; there will now be a VC election every year, with two sets alternating (managers/umps in '08, players in '09, execs TBD), a final ballot of 10 players, and a new five-year-cycle for players whose careers began before 1943. I'll have more on these changes at Baseball Prospectus soon.

• George Steinbrenner is in rough shape according to former Sports Illustrated writer Franz Lidz, who pays him a visit in this lengthy Conde Nast Portfolio piece.

• Speaking of Steinbrenner, I could watch Oliver Platt play the Boss to John Turturro's Billy Martin, as in the ESPN Bronx is Burning miniseries, on a weekly basis for the next five years without getting bored. The series has its share of problems, but the performances of those two, not to mention the comic relief provided by the Mickey Rivers character, are reasons to keep watching. Bruce Markusen has an entertaining profile of Mick the Quick at Bronx Banter.

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