One on One: Five Questions (Part One)
With the playoffs less than six weeks away, baseball still has so many unanswered questions. Divisions, Wild Cards and individual awards are all in need of winners, and none of us knows who will have the Septembers to walk away happy. However, we all want to know if our sneaking suspicions are true. Can the Cleveland Indians sneak in under the radar? Are the newest young phenoms for real? How can the Kansas City Royals turn things around?
In this week's One on One, Bryan and Rich asked five questions to each other, hoping to find some answers to baseball's biggest questions. In Part One, Rich serves in the capacity as the interviewer, posing questions to Bryan on baseball's biggest superstar, newest superstars, and the trade deadline, v2.0.
Rich: The trade deadline came and went with little or no fanfare. The end of August when playoff rosters have to be finalized is fast approaching. Which of the players who have passed through waivers and are eligible to be traded will be sent packing before the month is out?
Bryan: After basically being rejected on all fronts in late July, don't expect another week to go without Kenny Williams making a move. It has been reported by various outlets that Williams was all-but-done with a trade for Ken Griffey Jr. in July, but Reds owner Carl Lindner nixed the trade. Jayson Stark is reporting that Griffey went through waivers, so that is obviously one potential option for the White Sox. But, that would simply be too good to be true for the city of Chicago.
If not Griffey, it will surely be someone else joining a club that is just 6-10 in their last sixteen contests. Since the All-Star break, the White Sox have been fourth in the AL in team ERA but fourth from the bottom in runs scored. The lineup has become Tadahito Iguchi, Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski, and then everybody else. The bullpen and rotation have been fantastic during the second half, so Williams would be better suited spending his energy finding an offensive player.
But who fits, you ask? First of all, let me go out on a limb and venture that the White Sox will not acquire any of the three one-time offensive superstars on Stark's list: Griffey, Mike Piazza and Rafael Palmiero. Rich Aurilia also does not fit a team that acquired Geoff Blum just one month ago, and he also plagues from an Ozzie Guillen obsession with Pablo Ozuna. So, who does that leave us? Five players: Mike Sweeney, Matt Stairs, Dmitri Young, Wes Helms and Edgardo Alfonzo. I doubt that the club would acquire Sweeney or Young, two in-division players that are fairly DH-only options on this team.
I also think that Williams wants to make more of a splash in the Chicago newspapers than Helms could provide, and it makes little sense to acquire another right-handed bat for third base. For that same reason, I also doubt Alfonzo is the option. So, that leaves us with Matt Stairs, who -- while in division -- plays for a team that isn't worried about such things. Instead, the Royals want whatever young players the White Sox are willing to part with.
My prediction: on August 30, the AP Wire will read that the Chicago White Sox acquired Matt Stairs from the Kansas City Royals for a player to be named later, who will eventually be named...oh, I'll go with...Robert Valido.
Rich: Are you as indifferent as I am about the on and off and on again and again comeback of Barry Bonds?
Bryan: Frankly put, I don't care. It has been nice to marvel at Barry Bonds' insane statistics for the past few seasons, but this season has made it more difficult than ever to like him. And for that, I blame the media. Their handling of players like Bonds and Terrell Owens borders on ridiculous. Obviously stories that concern the game's largest superstars must be carried, but there is a point when enough is enough.
What's interesting is just how much coverage the Giants have received this year, while the Indians and A's aren't on half of the country's radar. How many people could tell you much about Cliff Lee or Dan Haren? Travis Hafner or Mark Kotsay? Sure, they could tell you about what the latest prognostication on Bonds' head cold is, but that's about it.
Even without his playing this year, Bonds is one of the three greatest baseball players in the history of the sport. But when can we begin to accept what has been obvious since June (at the latest): that Bonds will not play baseball in 2005. Let's hear about him again in December, but please ESPN, don't waste any more space on my TV screen on him during the stretch.
Rich: I wouldn't blame ESPN as much as I would blame Bonds. Remember, he is the one teasing us via his website.
OK, on to a someone who is at least suiting up. Here is a multiple choice question. Jhonny Peralta is:
A. Nothing more than a flash in the pan.
B. The best SS in the A.L.
C. A product of mixed-up parents who couldn't spell.
D. The primary reason why the Indians are the favorite to win the Wild Card berth.
E. None of the above.
Bryan: Alright, let me try to run-down your given answers one-by-one, and we'll see which one best fits.
"Nothing more than a flash in the pan." This is presumably the response of many people who are undervaluing Peralta's 2003 season. In 2002, at just the age of 20, Peralta had an .800 OPS in the Eastern League, slugging .457. Despite having started his full-season career off with OPS numbers of .663 and .684, Peralta was the Indians new hot prospect. The team got too excited about Peralta, and in '03 after just 237 poor at-bats in AAA, he was handed the full-time Major League job. Can we blame him for being overwhelmed? In 2004, Peralta redeemed himself in the International League with an .871 OPS, showing his tendency as a late bloomer. He's not going away, it just took him awhile to get here.
"The best SS in the AL." I immediately thought this to be a stretch, and was pleased when the Hardball Times validated my initial reaction. It wasn't long ago that Miguel Tejada was being named a potential MVP candidate, and it is hard to call a slip in OPS to .918 a regression. Not only that, but Win Shares seems to be underrating Tejada's fielding, as Peralta earns a full Win Share more on his defense. Offensively, Tejada is the best in the league, and while Peralta is the new flavor of the week, bear in mind he's fifth on the Win Shares batting list among AL SS alone.
Skipping the obvious, and moving on to, "the primary reason the Indians are the favorite to win the Wild Card berth." First of all, calling Cleveland a favorite to win the Wild Card is a considerable stretch to me, as the club is stacked up against two powerhouses. If this team is going to sneak by and make the playoffs, it will be because of their offensive depth and a good month of pitching, not Peralta. They are depending on Peralta, no doubt, but to win, will need their inconsistent hitters (Martinez, Crisp, Blake) and pitchers (Sabathia, Westbrook, Elarton) to step up big.
So after shooting down three of your suggested answers, I'm left with C. While Mr. and Mrs. Peralta obviously did a nice job raising a fine ballplayer, what in the hell they were thinking with the name 'Jhonny' should forever be a question from us all.
Rich: I did a double take when I noticed that Jeff Francoeur walked on Sunday. It was his first base on balls in more than 130 plate appearances. I was curious who the wild man was on the hill so I checked the play-by-play and learned that San Diego Padres reliever Akinori Otsuka walked him intentionally. The Atlanta rookie is only 21. Given his age, should we cut him some slack for his poor plate discipline? Or should we extend a high five to him for his aggressiveness in view of his eye-opening numbers thus far?
Bryan: This is a tough question, and one the Braves are probably arguing on a daily basis right now. Let me first say that he should not be given a "high five" for his lack of discipline, as that kind of aggressiveness is obviously going overboard. While his strikeout numbers have not been awful since debuting, you can't tell me he could not have turned any of those strikeouts into walks? Still, it's hard to argue with the type of performance he's had, and given his obvious natural ability, we should also probably cut him some slack.
Despite the discipline issues, it actually appears that Francoeur is a smart baseball player. Case in point Wednesday's game against the Cubs, and particularly Mark Prior. Entering the game, Francoeur was in the first slump of his young career, having gone 9 straight at-bats without collecting a hit. After a second inning pop-out, Jeff drew the first unintentional walk of his career in the fourth inning. And believe me, if he can draw a walk from Prior, there are quite a few more people that he could as well. Leading off the seventh inning, Francoeur laid a perfect bunt down to collect a hit. What followed was a Prior error on the next batter, setting up Rafael Furcal to hit a go-ahead single.
Not many players in the Major Leagues can claim to have put their team in a position to win with both a home run, a bunt and an assist. This kid is talented, and the Braves should work him hard this winter to get that plate discipline up to average, and him to star status.
Rich: Here's my last one for you, Bryan. What might just happen between now and the end of the season that nobody--and I mean nobody--has talked about?
Bryan: Well, I'm going to go with something I mentioned in my notes column from this week. In 2002, during their post-season run to win the World Series, the Angels heavily depended on the right arm of Francisco Rodriguez. However, K-Rod had made his debut in September, after playoff rosters were announced. Using a flaw in the system, and given Rodriguez' fantastic month, the Angels put him on their playoff roster, and the rest is history. 18.2 innings in October, 2 runs allowed, 28 strikeouts, and a World Series ring.
This year, purely for selfish reasons, I'm hoping the Minnesota Twins win the Wild Card. That's because I believe the Twins would run into a similar path as the '02 Angels, and spend September running into a pitcher they didn't even know they had. Francisco Liriano is the best starter in the minors, with no pitches below 84 mph and nothing left to prove. His arsenal would be perfect for both a rotation that contains Joe Mays, and a bullpen that could use his power arm.
With Felix Hernandez already paving the PCL-to-AL path, look for Liriano (if called) to have a big September. And man oh man will it be hard to pick between the Indians and Twins in 2006.
Please return tomorrow for Part Two when Rich is on the hot seat.