Baseball BeatAugust 30, 2008
Having a Ball at the Angels Game
By Rich Lederer

My nephew Casey went to the Angels game Friday night and was caught on TV holding up a ball that coach Alfredo Griffin had flipped to him earlier that evening.


Casey is 8 years old. He lives in Phoenix. His family is in town for his older brother Troy's ice hockey tournament in Valencia and my Mom's 80th birthday, which we will celebrate at our house on Sunday. Casey was accompanied at the Angels-Rangers game by his cousin Brett. The latter is a professional golfer who qualified for his first Nationwide Tour event – the Northeast Pennsylvania Classic – last week. He shot 70-70 and missed the cut by one stroke. Brett, the 2007 Big West Conference champion, won his first pro tournament – the Rising Star Open on the Adams Golf ProTour Series – a month earlier.

Brett took the following photo of Casey and immediately emailed it to his Dad (my brother Tom), who forwarded it to me while the game was in progress.


In the Dept. of the Circle of Life, the logo on the retro Angels hat that Casey is wearing was designed by his grandfather. The hat made its debut in 1971 and lasted all of one season. I guess the small "a" was never meant to be in a stadium known as the Big A. Nonetheless, the Angels held a retro hat promotion on May 15. It seems as if these hats are now more popular than ever.

Casey and Brett are going to the Angels-Rangers game tonight. However, they won't be in the front row this time. Instead, the cousins will be using my tickets on the club level. The likelihood of catching a ball is remote. That said, they should see a good contest as Jered Weaver will be on the hill for the Halos.

What am I doing to miss Weaver in action? Well, Tom and I are heading to Valencia to watch Troy play an ice hockey game. Our brother Gary is the coach.

Now THAT is called family fun.

Saber TalkAugust 29, 2008
THT Fielding Data, 2004-2007
By Myron Logan

A few weeks ago, we used the fielding stats at The Hardball Times to make a little fielding metric. We looked at the best and worst teams and players of 2008. That's great, but if we really want to analyze fielding in a meaningful way, we need more data. THT offers stats that go back to 2004, so let's go through the same process with the 04-07 seasons. Now, rather than just half a year's worth of stats, we'll have close to five years of data.

The Process (Briefly)

The methodology is explained quite in-depth in the above linked post, but let's go through a quick recap just to be sure everyone is on the same page. Basically, we have data on each fielder's performance in their defined "zone" and out of it. We're using both of these areas to find out how many runs a player is worth, above or below average. Here's a quick example, with numbers just for illustration.

Nomar -- 50 BIZ, 40 plays, .8 RZR (plays/BIZ)
League average RZR (at short) -- .82
League avg. plays (for 50 BIZ) -- 41 plays

So, in his zone, Nomar would be 1 play below average. We do the same thing on out of zone balls, with the only difference being that we don't know exactly how many opportunities players have out of their zone. We assume that in-zone chances reflect out of zone chances, and we use BIZ as a proxy for OOZ opportunities. If you're confused here, check out the link up top, as it may answer some of your questions.

After we've done that, using Chris Dial's conversions, we turn plays above/below average into runs above/below average. And ... that's it. Not too difficult.

Positional Averages

If you look closely at the positional averages from year to year (which others have done), you'll notice some pretty big differences. For instance, here's RZR in the outfield for all four years:

	2004	2005	2006	2007
LF	0.63	0.633	0.861	0.855
CF	0.796	0.815	0.894	0.888
RF	0.65	0.648	0.888	0.877

For 2004-2005, the average RZR (plays made in zone divided by total balls in zone) in left is around .63. In 2006 and 2007, it jumped up to over .85. You may notice a similar thing happening in right field, and to a lesser extent, center field. Surely, outfielders didn't all of the sudden improve in the 2005 off season; rather, something happened to the way the zones are drawn or how fly balls or line drives are handled by the folks over at Baseball Info Solutions (that's where THT gets the data).

There are some differences in the infield, too, but they aren't quite as bad. There are plenty of ways to deal with this problem (check the first link in the last paragraph), but note that here we're just calculating the stats year-by-year (i.e., we made no attempt to normalize the numbers like Mr. Wyers did). You'll be able to see all of the positional averages if you want to download the data at the bottom of the page.

The Best and Worst Teams

This is from 2004-2007, and is simply a team's overall runs above or below average, found by adding up all the player's numbers on each team:

Top 15 Teams

Year    Team    Runs
2007    ATL     93.5
2006    STL     91.3
2004    PHI     79.0
2006    HOU     74.6
2005    CHA     69.5
2006    ATL     68.2
2007    NYN     67.8
2004    LAN     65.2
2006    SEA     60.0
2006    MIL     53.9
2007    TOR     52.1
2005    LAA     50.6
2005    SEA     49.6
2007    STL     46.2
2007    KC      43.0

The 2007 Atlanta Braves outfield was probably one of the better defensive outfields of the past few years, at least by these numbers. Check it out:

A. Jones   31.1 runs
Diaz       19.1
Francoeur  15.0
Harris      8.6

That's like 74 runs above average, just in the outfield. And, get this, they didn't have one outfielder who was rated below average (unless you count Pete Orr, who missed the one ball in his zone ; )

The 2006 Cardinals were anchored by two corner infielders, Albert Pujols at first (30.7) and Scott Rolen at third (31.4). The '04 Phillies were led by Jim Thome (18.7), David Bell (14.2), Jason Michaels (12.3), and a bunch of other guys who were in the plus 5 range.

Bottom 15 Teams

Year	Team	Runs
2005	NYA	-102.4
2007	TB	-89
2005	CIN	-85.7
2007	CHA	-82.5
2006	PIT	-81.3
2005	FLA	-80.2
2005	ARI	-80
2004	NYA	-77.1
2006	NYA	-69.8
2007	CLE	-63.5
2006	BOS	-63
2007	BOS	-55
2006	CIN	-49.8
2005	KC	-49
2007	CIN	-48.2

Ouch. The Yankees show up three times, and '05 team was the worst of the previous four seasons. Their worst performers were Derek Jeter (-43.6), Robinsion Cano (-35.9), Bernie Williams (-24.7), and Gary Sheffield (-18).

The '07 Tampa Bay performance was more of a team effort, but Elijah Dukes (-13.8) and Akinori Iwamura (-10.5) show up at the bottom. The '05 Reds had an outfield of Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, and Wily Mo Pena. Nuff said.

Best and Worst Players

Note that these are player performances in a single year at a single position. Some players could have played multiple positions, and obviously performed better or worse overall than the numbers displayed here.

The Top 15

Year 	Last 	Pos 	runs
2005	Rowand	CF	44.6
2007	Suzuki	CF	34.4
2004	A-Rod	3B	33.3
2007	Grand.	CF	32.6
2007	Wright	3B	32.2
2004	Rolen	3B	31.8
2005	Logan	CF	31.4
2006	Rolen	3B	31.4
2007	Jones	CF	31.1
2006	Pujols	1B	30.7
2005	Everett	SS	30.4
2007	Pujols	1B	30.3
2005	Craw.	LF	30.2
2005	Teix.	1B	29.8
2005	Suzuki	RF	29.7

The Bottom 15

Year 	Last 	Pos 	runs 
2005	Ramirez	LF	-43.8
2005	Jeter	SS	-43.6
2006	Ramirez	LF	-41.7
2005	Cano	2B	-35.9
2005	Griffey	CF	-35.5
2007	Ramirez	LF	-34.1
2007	Braun	3B	-33.2
2004	B.Will.	CF	-32.5
2007	J.Baut.	3B	-30.5
2004	Jeter	SS	-29.1
2004	Blake	3B	-28.8
2007	Dye	RF	-28.2
2007	Jeter	SS	-27.6
2007	Atkins	3B	-27.2
2004	Young	SS	-25.0

The Data

You can download the full spreadsheet for each year right here: 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Please feel free to mess around with those spreadsheets all you'd like. Also, note that these calculations were all produced by me, so there could surely be mistakes.

Anyway, with almost five years of data now, we can begin to better understand fielding through these freely available numbers. In this space over the coming months, we'll hopefully take a look at things like aging, projections, the reliability of these numbers, bench players' vs. starters' fielding, and so on. But you can surely get a head start now.

Around the MinorsAugust 28, 2008
Rating the Prospects: AL East
By Marc Hulet

Prospect rating season is just about upon us with the Minor League Baseball season in its last full week (Where did the time go?). Over the next six weeks (one division a week), with your help, I am going to pick the Top 15 prospects in each organization's stable.

After that, the next six weeks will be devoted to ranking those prospects that people helped choose in the comments section of the articles. Things to consider when choosing the prospects are 1) tools, 2) statistics, 3) history, and 4) level of competition/age. The players also must still be rookie eligible, which means pitchers cannot have exceed 50 big league innings and hitters cannot have exceeded 130 at-bats at the MLB level.

Feel free to also comment on who you think is the best prospect in the division, as well as which team has the best minor league system.

The AL East

The Baltimore Orioles
The Pitchers: Jake Arrieta (Double-A, right-hander), Chorye Spoone (Double-A, right-hander), Pedro Beato (High-A, right-hander), Brandon Erbe (High-A, right-hander), David Hernandez (Double-A, right-hander), Brian Matusz (2008 No. 1 pick, left-hander), Brad Bergesen (Double-A, right-hander), Chris Tillman (Double-A, right-hander), Kam Mickolio (MLB, right-hander), Tim Bascom (High-A, right-hander), Zach Britton (left-hander, A-ball), Luis Noel (right-hander, A-ball), Tony Butler (A-ball, left-hander)

The Hitters: Matt Wieters (Double-A, catcher), Nolan Reimold (Double-A, outfielder), Mike Costanza (Triple-A, third baseman), Billy Rowell (High-A third baseman), Brandon Snyder (High-A, first baseman), Miguel Abreu (High-A, second baseman), Chris Vinyard (High-A, designated hitter), Ryan Adams (A-ball, second baseman), Matt Angle (A-ball, outfielder), Tyler Kolodny (Short season, third baseman)

Comments: OK, so who did I forget that should be in the Top 15? Is Wieters or Tillman worthy of the coveted No. 1 overall spot... or is there a dark horse candidate? The pitching certainly seems stronger in the system than the hitting, with the exception of Wieters. If you look at the pitching coming up the pipe in this system, it's not hard to envision Baltimore becoming pretty successful in a few years if Erbe, Tillman and Arrieta can stay healthy.

The Toronto Blue Jays
The Pitchers: David Purcey (MLB, left-hander), Brad Mills (Double-A, left-hander), Scott Richmond (Triple-A, right-hander), Brett Cecil (Triple-A, left-hander), Ricky Romero (Triple-A, left-hander), Luis Perez (A-ball, left-hander), Marc Rzepczynski (A-ball, left-hander), Robert Ray (Double-A, right-hander), Tim Collins (A-ball, left-hander)

The Hitters: Travis Snider (Triple-A, outfielder), J.P. Arencibia (Double-A, catcher), Brian Jeroloman (Triple-A, catcher), David Cooper (2008 No. 1 pick, first baseman), Kevin Ahrens (A-ball, third baseman), Justin Jackson (A-ball, shortstop), John Tolisano (A-ball, second baseman), Eric Eiland (A-ball, outfielder), Brad Emaus (High-A, second baseman), Balbino Fuenmayor (Rookie, third baseman), Scott Campbell (Double-A, second baseman)

Comments: OK, so who did I forget that should be in the Top 15? The Blue Jays are absolutely loaded in left-handed pitching, which is always an extremely valuable commodity. At first blush, I would say the hitting is stronger overall than the pitching but a lot of the really interesting hitters are raw and toolsy (wait, is this Toronto?)

The Tampa Bay Rays
The Pitchers: David Price (Triple-A, left-hander), Jacob McGee (Injured, left-hander), Wade Davis (Triple-A, right-hander), Jeff Neimann (Triple-A, right-hander), Jeremy Hellickson (Double-A, right-hander), James Houser (Double-A, left-hander), Heath Rollins (Double-A, right-hander), Kyle Lobstein (2008 2nd round pick, left-hander), Alex Cobb (A-ball, right-hander), Nick Barnese (Short season, right-hander)

The Hitters: Reid Brignac (Triple-A, shortstop), Desmond Jennings (High-A, outfielder), Ryan Royster (High-A, outfielder), Tim Beckham (2008 First Overall Pick, shortstop), John Jaso (Triple-A, catcher), Rhyne Hughes (Double-A, first baseman)

Comments: OK, so who did I forget that should be in the Top 15? The Rays have definitely focused harder on drafting pitching in recent years than hitting, or perhaps the organization has just been lucky? A lot of its top-ranked pitchers were not even first round draft picks and they definitely found good value in pitchers such as Davis, Hellickson and Rollins.

The Boston Red Sox
The Pitchers: Michael Bowden (Triple-A, right-hander), Charlie Zink (Triple-A, right-hander), Daniel Bard (Double-A, right-hander), Kris Johnson (Double-A, left-hander), Casey Kelly (2008 No.1 pick, right-hander), Bryan Price (2008 No. 1 supplemental, right-hander), Felix Doubront (High-A, left-hander), Brock Huntzinger (A-ball, right-hander)

The Hitters: George Kottaras (Triple-A, catcher), Chris Carter (Triple-A, OF-1B), Lars Anderson (Double-A, first baseman), Aaron Bates (Double-A, first baseman), Argenis Diaz (Double-A, shortstop), Josh Reddick (Double-A, outfielder), Jon Still (High-A, catcher), Chih-Hsien Chiang (High-A, second baseman), Yamaico Navarro (High-A, shortstop), Ryan Kalish (High-A, outfielder), Jason Place (High-A, outfielder), Will Middlebrooks (Short season, third baseman), Ryan Dent (Short season, shortstop), Michael Almanzar (A-ball, third baseman), Oscar Tejeda (A-ball, shortstop)

Comments: OK, so who did I forget that should be in the Top 15? Boston's draft spending spree has been well publicized as of late but I think it is a great thing. I like to see talented players get drafted and enter the pro ranks. I'll admit I think the draft system needs an overhaul - well, a salary cap of some sort for sure... But I don't blame Boston for throwing around the money; I'd do the same thing. The club also does really well in the foreign markets, doesn't it? There are at least six interesting foreign-signed players above... Boston is definitely covering all the bases.

The New York Yankees
The Pitchers: J.B. Cox (Triple-A, right-hander), Mark Melancon (Triple-A, right-hander), Alan Horne (Triple-A, right-hander), George Kontos (Double-A, right-hander), Christian Garcia (High-A, right-hander), Humberto Sanchez (High-A, right-hander), Andrew Brackman (Injured, right-hander), Dellin Betances (A-ball, right-hander), Jeremy Bleich (2008 supplemental first pick, left-hander)

The Hitters: Austin Jackson (Double-A, outfielder), Frank Cervelli (Double-A, catcher), Matt Cusick (High-A, second baseman), Damon Sublett (High-A, second baseman), Eduardo Nunez (High-A, shortstop), Luis Nunez (High-A, infielder), Jesus Montero (A-ball, 1B/C), Austin Romine (A-ball, catcher), Brad Suttle (A-ball, third baseman)

Comments: OK, so who did I forget that should be in the Top 15? With all the money New York has, the organization has kind of let the system fall into disrepair. There are some intriguing prospects, but none that really wow... although Jackson and Montero could be near wow. That said, New York has always had an uncanny ability to turn OK prospects into really good players, such as Robinson Cano. Overall, between the two powerhouses, Boston seems to have a better run minor league system and scouting department than New York.

Next Week: The NL West

Baseball BeatAugust 27, 2008
Sneak Preview of the 2009 Free Agents: Outfielders and Designated Hitters
By Rich Lederer

On Monday, in the first of a three-part series on the free agent class of 2009, we took a look at the catchers and infielders. Today, we will break down the outfielders and designated hitters.

The list below includes a number of big-name players, most of whom are well into their 30s and past their peaks. In fact, Rocco Baldelli and Adam Dunn are the only free agent outfielders under the age of 30.

Bobby Abreu        NYY
Moises Alou        NYM
Garret Anderson*   LAA
Rocco Baldelli     TB
Willie Bloomquist  SEA
Emil Brown         OAK
Pat Burrell        PHI
Endy Chavez        NYM
Adam Dunn          ARI
Jim Edmonds        CHC
Cliff Floyd        TB
Brian Giles*       SD
Ken Griffey Jr.*   CWS
Vladimir Guerrero* LAA
Raul Ibanez        SEA
Mark Kotsay        ATL
Jason Michaels*    PIT
Greg Norton        ATL
Jay Payton         BAL
Scott Podsednik    COL
Manny Ramirez      LAD
Juan Rivera        LAA

The Yankees exercised their option on Bobby Abreu last winter and the veteran outfielder has responded by producing at a slightly better clip in 2008 (.297/.369/.467) than in 2007 (.283/.369/.445). However, despite seeing as many pitches per plate appearance as ever, Abreu's walk (10.1%) and BB/SO (0.61) rates are the lowest of his career. His secondary average (.291) and stolen base rate (58%) are also at all-time lows. Add in the fact that he is a below-average right fielder and will turn 35 next March and one can't help but to be skeptical of Abreu, especially if his contract demands call for a multi-year deal at an average of eight figures per season.

Moises Alou is out for the season following hamstring surgery. Now 42, he may never play again. If so, Alou will retire with a line of .303/.369/.516 and 332 HR. Based on his comps, Felipe's son seems like a worthy candidate for the fictional Hall of the Very Good.

The Angels are unlikely to pick up a $14 million team option on Garret Anderson (.284/.318/.426) and will either send him packing with a $3M gold watch (the cost of his buyout) or try to negotiate a short-term contract that would be more representative of his current playing ability. The Halos showed their loyalty when they signed him to a four-year extension back in April 2004 for a whopping $48M so it's time for GA, now 36, to do likewise if he is interested in finishing his career in Anaheim.

The Rays declined their team option on Rocco Baldelli on April 1 and will instead pay him a $4M buyout. After sitting out the first four months of the season with a mitochondrial disorder, the sixth overall pick in the 2000 draft returned to action two weeks ago and has gone 8-for-23 with 2 HR. Baldelli can help out Tampa Bay down the stretch and his marketability this off-season as the soon-to-be 27-year-old has only played 135 games since the end of the 2004 campaign.

After nine seasons with the Phillies, Pat Burrell, who turns 32 in October, will become a free agent for the first time. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 1998, Burrell signed a five-year MLB contract that summer, then inked a six-year extension prior to the 2003 season. Pat the Bat can hit and ranks in the top ten in the NL in OBP (.388), SLG (.548), OPS (.936), HR (30), and BB (89). Not too dissimilar to Adam Dunn in terms of production and position, Burrell should reap huge financial rewards this off-season for the third time in his career.

Arizona acquired Adam Dunn earlier this month in a waiver deal that sent Dallas Buck, Wilkin Castillo, and a player to be named later to Cincinnati. While Dunn may be nothing more than a seven-week rental (and maybe longer if the Diamondbacks make the playoffs), don't rule out Arizona in the free agent sweepstakes should he play well down the stretch. The 6-6, 275-pound slugger, who is on pace to hit 40 homers and draw 100 walks for the fifth consecutive season, is 11-for-40 with 2 HR and 18 BB (.500 OBP) for his new team.

Ken Griffey Jr. is in the final year of a 9-year/$116.5M contract. The White Sox will undoubtedly pass on a $16M club option for 2009 and split the cost of the $4M buyout with the Reds. If and where Junior plays next year is up in the air, but, either way, he will retire with more than 600 career home runs, 10 Gold Gloves, and as the sixth-best center fielder of all time.

Although Vladimir Guerrero (.287/.352/.500) is experiencing the worst season of his career, there is little doubt as to whether the Angels will exercise their $15M club option for next year. Bringing Vlad back for one more campaign and then letting him go could be a stroke of genius in terms of timing. He has clearly slipped at the plate, in the field, and on the basepaths, and his knees require an occasional day off, yet the 2004 MVP is still productive (123 OPS+) and likely to hold up for another year.

The Dodgers acquired Manny Ramirez (.314/.413/.549) in a three-way trade shortly before the deadline. The Red Sox volunteered to pay the remainder of his 2008 salary (about $7M) and agreed to eliminate the 2009-10 club options in exchange for Manny waiving his right to block the trade as a 10-and-5 player. While Ramirez has stated that he would like to finish his career in Los Angeles, everyone knows that will only happen if the Dodgers outbid the competition for his services. Handing the enigmatic outfielder a four-year contract for $80-100M for his 37-40 year-old seasons seems like a risky bet to me. Stay tuned.

Designated Hitters
Frank Thomas       OAK
Jim Thome*         CWS

Jim Thome (.253/.376/.525) seems like a much better bet than Frank Thomas (.226/.339/.362) at this point. Pay attention to Thome's playing time between now and the end of the season as his $13M club option is guaranteed with 1,100 plate appearances in 2007-08. He needs 82 PA in the White Sox's final 30 games to reach that mark.

* subject to club and/or player options

Change-UpAugust 26, 2008
Batting Around Some Topics
By Patrick Sullivan

Our pal Jeff Albert, hitting coach for the Batavia Muckdogs, sat down for a terrific interview with Future Red Birds.

I know this question is pretty broad, but what are some of the things you are looking for in a player’s swing? Looking on video and in person are different things. With video, I generally look for how a player moves, angles of the upper body, swing path and sequence. In person, I want to see first if a player makes consistent barrel contact, then flight and direction of the ball, as well as rhythm and timing. From there it’s connecting the dots between what I see on video and live.

What are some of the things you teach players get the most out of their ability?

I like to explain the overall concept, verbally and visually, and give them the initial opportunity to adjust in their own way. I try to take the player’s strengths and build from there, mostly focusing on body position and swing path from a mechanics perspective, and being ready to hit the fastball from an approach perspective. There are a lot of ways to complicate things, but I try to boil it down to one or two simple points of focus for each guy.

Change-UpAugust 26, 2008
AL Contenders: Remaining Schedules
By Patrick Sullivan

We are entering the home stretch and four teams in the American League are having it out for three post-season spots. Presented below is relevant data pertaining to each contender's schedule make-up. One note; WAOWP means Weighted Average Opponents' Win Percentage.

Tampa Bay

W-L: 79-50, 1st in the AL East
Games Remaining: 33
Home: 16
Away: 17
WAOWP: .524
Home Record: 47-18
Road Record: 32-32


W-L: 75-55, 2nd in the AL East, 1st in AL Wild Card
Games Remaining: 32
Home: 20
Away: 12
WAOWP: .532
Home Record: 43-18
Road Record: 32-37

Chicago White Sox

W-L: 74-55, 1st in AL Central
Games Remaining: 31
Home: 13
Away: 18
WAOWP: .518
Home Record: 46-21
Road Record: 28-34


W-L: 74-56, 2nd in AL Central, 2nd in AL Wild Card
Games Remaining: 31
Home: 12
Away: 19
WAOWP: .491
Home Record: 46-23
Road Record: 28-33

So there you have it. Make of it what you will. Minnesota's schedule is easy but like the rest of the contenders they suck on the road. Boston has a bunch of home games but they play stiff competition. I am not sure we learn much from this, but there it is nonetheless.

Change-UpAugust 26, 2008
Perspective Time
By Patrick Sullivan

In a 4-3 win over the Detroit Tigers last night, Grady Sizemore hit home runs number 30 and 31, pushing his season line to a phenomenal .271/.383/.532 mark. Having turned just 26 three weeks ago or so, Sizemore has affirmed that his outstanding 2006 campaign (.290/.375/.533) was no outlier. It seems safe to say that he has arrived as a superstar for years to come.

Of course that he may have reached a new, sustained performance level should strike fear into the rest of the league. Sizemore is already a player of historic significance, as there just have not been many center fielders able to produce, both with the glove and the bat, the way Grady has so early on in his career. He won the 2007 Gold Glove, and defensive statistics show him to have been one of the finest defenders before last season as well. Offensively, well, have a look at the table below.

          From   To   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS+
Griffey   '89 - '93  .303  .375  .520   145 
Lynn      '74 - '78  .303  .372  .498   133
C Cedeno  '70 - '74  .294  .346  .476   131
Sizemore  '04 - '08  .280  .372  .494   126
Wynn      '63 - '67  .254  .336  .4444  125

Over the last fifty years, that's your list of center fielders who have managed a 125 OPS+ or better in their first five seasons. If Sizemore stays healthy and settles into the .375/.520 hitter it appears he is, Sizemore will eventually take his place among the finest center fielders ever to play.

Baseball BeatAugust 25, 2008
Sneak Preview of the 2009 Free Agents: Catchers and Infielders
By Rich Lederer

As the baseball season finishes up the dog days of summer, I thought it would be instructive to take a peek at the upcoming crop of free agents.

With more teams signing young players to longer-term deals that buy out one or more free agent years, the talent pool is likely to age and/or diminish over time. These next few years could see the beginning of the end of the top 20-something players in their peak years turning to free agency. In the meantime, major-league baseball teams are still minting money, meaning there will be plenty of interest and dough for the best of the best. Moreover, the Yankees, with $88 million in salaries coming off the books, a new stadium that could produce a windfall in new revenues next season, and the strong likelihood of missing the post-season for the first time in more than a decade, will be bidding aggressively, driving up prices for the premiium players.

Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia fit the bill this off-season, while Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, and Manny Ramirez, among hitters, and Ryan Dempster, Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, and Ben Sheets, among starting pitchers, and Brian Fuentes and Francisco Rodriguez, among relievers, should draw a lot of attention – and money – as well.

In the first of a three-part series, let's take a look at the catchers and infielders in the free agent class of 2009. We will follow up with the outfielders and pitchers in separate articles. Players marked by an asterisk after their names are subject to club and/or player options.

First Basemen      Club
Rich Aurilia       SF
Carlos Delgado*    NYM
Jason Giambi*      NYY
Wes Helms          PHI
Kevin Millar       BAL
Mark Teixeira      LAA
Daryle Ward        CHC

The Mets and Carlos Delgado have a $12M mutual option for 2009 (with a $4M buyout). The 36-year-old slugger got off to a poor start this season (.198/.297/.323 in April) but has hit .314/.407/.594 since July 1. Based on his buyout, the true cost of bringing him back is only $8M. He just may be a bargain at that price. However, Delgado, the team leader of the resurgent Mets, may not give his consent to such a deal. Stay tuned.

The Yankees will undoubtedly reject a $22M club option on Jason Giambi for 2009 and instead pay him a $5M buyout. Giambi, who turns 38 in January, is still productive at the plate, hitting .250/.381/.503 this season. Look for him to sign a one-year contract with an AL team.

Mark Teixeira (.302/.408/.541) is the prize of this year's free-agent class. The switch-hitting first baseman reportedly turned down an eight-year, $140 million contract extension from the Rangers last summer and is rumored to be seeking a ten-year deal for a minimum of $200M. The Angels need Tex's bat and approach (15 BB and 10 SO in 101 PA) but will be competing with the Yankees, Mariners, hometown Orioles, and perhaps the Mets, among others, for his services. If money is no object, sign him. However, I would be skeptical of Teixeira's performance in the final five years of such an agreement when he would be 34-38 years old.

Second Basemen     Club
Jamey Carroll*     CLE
Ray Durham         MIL
Mark Ellis         OAK
Mark Grudzielanek  KC
Orlando Hudson     ARI
Jeff Kent          LAD
Felipe Lopez       STL
Pablo Ozuna        LAD

Orlando Hudson (.305/.367/.450 in 107 games) is the best of a relatively weak group of second basemen. The three-time Gold Glover's season has been shortened once again as he underwent surgery earlier this month to repair ligament damage in his left wrist. The soon-to-be 31-year-old will become a free agent for the first time and will be looking to cash in. O-Dog has posted an OPS+ of greater than 100 for each of the past three campaigns. Only three other second sackers can make that claim: Ian Kinsler, Dan Uggla, and Chase Utley.

At 40, Jeff Kent has slipped noticeably this season, both at the plate (.283/.330/.424) and in the field (13 runs below average per 100 games). I guess it's possible that the Dodgers could bring him back for one more year, but it says here that the 2000 NL MVP and future Hall of Famer will retire.

Shortstops         Club
Orlando Cabrera    CWS
Alex Cintron       BAL
Alex Cora          BOS
Adam Everett       MIN
Rafael Furcal      LAD
Cesar Izturis      STL
Edgar Renteria*    DET

Orlando Cabrera (.272/.326/.357) is a solid, if unspectacular, shortstop. He doesn't hit for much power (7 HR in 585 PA) but still runs the bases well (18 SB in 22 attempts) and can more than handle the defensive requirements of the position. However, at the age of 34, OC may find the going tough this winter. Look for a team to ink him to a two-year contract as a stop gap awaiting a younger alternative.

When healthy, Rafael Furcal is one of the most productive shortstops in the game. He put up a .366/.448/.597 line through the first week of May before hitting the disabled list with a bulging disk in his back, which was surgically repaired in early July. The Dodgers were 18-14 in those 32 games and have been 47-51 without him. There is an outside chance that Furcal could return this season. Either way, the 31-year-old will have a tough time duplicating the three-year, $39M contract he signed as a free agent in December 2005.

Coming off a .332/.390/.470 campaign with the Braves in 2007, Edgar Renteria has been a huge disappointment for the Tigers. He is arguably having the worst year (.264/.314/.355) of his 13-year career. The 33-year-old is average at best defensively and no longer steals bases like he once did. Renteria has picked up the pace a bit in August (.290/.342/.449) and how he performs in September will probably determine the level of interest this winter.

Third Basemen      Club
Hank Blalock*      TEX
Joe Crede          CWS
Chipper Jones*     ATL

The Rangers can exercise a $6.2M club option on Hank Blalock for next season or let him go for a rather cheap $250,000 buyout. After missing more than three weeks, Blalock returned to action last Friday. Due to continued soreness in his right shoulder, Blalock may be relegated to first base, at least for the foreseeable future. Unless the seven-year veteran can man the hot corner, his value will be circumspect, especially given his career splits (.227/.282/.352 vs. LHP and .244/.301/.398 on the road). Put me solidly in the camp of the skeptics.

Joe Crede (.255/.323/.474) has been out of action with a bad back for more than a month. He is serving a rehab assignment with the Triple-A Knights and will likely join the White Sox before the month is out. His pluses (good power and excellent defense) and minuses (health and consistency) are well known. Crede will turn 31 next April and his best days are probably behind him. Put it all together and he looks like a poor man's Scott Rolen.

Make no mistake about it, Chipper Jones will be wearing a Braves uniform next season. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Atlanta has a club option that will vest between $8M and $11M (depending on performance and award bonuses). If anything, look for the Braves and Jones to work out a new deal that keeps the switch-hitting third baseman with the one and only club that he has known. Always an injury risk, Jones is more productive at the plate than ever. Look no further than his OPS+ marks the past four seasons:

YEAR   AGE   OPS+   
2005   33    151
2006   34    154
2007   35    166
2008   36    173

Jones (.359/.460/.568) is not only getting older, he is getting better. While I'm aware that the above trend is unlikely to continue, I would be comfortable tearing up his contract and signing him to an extension that would keep him in Atlanta for the next three seasons.

Utility Infielders Club
Craig Counsell*    MIL
Nomar Garciaparra  LAD
Nick Punto         MIN
Juan Uribe         CWS


Catchers          Club
Rod Barajas        TOR
Henry Blanco*      CHC
Toby Hall*         CWS
Mike Redmond*      MIN
Ivan Rodriguez     NYY
Javier Valentin    CIN
Jason Varitek      BOS
Gregg Zaun*        TOR

There are two oldies but that, oldies and formerly this group. Ivan Rodriguez (.284/.329/.402 overall but .217/.265/.304 in 16 games with the Yankees) will turn 38 in November and is little more than a good defensive catcher at this point. He served as a two-month rental for New York but doesn't fit into the club's future plans as Jorge Posada is expected to return next season.

Jason Varitek is in the midst of the worst year (.223/.315/.370) of his 11-year career. Boston may have an interest in bringing back its captain, who turns 37 next April, for one more season but not at the $10M average he earned from 2005-2008. However, the question is whether or not Scott Boras' client can suck it up and accept such a deal.

Baseball BeatAugust 22, 2008
Foto Friday #8: New York's Cup Runneth Over
By Rich Lederer

As a segue to Bob Timmermann's guest column yesterday on "The World of Catcher's Interference," we bring you Foto Friday #8.

Nope, that's not a gas mask, folks. That's a holy cup, so to speak.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to name the player whose ear it appears as if the cup is growing out of and his two sidekicks. For bonus points, select the correct date, location, and what took place that day. Getting the correct answers may take a bit of digging, but all of these mysteries can be solved (except for the name of the stage "hand" in the background).

Good luck.


Answers (added at 4:30 pm PT): From left to right, the three players in the photo are Hank Bauer, Norm Siebern, and Yogi Berra. The date is June 17, 1956. The location is the visitor's clubhouse in Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Bauer, Siebern, and Berra all hit home runs to lead the Yankees to a 9-4 victory over the Indians.

The caption for the AP Wire Photo read as follows:

"CLEVELAND, JUNE 17--YANKEE SLUGGERS--This trio of hitters accounted for as many home runs today as the New York Yankees downed the Cleveland Indians 8-4 [sic] to make a full sweep of a three-game series. Left, Hank Bauer, whose three-run homer in the seventh; center, Norm Siebern, who came up from Denver and hit his first major league home run; and Yogi Berra. Siebern and Berra connected for two-run homers in the first off Early Wynn, who was charged with the defeat."

My Dad was working the desk at the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram back then and kept a copy of the photo, caption, and the following note to editors, entitled "WIREPHOTO ELIMINATION ... Wirephoto CD1 of today, showing New York Yankee players celebrating victory over Cleveland Indians, is eliminated to all points. Picture is of questionable taste because of object in background."

The photo and the note from the AP is what makes this one a classic (and perhaps never published before). Sadly, we almost never see such photos today...oh, not of a cup in the background but just three ballplayers arm-in-arm with smiles as if they had just won the World Series.

The box score, as provided by Retrosheet and, contains a wealth of information, such as the fact that future Hall of Famers Whitey Ford and Early Wynn were the starting pitchers and neither finished two innings with the latter failing to record a single out. Rip Coleman, who pitched the final six innings for the Yankees, was credited with the win.

Mickey Mantle, who went on to win the Triple Crown and MVP, was hitting .382 with a 1.248 OPS as of the date of this game.

There were 41,765 fans in attendance, Cleveland's largest home crowd of the season.

Designated HitterAugust 21, 2008
The World of Catcher's Interference
By Bob Timmermann

"X - reached first on catcher's interference"

The line above has often been used in baseball box scores to denote one of baseball's orphaned statistics: catcher's interference. It is an event that happens just infrequently enough for people not to care about it, but important enough that the official scorer has to report all instances of it in the totals of a game. The play doesn't count as an at bat for the batter, but the batter doesn't get credited in his on-base percentage for reaching base safely. But a batter who came up just once in a game and reached base on catcher's interference would keep a hitting streak going. A batter reaching base on catcher's interference who comes around to score is an unearned run, but batters who reach after him are usually earned runs.

For reasons I've never figured out, I felt that it was one of my missions in life to keep track of this play on my blog, The Griddle. I note the last instance of it on the sidebar and ask people to let me know when the play occurs, which invariably happens when I'm away from a computer, out of town, or busy with some other mundane task, like eating.

The baseball rule that spells out catcher's interference is Rule 6.08(c):

The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when:

The catcher or any fielder interferes with him. If a play follows the interference, the manager of the offense may advise the plate umpire that he elects to decline the interference penalty and accept the play. Such election shall be made immediately at the end of the play. However, if the batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batsman, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, the play proceeds without reference to the interference.

All that boils down to is that if the catcher's mitt touches the batter's bat before he completes his swing, catcher's interference is called. And when it happens, nobody, except for the batter, catcher, and umpire really knew what is happening. The umpire calls time and the batter is told to go down to first and everyone sort of scratches their head for a while trying to figure out what happened. Eventually "Error 2" will flash on the scoreboard and then everyone will be puzzled and look around. On TV, the announcers will look at replays and try to figure out what happened. And, after a few minutes, the befuddlement ends and the game goes on. (In theory, any fielder could interfere with the batter's swing and get called for interference, but such an instance hasn't turned up.)

Why does the play happen? I've never gotten a good answer from watching it happen, but I think (and this is highly speculative) that most catcher's interference plays happen on breaking balls. And they often happen when the batter makes a very late swing or the pitch comes in to a location that the catcher isn't expecting. So you end up with the combination of a weird swing and the catcher trying to grab a pitch in an unexpected location. This puts the bat and glove on a collision course of sorts.

Pitchers, who tend to have very poor swings at the plate, seem to get a disproportionate number of catcher's interference calls. lists 64 instances of a pitcher getting on base via catcher's interference since 1956. Chris Short accounted for 11 of them and he was also the last AL pitcher to reach base on catcher's interference, back when he was playing for the Brewers in 1973.

According to David Nemec's book "The Rules of Baseball," catcher's interference wasn't put in the rulebook until 1899. Prior to that time, catchers would occasionally try to disrupt a batter's swing by tipping the bat with his glove. Connie Mack claimed that he pioneered this strategy, but that's likely because he lived a long time and nobody was going to argue with him. However, it didn't happen too often because catchers tended to stand well behind (anywhere from 10 to 25 feet) behind the batter because they didn't have much protective equipment and valued keeping their hands, heads, and ... um ... manhood ... intact. Catchers would only move in closer if there were runners on (to prevent stolen bases) or there were two strikes on the batter (catching the third strike cleanly is one of baseball's oldest rules.)

I asked Phil Birnbaum to go through Retrosheet's data to find out how often catcher's interference had been called in the years that data is available (1956-2007). And Phil even made a graph. And after studying the graph, I believe that you really can't tell much about it.

Catcher's Interference Calls, 1956-2007

The number of instances of catcher's interference has gone up in recent years, which I think can be attributed to the increase in the number of games and better protective equipment for catchers that let them set up closer to the batter, even if it's by a couple of inches. However, the number of occurrences isn't exactly staggering, although it does happen more frequently than a complete game shutout now.

Baseball's all-time catcher's interference king is Pete Rose, who reached on catcher's interference 29 times in his career. His first one came on August 8, 1963 when Clay Dalrymple of the Phillies was nailed for it. Rose's final catcher's interference came over 22 years later on September 19, 1985 when Larry Owen of the Braves was called for it during a 9-run ninth inning by the Reds.

The single season record is held by Roberto Kelly, who got eight catcher's interference calls while playing for the Yankees in 1992. Kelly's knack for reaching first on catcher's interference earned him a trip to Cincinnati the next season in a trade that netted the Yankees Paul O'Neill.

Dale Berra of the Pirates holds the National League record for catcher’s interferences in 1983 with seven. Berra never had another CI call the rest of his career. Although Retrosheet doesn't have complete data on Dale's dad, Yogi, it appears likely that the gene for reaching on catcher's interference wasn't passed down from father to son, as Yogi has none in his stats.

Five times a player has reached on catcher's interference twice in one game. Pat Corrales did it twice for the Reds in 1965 (August 15 and September 29). The others were Ben Geraghty of the Phillies back on April 26, 1936 and also two Mariners: Dan Meyer on May 3, 1977 and Bob Stinson on July 24, 1979.

Catcher's interference has turned up in the postseason seven times, five times in the World Series. Roger Peckinpaugh of Washington was the first player to get one and it happened in the first inning of Game 7 and Peckinpaugh picked up an RBI as the bases were loaded. Rose had one in Game 1 of the 1970 World Series. George Hendrick had the last one in the World Series in Game 3 of the 1982 World Series. Richie Hebner of the Pirates (Game 3 in 1974) and Mike Scioscia of the Dodgers (Game 5 in 1985) have the only LCS catcher's interferences.

The leader among active players in catcher's interference calls is Darin Erstad of the Astros with 13. Craig Counsell of the Brewers is engaged in a neck and neck battle with Erstad with 12 CI calls. Erstad is the only player I've ever seen reach on CI in person, back on July 19, 1998 when Chris Hoiles of the Orioles knicked Erstad's bat. Or at least that's what I believe happened as I recall also that I had to stare into the sun most of the game, so pretty much anything that happened at home plate was just a rumor to me.

Edwin Encarnacion of the Reds could be the next big thing in the world of catcher's interference, picking up eight early in his career. However, Encarnacion hasn't had a single call this year and he could be losing momentum in his quest to go after Rose's record.

In Boston, since the Curse of the Bambino has been lifted, it's now time to talk about the Curse of Darren Lewis. Lewis reached first on catcher's interference back on September 13, 1998 courtesy of Tigers catcher Paul Bako. And no Red Sox player has reached on catcher's interference since then, the longest current drought for any franchise in the majors. How much longer will the people of Boston have to suffer? (My book proposal about this has gone nowhere which shows that there is a limit in the publishing world to the number of Red Sox-themed books there can be.)

There have been just nine catcher's interference calls so far in 2008. Three of them have come from Lyle Overbay who had never had one prior to this year. Carl Crawford has had two. Other players who have had one haven't fared well. Claudio Vargas of the Mets found himself taken off the Mets 40-man roster and is now playing in AAA New Orleans. Travis Hafner has been hurt most of the year. Guillermo Quiroz of the Orioles has hit .202 as a backup catcher. Milton Bradley has had a solid year, although he seemed to be getting more and more mysterious injuries after his catcher's interference on June 28.

For many players, they can have long careers and never once have a catcher's interference. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Cal Ripken, and Brooks Robinson are four notable players with long careers who never had an entry in the catcher's interference column on their ledger.

Frank Robinson received one catcher's interference in his long career and that came back on April 27, 1963 in Houston. John Bateman of the Colts interfered with Robinson in the seventh inning. Robinson must have been a little upset as he went and stole second and scored on an RBI single from John Edwards for the only run of the game.

There is only one documented case I know of when a game ended on catcher's interference. That was back on August 1, 1971 when the Dodgers were hosting the Reds. In the 11th inning of a 4-4 tie the Dodgers had the bases loaded with two outs and Willie Crawford up against Cincinnati reliever Joe Gibbon.

Manny Mota was on third for the Dodgers and either thinking that Gibbon wasn't paying attention to him or Crawford had no chance to get a hit against Gibbon, Mota tried a steal of home. Reds catcher Johnny Bench jumped out from behind the plate and stood in the base path to tag Mota.

This brought into play the seldom used Rule 7.07, to wit:

If, with a runner on third base and trying to score by means of a squeeze play or a steal, the catcher or any other fielder steps on, or in front of home base without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or his bat, the pitcher shall be charged with a balk, the batter shall be awarded first base on the interference and the ball is dead.

Home plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt called catcher's interference on Bench and a balk on Gibbon and Mota came home with the winning run. Rule 7.07 is peculiar because it imposes two different penalties for one act: catcher's interference, which allows the batter to reach first and the runners move up if forced, and a balk, which allows all the runners to move up one base. So how did Mota score? Did he score on catcher's interference or on a balk?

I discussed the play with Dave Smith of Retrosheet two years ago at the SABR Convention in St. Louis. And we agreed that the play had to be catcher's interference first because Crawford was awarded an RBI on the play, which he wouldn't have received for a balk.

So what have all these words taught people about catcher's interference? Likely very little. Catcher's interference is just a small freak play in the larger scheme of baseball. But it happens and you have to count it to make your box score balance. It's a loose end that you have to watch out for. You can take solace that I'm paying attention so you don't have to.

Bob Timmermann is a librarian who lives in South Pasadena, CA. He is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. He writes about variety of baseball-themed topics at The Griddle. Some of them are even important.

Around the MinorsAugust 20, 2008
Wrappin' Up the Draft
By Marc Hulet

The 2008 draft deadline has come and gone, and when the dust settled almost all the big-name amateur draft picks had signed on the dotted line - save for three. A trio of pitchers chose not to begin chasing their Major League Baseball dream right away, including Aaron Crow (Washington), Joshua Fields (Seattle) and Gerrit Cole (New York AL).

Both Crow and Fields are considering playing for independent baseball leagues, while Cole - a prep right-hander - is headed off to pitch for UCLA. Crow will have to wait to sign with a new club until next year. Fields, though, as a senior without the option of returning to school, did not have to sign at the deadline like everyone else. He has until the week before the 2009 draft to sign with Seattle, but what is he waiting for? He turned 23 years old yesterday and needs significant work on his control before becoming an effective Major League reliever (He has averaged more than five walks per nine innings in his last two college seasons). The market seems pretty simple to me, as Fields was taken sandwiched between two other college relievers who signed for $1.54 million (Andrew Cashner) and $1.48 million (Ryan Perry).

Cole will have to wait a full three years, which is a big risk considering the fragility of pitchers and the amount of money he turned down from the Yankees (more than $2 million). I can understand wanting to get a good education, but $2 million is a pretty good cushion if the Major League career does not turn out - and you are never too old to go back to school.

It came down to the wire but the top eight picks in the draft all came to terms. Top pick Tim Beckham and sixth round Kyle Skipworth both signed more than a month ago and have been able to benefit from valuable development time in the minors. Negotiations between Pedro Alvarez, the second overall pick, and Pittsburgh came down to the wire but he signed for $6 million. The Pirates needs to make the move after last year's debacle (Daniel Moskos). Kansas City threw out another $6 million to high school slugger Eric Hosmer, who is considered a very advanced offensive player. The club also gave seven figures to fourth round selection Tim Melville, a talented right-handed pitcher whom many thought was headed to college (which is why he fell out of first-round consideration). Interestingly enough, the small-market Royals spent more on the draft ($10-plus million) than any other club, according to Baseball America.

Baltimore signed top college pitcher Brian Matusz to a Major League contract with a signing bonus of $3.2 million, and with more than $6 million guaranteed over the life of his career. Catcher Buster Posey settled with San Francisco for a whopping $6.2 million, which might have been the biggest overpayment in the top eight. He's talented, but his bat may not be superstar quality, which is what I'd hope for from an amateur being handed that much money up front.

Yonder Alonso, on the other hand, could be the biggest steal of the draft for "only" $2 million. That said, he did receive a Major League contract and a guarantee of $4.55 million. Although he doesn't really fit in with Cincinnati's current 25-man roster (thanks to the presence of top rookie Joey Votto), teams always find a way to make room for players with star power. Alonso has been a consistent performer for three college seasons, and he has excellent plate discipline to go along with his 30 home run power potential. Gordon Beckham agreed to terms with the White Sox for $2.2 million and could move quickly through the club's minor league system.

The Rangers wrapped up Justin Smoak, the 11th overall selection in the draft, for $3.5 million. Smoak has 25-30 home run potential, as well as Gold Glove promise in the field. Despite concerns about his hip, San Diego gave Allan Dykstra $1.15 million to forgo his senior college season. Boston gave 30th pick and high school two-way player Casey Kelly $3 million to turn a blind eye to a college career. The organization also threw out seven-figure contracts to two other draft picks (Ryan Westmoreland and Pete Hissey).

* * *

Let's take a quick look now at the race for American League and National League Rookies of the Year, although I will go into more detail next week. On the offensive side of things, Geovany Soto (Chicago NL) and David Murphy (Texas) are tied for the lead in hits with 114. Evan Longoria is leading the pack with 22 homers (and slugging at .533), while Soto is just four behind. Murphy has driven in 74 runs for Texas, while Longoria is just three runs short. Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury's 38 steals are 27 more than his closest competition. Soto's .286 batting average is good for first overall, while Cincinnati's Joey Votto is second at .281. Atlanta's Gregor Blanco leads all rookies with a .371 on-base average.

As for the pitchers, Nick Blackburn (Minnesota) and Jair Jurrjens (Atlanta) are leading the way with 152.2 and 151.1 innings, respectively. Blackburn has given up 170 hits (the most of any rookie pitcher) but he also has the lowest BB/9 ratio, having allowed just 26 free passes. Johnny Cueto (Cincinnati) leads the rookie hurlers with 136 strikeouts, which is 24 more than second-place Jurrjens. Armando Galarraga (Detroit) and Jurrjens are tied for the most rookie wins with 11. Galarraga also leads rookies with a 3.11 ERA. The most saves by a rookie goes to Cleveland's Masa Kobayashi.

Change-UpAugust 19, 2008
Maddux to the Dodgers
By Patrick Sullivan

So it looks like Greg Maddux is heading up the 5 to Los Angeles. Before you scoff, consider what Maddux will be asked to do. He is taking the rotation spot of all those pitchers not named Lowe, Billingsley, Kuroda and Kershaw. Here is how those pitchers have fared, versus how Maddux has in 2008.

         IP   K/BB   K/9   WHIP   ERA
#5 LAD  185   1.70   6.03  1.47   4.91
Maddux  153.3 3.07   4.70  1.22   3.99

Maddux should offer a nice boost to the back end of the Dodgers staff down the stretch. A one or two tick upgrade over the course of six or seven starts could be the difference between the post-season and early fall golf for Los Angeles. Assuming they did not have to give away too much here, this seems well worth it to me.

Change-UpAugust 19, 2008
White Hot
By Patrick Sullivan

In the American League the Tampa Bay Rays have been the surprise story of the 2008 campaign. The Los Angeles Angels' dominance thus far comes in second, then the Boston Red Sox (if for no other reason than that they are the Red Sox, in all their loony glory), then the disappointing Yankees, etc.

Somewhere down the list you might find the Chicago White Sox, who have the AL Central's best record and MLB's third best run differential. They're a terrific team, and in case you have your doubts, check out some of the forensics. Below are their AL ranks in a number of different categories.


Runs: 3
OPS: 3
OPS+: 4
AVG: 7
OBP: 7
SLG: 2
HR: 1 (31 more than the second highest total)


ERA: 4
OPS Against: 5
K/9: 3
K/BB: 1
FIP: 2
Bullpen ERA: 4


The White Sox do it all pretty well, and there are some excellent macro signs for the club as well. Alexei Ramirez, now the team's full-time second baseman, is slugging .515 and shows no signs of slowing down. With Ian Kinsler out for the remainder of the season, no AL team will trot out a better player at the position. Also coming around is Paul Konerko. He has battled injuries and horrendous BABIP luck all season long but he has reverted to form of late, posting a .293/.446/.561 line thus far in August. Oh and in case you haven't noticed, Carlos Quentin has outperformed Eric Byrnes this season (oops). The offense should continue to pound the ball.

There are those out there who believe that the pitching staff has been getting it done with smoke and mirrors. But they look about right to me. However lucky you think Gavin Floyd has been, and yes he has been lucky, take a look at Javier Vazquez. The man is second in the AL in strikeouts, his K/BB figure is in the top-10 as well and yet he sits with a 4.34 ERA. He has been lights out in August, though, so his higher profile stats should begin to come in line with his peripherals. John Danks continues to dazzle, Mark Buehrle is solid, and the bullpen, led by a resurgent Matt Thornton, is excellent as well.

It won't be easy for the Pale Hose from here on out. During the stretch run they will face the Rays, Angels, Red Sox, and then cap a ten game road trip with a critical three game set against the Twins in Minneapolis the final week of the season. Ten of their final thirteen games are on the road, and they also face their feisty division rivals, the Cleveland Indians, seven times. It won't be easy, but then, it's not easy for any team to get by the White Sox these days.

Designated HitterAugust 18, 2008
Waiting is the Hardest Part
By R.J. Anderson

Tom Petty has a song that proclaims “The waiting is the hardest part.” I think it is beyond safe to say the Tampa Bay Rays know the saying and perhaps the song quite well.

The long wait on Major League Baseball to grant the area a team, then the first season, then for the aging slugger obsession to fade out. Then for a rebuilding process that never really happened, and then finally waiting for a change in ownership. The latter happened in November 2005, but, until this year, it was more waiting, although this was different; this was reshuffling assets, this had direction and purpose.

Mainstays like Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo, Danys Baez and Toby Hall were shipped out within a season without big-named replacements, leaving some fans wondering how much this new regime actually cared about winning. Sure, the days of Brian Meadows closing and Tomas Perez playing shortstop are terrifying in their realness, but all along the prophecy of B.J. Upton and Delmon Young soon taking over helped to soothe our qualms.

They took chances on players who others were tired of waiting on. Greg Norton, Ty Wigginton, Carlos Pena, Hee Seop Choi, Al Reyes, and the list goes on of former top prospects or useful parts that were casted aside from bigger organizations. Not too many players were willing to play in Tampa at any costs, and especially not at the price the Rays offered.

Although winning is finally here, the residuals from the waiting game are stamped all over this team with 18 of the 25 players currently on the active roster (no Carl Crawford or Evan Longoria) being acquired by Andrew Friedman. Many of the success stories from this year arise from foresight and the willingness to withhold temperamental judgments. Despite the public’s rage at not acquiring big names or making “statement moves” Friedman and company decided they wouldn’t back down.

There’s Grant Balfour, the fiery Australian with one pitch that he uses 89% of the time. Acquired in a trade, which is a common theme for this roster, Balfour worked through control issues in triple-A Durham following his designation for assignment in March. Upon his return, he looks less the guy who walked 7.30 per nine last year and more like a 13 strikeout per nine relief monster that has a 3.57 K/BB ratio.

On most nights Balfour is blazing his fastball to Dioner Navarro, the emotionally tested catcher who the Rays chose not to replace this past off-season despite a .641 OPS. Navarro was more than a tad bit unlucky last season with 17% of his batted balls being line drives that resulted in only a .253 BABIP. Navarro was named to the American League all-star team this season, his second full season since Friedman acquired Navarro, Jae Weong Seo, and Justin Ruggiano for Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson in mid-2006.

Joey Gathright and Fernando Cortez were dealt for J.P. Howell who had such a contrast in AAA and MLB statistics that most were labeling him a quadruple-A player. Thankfully Howell’s absurdly high BABIP regressed while Howell has been getting more grounders and solidifying himself as one of the go-to relievers for Joe Maddon.

Of course Maddon himself is a symbol of the patience exhibited by this franchise. A team looking to make a statement to the fan base that losing isn’t acceptable could’ve easily declined Maddon’s dual options for this season and next. After all Maddon guided teams had finished with the worst record in the league both of the past two seasons, but the Rays persisted that Maddon was indeed the man to lead this team through its transition.

The Rays are now looking at perhaps the most rewarding of waiting projects with Rocco Baldelli. He will probably never reach Josh Hamilton status, but Baldelli was one of the original Rays golden children. As a 21 year old rookie he amazingly broke into a Lou Piniella starting lineup and didn’t perform too bad. Yet as we all know Baldelli’s body has nearly derailed his once great potential down to just shy of 130 games since 2005.

Before this year waiting is all the Rays and their fans ever really had. When Troy Percival signed with the Rays for less money part of his reasoning was feeling as if this team had a legitimate playoff shot; most took this as sugar coating his desire to be a closer. Cliff Floyd would follow not too long after using some of the same key words. Ace Scott Kazmir made the boldest of statements in spring training by stating this team would definitely compete for a playoff position. Most rolled their eyes and said “We’ll see.”

Seeing is believing, patience is a virtue, and the Rays are in first place in late August.

R.J. Anderson is Senior Editor of DRaysBay and Beyond the Boxscore.

Saber TalkAugust 15, 2008
Measuring Offense with Batting Runs
By Myron Logan

Two weeks ago, we looked at the performance of all major leaguers (well, all but catcher and pitchers). I figured it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at offensive performance here today.

When you talk about offensive metrics, well, you’ve got a lot to talk about. You’ve got linear methods (like Pete Palmer’s Batting Runs), multiplicative methods (like Bill James’ Runs Created), rate stats (OBP/SLG, wOBA, GPA, etc,), and a bunch of other things you could do. Really, your stat of choice should depend heavily upon what question you’re trying to answer. Anyway, rather than try to recap the history of run estimation, something I would inevitably fail miserably at, let me just explain what I did.

Palmer’s Batting Runs

That’s essentially the stat we’ve calculated, and you can read a little about it here. It should be very similar to the number located on each player page at (“BtRns” under Special Batting). If you’re new to this stuff, well, the process is actually pretty simple. You take a player’s stats (singles, doubles, triples, etc.) and multiply them by the corresponding number in the formula. So, if Milton Bradley has 53 singles, you multiply that by .47, then take his doubles and times them by .85, and so on. At the end, you subtract (outs* ~.3). Base stealing is added in separately, and is simply .22*SB-.38*CS.

What you end up with is the number of runs above (or below) average a player has produced in his given playing time.

Adjusting for Parks

Surely, we want to make some adjustment for the park that a player plays his home games in. To do this, we take the outs number (.286 for the AL) and multiply it by the player’s park factor. For, let’s say, Jason Varitek, we penalize him .297 (.286*1.04) for his outs, rather than .286. If we go through and do this for every player, we have a pretty decent park adjustment*. By the way, I used Patriot’s park factors.

*There is a more complicated, more technically correct way to make this adjustment. The difference, however, is pretty tiny, so I’m just sticking with the simpler adjustment.

The Good

As I understand it, a linear weights type method for individual hitters is the best way to go. While something like Runs Created is a fine run estimator, often times it will overvalue great hitters, because they interact with their teammates and not in a lineup of clones (i.e., there aren’t nine Albert Pujols’ in the batting order, but rather one Pujols and eight mortals). Runs Created assumes a player interacts outside of a team construct, while Batting Runs does not.

And unlike, say, OPS, probably the most popular stat on the internet, we actually know what Batting Runs is measuring – runs! We know there’s a difference between an .800 OPS and a .900 OPS, but we don’t really know what one point of OPS is worth. The difference between 30 Batting Runs above average and 20 in, let’s say, 400 PA, is 10 runs. Pretty simple and straightforward.


The negatives have more to do with the simplicity of my calculation than anything else. There are things you can (and probably should) add like double play adjustments, a different out value for strikeouts, and so on. It all depends on how accurate and detailed you want to get. Next time we do this, probably at the end of the year, we’ll use a more detailed formula.

Furthermore, the weights used here are long term averages and are not based on any specific context. For instance, if you want to know how many runs J.D. Drew added to the Red Sox, rather than an average team, you’d problem want to look at something like Custom Linear Weights.

Also, remember that this method counts, say, every home run as 1.40 runs, as that is what it’s worth in the long run. However, if a player has a particularly clutch year or something, he’s obviously getting undercut here. Going back to what I said earlier, it really depends on what exactly you want to measure.

Finally, this is just one year’s worth of stats, and does not represent a player’s true talent. To find that, or at least estimate it, you’d want multiple years of data, regression to the mean, an age adjustment, and so on.

Alright, enough babbling, let’s see some numbers. Here are the top 15 hitters in each league:

AL                         NL	
1. Rodriguez, NY    38.2   1. Pujols, Stl     52.2
2. Bradley, Tex     34.4   2. Berkman, Hou    47.4
3. Sizemore, Cle    32.3   3. Jones,Atl       42.7
4. Markakis, Bal    28.2   4. Holliday, Col   38.1
5. Drew, Bos        28.1   5. Ludwick, Stl    33.5
6. Quentin, Chi     28.0   6. Ramirez, Fla    31.1
7. Morneau, Min     26.7   7. Wright, NY      30.2
8. Huff, Bal        26.2   8. Utley, Phi      27.7
9. Kinsler, Tex     26.1   9. Lee, Hou        26.8
10.Hamilton, Tex    25.5   10.McCann, Atl     26.4
11.Cabrera, Det     24.9   11.Burrell, Phi    26.2
12.Youkilis, Bos    24.3   12.Gonzalez, SD    24.6
13.Roberts, Bal     23.5   13.Braun, Mil      23.1
14.Ramirez, Bos     22.7   14.Teixeira, Atl   22.9
15.Giambi, NY       22.6   15.Bay, Pit        22.3

And how about the worst 10:

AL                         NL		
1. Pena, KC        -27.0   1. Sanchez, Pit   -23.4
2. Gomez, Min      -17.9   2. Francoeur, Atl -21.8
3. Johjima, Sea    -17.9   3. Patterson, Cin -21.3
4. Betancourt, Sea -15.7   4. Vizquel, SF    -21.1
5. Cabrera, NY     -15.6   5. Taveras, Col   -20.4
6. Varitek, Bos    -14.4   6. Bourn, Hou     -19.8
7. Vidro, Sea      -14.4   7. Jones, LA      -18.6
8. Gutierrez, Cle  -14.3   8. Greene, SD     -17.9
9. Marte, Cle      -13.9   9. Pena, Was      -17.7
10.Bynum, Bal      -13.7   10.Young, Ari     -15.8

Here’s the spreadsheet with all players*:

*I took out the pitchers in the NL while making the calculations. Of course, I’m just realizing it now, but I forgot to do the same in the AL (darn inter-league play). I took them out now, but I’m hoping it didn’t have too much of an effect on the final numbers (and I really don’t think it did).

Unlike the fielding spreadsheet, unfortunately, this one won’t automatically update – I had some computer issues and had to use someone else’s, and I couldn’t seem to get the auto-update thing to work. Anyway, feel free to play around in there and use the numbers for whatever you’d like.

Now that we’ve covered hitting and fielding, we’re getting close to a pretty decent little player evaluation ‘system.’ Add in some positional adjustments, some league adjustments, maybe a base running stat, and some other stuff and we’d be pretty good. But hopefully this will tide you over in those message board/blog debates.

Next time, if my computer returns safely, we’ll dig a little deeper into the fielding data available at The Hardball Times.

*Big thanks to Patriot for helping me better understand a few things and Baseball Prospectus for the data.

Around the MinorsAugust 14, 2008
The Clock is Ticking
By Marc Hulet

Major League Baseball (MLB) teams, including scouts, scouting directors and general managers, are no doubt buzzing like a bee hive in a hurricane. The deadline for signing 2008 amateur draft picks expires on this Friday, Aug. 15.

Because many of the remaining players are expected to sign above-slot deals, MLB has 'encouraged' teams to delay the announcements until right before the deadline in hopes of limiting the effect those would have on other negotiations. What is most surprising is the lack of whispers regarding pre-arranged deals that are just waiting for MLB's seal of approval to make them public; there is a lot we don't know this year as the time ticks down.

Here is what we don't know (Unsigned Players):
2. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh (college selection)
3. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City (high school selection)
4. Brian Matusz, LHP, Baltimore Orioles (college selection)
5. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants (college selection)
7. Yonder Alonso, 1B, Cincinnati Reds (college selection)
9. Aaron Crow, RHP, Washington Nationals (college selection)

Six of the Top 10 picks remain unsigned, which I personally hate to see as it doesn't help these players' developments. Hosmer, like fellow prepster Cole, is advised by the Scott Boras Corporation so they will likely sign as long as they get ridiculous amounts of money to play a game they 'love.' Hosmer offers an exciting future and could pair beautifully with 2007 first round draft pick and third baseman Mike Moustakas.

The moment Alvarez signs with Pittsburgh he could become the organization's franchise player and will give fans a lot to talk about (finally - although the Manny Ramirez trade has helped too). Matusz and Crow, by far the top college arms in the draft, are expected to get Major League contracts, although Crow's discussions with Washington have not gone well and there is an outside shot he will not sign.

Posey and Alonso will get done, with the backstop offering much-needed prospect polish to a system mostly void of impact bats. Alonso could be Major League ready in two years but is currently blocked at first base by youngster Joey Votto.

11. Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas Rangers (college selection)
20. Josh Fields, RHP, Seattle Mariners (college selection)
23. Allan Dykstra, 1B, San Diego Padres (college selection)
28. Gerrit Cole, RHP, New York Yankees (high school selection)

Smoak is one of my favorite players in the draft so I would like to see him take the field before the end of the year, but that may not happen. And what is Fields waiting for? Already a senior, he does not have the option to return to college but he could theoretically threaten to hold out until the just before the 2009 draft if he isn't given a Major League contract. Dykstra is the most likely first rounder not to sign due to a questionable physical that unearthed some concerns about his hip, which was injured in high school. If the Yankees can't get Cole signed, nobody can.

Here is what we know so far (Signed Players):

1. Tim Beckham, IF, Tampa Bay Rays (high school selection)
6. Kyle Skipworth, C, Florida Marlins (high school selection)
8. Gordon Beckham, SS, Chicago White Sox (college selection)
10. Jason Castro, C, Houston Astros (college selection)

Tim Beckham shocked everyone by signing quickly but his adjustment to pro ball has been slow - which is not a concern at this point given his age. Skipworth is also struggling. Castro's .270/.365/.351 line in 74 at-bats is OK, but not great given that it is in Short Season ball. I am a little surprised Gordon Beckham did not sign until last night given that he had such a great season and surely would not repeat such a feat in his senior season. The White Sox could also use the middle infield depth.

12. Jemile Weeks, 2B, Oakland Athletics (college selection)
13. Brett Wallace, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals (college selection)
14. Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins (high school selection)
15. Ethan Martin, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (high school selection)
16. Brett Lawrie, C, Milwaukee Brewers (high school selection)
17. David Cooper, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays (college selection)
18. Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets (college selection)
19. Andrew Cashner, Chicago Cub (college selection)

College hitters Weeks, Wallace, and Cooper are off to fast starts. Weeks is hitting .297/.422/.405 in 74 A-ball at-bats. Wallace is hitting .344/.427/.534 in 131 A-ball at-bats. Cooper has been the fastest mover, having played at three levels and topping out in High-A ball. Currently, he is hitting .343/.409/.531 overall in 207 at-bats and was the second first rounder to sign a pro contract. Martin has been sidelined for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

New York fans have to be disappointed with Davis' start, which includes a line of .235/.289/.307 and zero homers in 153 Short Season at-bats. Hicks is doing his best Ben Revere impression and is trying to make the Twins look brilliant yet again. His line, albeit in Rookie Ball, is currently .312/.412/.478 in 138 at-bats with 11 stolen bases to go along with 25 walks and 27 strikeouts. Lawrie recently signed and is currently in China playing for Canada's Olympic squad. Cashner has been brutal for the Cubs while making three starts in four appearances. He has a 10.80 ERA with 12 walks and five strikeouts in 5.2 innings.

21. Ryan Perry, RHP, Detroit Tigers (college selection)
22. Reese Havens, IF, New York Mets (college selection)
24. Anthony Hewitt, SS, Philadelphia Phillies (high school selection)
25. Christian Friedrich, LHP, Colorado Rockies (college selection)
26. Daniel Schlereth, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (college selection)
27. Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, Minnesota Twins (college selection)
29. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Cleveland Indians (college selection)
30. Casey Kelly, RHP/SS, Boston Red Sox (high school selection)

Havens is currently playing in Short Season ball and is hitting .263/.359/.500 with three homers in 80 at-bats. Hewitt is hitting .235/.298/.376 in 85 Rookie Ball at-bats. He also has just five walks and 39 strikeouts. Fellow high school pick Kelly is struggling in Rookie Ball with a line of .169/.200/.246 in 65 at-bats. Chisenhall is doing well in Short Season ball with a line of .272/.333/.426 and four homers in 195 at-bats.

Perry has struggled with consistency so far in his pro career and has a 4.26 ERA in six High-A ball games as Detroit attempts to rush him through the system. He has allowed six hits and four walks in 6.1 innings. Friedrich has looked good for Colorado in the Northwest League with 27 hits and eight walks allowed in 31 innings. He has also struck out 42 batters. Surprise first round pick Gutierrez is doing just OK in High-A ball with 19 hits and six walks allowed in 16.2 innings. He has struck out just 11 batters but is inducing two groundball outs for each flyball out. Schlereth has yet to allow an earned run in three relief appearances.

With time running out, what rumors are you hearing about unsigned selections?

Change-UpAugust 13, 2008
So I Went to a Baseball Game Last Night
By Patrick Sullivan

I have heard a number of people make reference to this but it really is true. You never know what is going to happen in any given baseball game. On any night, if you decide to devote the time, you could witness history.

The baseball season is long; hell, a baseball game is long. It requires considerable attention span, sometimes more than even the most ardent die-hards can allot. I think it's funny when baseball writers and other mainstream baseball figures pull rank by claiming they "watch every inning" as if doing that is somehow a life-enhancer. Not only that, but they don't watch every inning. Most of them watch one team's games.

The most knowledgeable baseball people I know not working in front offices work hard in various fields, value family time, exercising, golf, reading books, etc. Using the DVR and getting after it with the remote and the MLB Extra Innings package a few nights a week while keeping up online does the trick for me. I don't know, but I am ok without clubhouse time and bad buffet food.

Anyway, I say all of this because I went to Fenway Park last night, just as I do 15-20 other times each season, and thought it was just going to be another August game against the Rangers. Well it wasn't; it was a reminder that when you do decide to sit down and devote yourself to an entire, singular baseball game, it can often be damn rewarding. I witnessed a game that featured a tie for the most runs scored in an American League baseball game. Ever. There's a lot to say, and this Boston Globe piece sums it all up pretty nicely, but I want to focus on three items.

1) Charlie Zink sucks. I don't blame the Red Sox for giving it a shot. He had a 2.89 ERA this year in Pawtucket and Tim Wakefield went down with an injury. It seemed sensible enough. But his knuckler barely knuckles, he throws too many non-knuckle balls and he doesn't seem to strike enough batters out to be effective. I wish the kid all the best, but I would prefer not to see him take to the Fenway hill again in 2008.

2) Marlon Byrd looks good. Weird words to type, I know, but it's true. Since last season, in 190 games and about 750 plate appearances, Byrd is hitting .304/.366/.466. He's 30 now and a below average center fielder but he is precisely the sort of filler savvy teams should be on the lookout for. He will be a free agent at the end of this year and even though the last two seasons represent outliers for Byrd, there is enough of a body of work to start to feel good about his chances of helping a ballclub in 2009 and beyond. The only red flag is that over the same period, he is hitting .264/.315/.402 away from Arlington.

3) With his second home run of the game (a frozen rope over the monster) to give the Red Sox a lead in the bottom of the eighth last night, Kevin Youkilis got Fenway feeling like loud, intense, playoff-push Fenway again. And really, it's time to start talking about Youk as an MVP candidate. I don't necessarily think he is the most deserving candidate, but you look up and down BP's VORP list and A-Rod isn't getting it, and nobody from the Rangers or Indians is either. That leaves Youk, who is now hitting .316/.384/.564 while mixing in some good defense and big moments as well. With Mike Lowell potentially heading to the DL, he will also get to display his defensive versatility, which should only help his case.

At first glance you might think Youkilis is a great candidate for a nice pre-arb free agent deal but I am not so sure. He is slugging 100 points higher than his career slugging percentage this season and at age 29, it's hard to imagine him getting much better. He has publicly expressed frustration in the past with how the Red Sox managed his service time clock early in his career and right now he looks like a man on a mission. He wants that big free agent deal. So if you're the Red Sox, you can;

- Extend him (say, four years $40 million), and run the risk that his incentive structure becomes out of whack.

- Let him play out these years, needing to grind for every penny. The risk here is that relations become strained between Youk and the club but beyond that, what's the downside for the Red Sox here? That they lose out on him to the highest bidder for his 32-37 seasons? Oh well, I am sure that's a fate they can live with.

If I am the Red Sox I'd keep that fire lit under his ass and make him go year-to-year until he becomes unrestricted. Then you make your call if you want to enter the bidding.

Baseball BeatAugust 12, 2008
High School Talent is Heating Up
By Rich Lederer

Tied with the best records heading into the finale of the Area Code Games on Sunday, the Texas Rangers (Texas) beat the Milwaukee Brewers Blue (Southern California), 4-2, to win the tournament with a 4-1 record. The Brewers lost their final two games while the Rangers' lone defeat was at the hands of the Oakland Athletics (Southeast) on Friday.

All in all, there there were 20 contests played over a six-day span at Blair Field in Long Beach. I attended a number of them and had the opportunity to witness more than 100 players display their talents and skills in a showcase setting in front of hundreds of scouts. In addition to playing five games each, the athletes went through a player evaluation (SPARQ testing) on Tuesday and participated in a MLB Scout Symposium at the Long Beach Marriott on Wednesday.

In 22 years of existence, the Area Code Games have hosted numerous major leaguers, highlighted by current stars Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Dan Haren, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, C.C. Sabathia, and Grady Sizemore. Looking to the future, Tim Beckham (the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft by Tampa Bay), Kyle Skipworth (FLA, #6), Aaron Hicks (MIN, #14), Brett Lawrie (MIL, #16), Anthony Hewitt (PHI, #24), and Gerrit Cole (NYY, #28) all played in last summer's Area Code Games.

Whether it was the wood bats, the ballpark's dimensions, the seaside altitude, or just plain ol' strong arms, the pitchers got the best of the hitters throughout the week, as evidenced by a no-hitter in the opener on Tuesday and a 0-0 tie in the morning tilt on the final day. While the pitching results were impressive, it wasn't as if all of the chosen hurlers were lighting up the radar guns all week long. Yes, there were a number of pitchers touching the low-90s, but the majority were throwing in the mid- to high-80s.

Many of the top players from the Area Code Games also participated in the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium on Saturday. The Aflac game, which was televised nationally by FoxSports, tends to attract the best of the best, including several who did not appear at the Area Code Games.

Unlike the Area Code Games, all Aflac players must have completed their junior year of high school to be eligible for participation. The Aflac participants are required "to be in good academic standing and display redeeming qualities off the field that embody the ideals of the sport of baseball, including discipline, determination and hard work." The six-year-old Aflac high school classic has produced 52 first-round draft picks during the past five years, including at least eight (2005) and as many as 13 (2007).

Down 2-0 going into the ninth inning, the East staged a sterling comback victory by scoring four runs, including a game-tying-and-winning single by MVP Brian Goodwin (Rocky Mount HS, NC). The lefthanded-hitting outfielder also singled in the second and impressed me when he took an extra base on a heads-up play while center fielder Kyrell Hudson (Evergreen HS, WA) was trying to sell the umpires that he caught the speedy Goodwin's line drive.

In contrast to the Area Code Games, there were very few fastballs that didn't register in the 90s at the Aflac game. The hardest of 'em all was delivered by Mychal Givens. He threw two pitches only, a 96-mph fastball that resulted in a fly out to left and a 98-mph heater that turned into a 4-3 ground out. Givens was relieved in the bottom of the eighth by Austin Maddox (Eagle's View Academy, FL), a starting catcher-turned-pitcher (and straight-A student) whose fastball ranged from 91-96 in 1-1/3 innings of work.

All in all, there were 26 strikeouts recorded in an event that was dominated by the nation's best power arms, including five by the West's starter Jacob Turner (Westminster Christian Academy, MO). The 6-foot-4, 205-pound righthander, who struck out the side in the first after opening the game with a hit batter and a walk, was throwing loosely from 90-93 and mixing in a quality mid-70s curve and changeup in his two innings.

The remaining radar gun readings, along with brief comments, are listed below in order of appearance (West followed by the East).


  • Brooks Pounders (Temecula Valley HS, CA): 6-5, 225-pound RHP. 92-94. Retired all three batters but didn't record a strikeout. Also played first base. Father played Triple-A for the San Diego Padres. Verbally committed to the University of Southern California.

  • Tyler Matzek (Capistrano Valley HS, CA): 6-3, 185 LHP. Commands four pitches (fastball, curve, slider, and changeup), including a fastball that consistently hit 93 on Saturday. Struck out Luke Bailey (Troup County HS, GA) swinging on a four-seamer up and away that was a terrific pitcher's pitch. He retired the side in order with two punchouts. A high first-round draft pick for sure.

  • Matthew Purke (Klein HS, TX): Listed at 6-3, 170, the lanky lefthander looks much taller. Heavy 92-93 two-seam sinking fastball and a four-seamer that registered 95. 81-82 curve plus a circle change. He projects as an Andrew Miller-type but with perhaps a more effortless, free-and-easy delivery. Has an electric arm from the 3/4 slot. Was 12-1 with a 0.37 ERA and 147 Ks in 76.2 IP as a junior. Recorded a 1-2-3 fifth inning with two Ks. Another high first-round draft selection next June.

  • Chad Thompson (El Toro HS, CA): 6-8, 215 RHP. Sat at 89-91 and topped out at 93. 78-mph curveball. 1-2-3 sixth with one whiff on what looked like a generous call by the home plate ump.

  • Scott Griggs (San Ramon Valley HS, CA): 6-2, 185 RHP. 92-95. 76-78 curve. Reminded me of A.J. Burnett in terms of fastball, hump curveball, movement, and erratic control. Walked two and struck out one while allowing no hits and no runs.

  • Matt Graham (Oak Ridge HS, TX): 6-3, 195 RHP. 91-94. He induced Michael Heller (Sarasota Mooney HS, FL) to hit a grounder to short on what appeared to be a dynamite sinker.

  • Slade Heathcott (Texas HS, TX): 6-1, 195 LHP. 89-93 in the Aflac game and 87-91 at the Area Code Games. Struggled on Saturday and was saddled with the loss. Struck out the side with one infield single mixed in during the opener of the Area Code Games. A two-way player who drove in the first run of the game for the West on a line-drive single to left, Heathcott is one of the most athletic players in the class of 2009. He performed a cartwheel and back flip before the Aflac game in honor of Chairman Ozzie Smith, who gave him a "7 1/2" when he saw it on a TV replay.


  • Zack Wheeler (East Paulding HS, GA): 6-4, 175 RHP. Consistently 92-95. Mostly fastballs. Projectable pitcher's build. Would have recorded a scoreless first inning, if not for a passed ball third strike that allowed David Nick (Cypress HS, CA) to reach base and eventually score the first run of the game. Brother Adam was drafted in 2001 by the New York Yankees and played for four years with the organization before getting hurt. Should be a first-round draft choice next year.

  • Keyvius Sampson (Ocala Forest HS, FL): 6-1, 185 RHP. 93-94. Almost all fastballs. Three-sport athlete. Recorded a couple strikeouts.

  • Christopher Jenkins (Westfield HS, NJ): 6-7, 230 RHP. 90-94. Low-80s slider. Big kid. Long. Lots of legs and arms. Black belt in karate. Struck out two and walked one in a hitless and scoreless third inning.

  • Daniel Tuttle (Randleman HS, NC): 6-2, 185 RHP. Sinker, slider type with a fastball that registered upwards of 93-94. Projects as a groundball machine as a starter or reliever if he learns to keep the ball down. Allowed back-to-back doubles for the West's second run before striking out his final two batters.

  • Ethan Carter (Menchville HS, VA): 6-5, 200 RHP. 89-90. 3/4-arm slot. Pounded the strike zone with his fastball and breaking ball. 1-2-3 with two punchouts. Verbally committed to the University of South Carolina.

  • Michael Heller (Sarasota Mooney HS, FL): 6-2, 180 RHP. 91-94 with a 78-80 curve. A third baseman/pitcher somewhat reminiscent of Ethan Martin, drafted in this year's first round by the Dodgers. Committed to the University of Florida. Retired the side in order with a strikeout, flyout, and groundout.

  • Ian Krol (Neuqua Valley HS, IL): 6-1, 175 LHP. Hit 92 on Saturday although fastball sat in the high-80s during his one appearance in the Area Code Games (starting pitcher in the opener). Changes speeds well. Although not as tall as Cole Hamels, he reminds me of the Phillies' ace southpaw in terms of stuff and pitchability. Threw two no-hitters and a perfect game in high school. Got two pop fly outs, including a spectacular running, diving, and over-the-shoulder catch by shortstop Richie Shaffer (Providence HS, NC).

  • Mychal Givens (H.B. Plant HS, FL): 6-1, 185 RHP. Hit 96 and 98 on the radar guns. Both pitches were fairly straight despite 3/4-arm angle. Also throws a changeup. Outstanding two-way athlete. Started the game at shortstop, where he made a nice stop and throw on an infield single in the second inning, and led off. Was named the recipient of the Jackie Robinson Award. One of the top ten high school prospects in the country.

  • Austin Maddox (Eagle's View Academy, FL): 6-3, 220 RHP. 92-96. Big, strong, thick body. Was in starting lineup as a cather in the fifth spot. Won a gold medal as a member of the 16-and-under USA Baseball Youth National Team. Verbally committed to the University of Florida.

    We will follow up later in the week with some additional highlights of the Area Code and Aflac games, including a focus on the offensive side of the ledger.

  • Baseball BeatAugust 07, 2008
    Remember This Name
    By Rich Lederer

    Let me introduce you to the No. 1 pick in the 2011 amateur draft . . . Bryce Harper. I know, that particular draft won't take place for three more years. As such, how in the world could I make this type of a prediction now? Well, if you watched the 15-year-old, lefthanded-hitting catcher take batting practice, infield, and two plate appearances on Tuesday at the Area Code Games, as I did, then I have no doubt that you would be as enthusiastic about this phenom as I am.

    Area%20Code%20Games.jpgHarper is one of only six athletes from the 2011 graduating class competing in the 22nd annual Area Code Baseball Games at Blair Field in Long Beach, California this week. Of the remaining 172 players, 19 will graduate in 2010 and 153 in 2009. Although I have only seen two games and four of the eight teams thus far, I would be surprised if there is a player who rivals Harper's talent. Yes, I believe Harper just may be the most outstanding prep in the country right now.

    I'm not the only one who feels this way about the 6-foot-2, 197-pound sophomore-to-be from Las Vegas. I spoke to a handful of the more than 300 scouts in attendance on the first day of the tournament about Harper and the responses – from those who have followed him closely to others who had seen him for the first time that day – ranged from "wow" to shaking head in disbelief to "the best high school hitter I've ever seen."

    Using a wood bat, Harper put on a hitting clinic toward the end of BP, blasting one shot after another. Several hours later, the prized prospect hit the two hardest balls during the opening day of the six-day tournament in which pitchers dominated the action. In his first at-bat, Harper, serving as the designated hitter for the Cincinnati Reds, lined out to center field. He hit the ball about as squarely as possible, directly up the middle but straight into the glove of Washingon Nationals center fielder Kyrell Hudson.

    In Harper's second trip to the plate, he jacked a towering shot off the right-field wall for a stand-up triple to open the sixth inning. It is important to note that Blair Field is a pitcher-friendly ballpark played at seaside altitude with 348-ft dimensions down the lines that exceed those of every major-league stadium in existence. He scored the only run of the game on a subsequent ground out to short. Harper was replaced in the ninth, ending the night with one of the only two hits in the contest as seven Reds pitchers combined to no-hit the Nats.

    Harper has a power bat and a plus throwing arm that "already grades out to 70 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale," according to Dave Perkin of Baseball America. During infield prior to the game, Harper, in full gear, rifled the ball out of a crouch to second and third base with precision. Upon seeing him in action, I marked down "+ + arm" next to his name in my program. Although the rap on him is that he's not all that fast, I thought he ran very well from home to third on that triple, especially considering his age, size, and power. The kid is nothing if not impressive.

    While I didn't witness Harper during the SPARQ (acronym for Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction, Quickness) testing that morning, he earned a score of 63.93, the 54th highest total out of 178 participants. It was the fourth-highest rating among the 25 underclassmen. Interestingly, he ran a 3.91 in the 30-yard dash, ranking in the top 10% in that category.

    Check out Harper's explosive swing in the cage during a recent batting practice session.

    You can also see Harper going yard in an actual game in this video clip.

    As shown, Harper employs a slightly open stance with the right heel off the ground and his hands held high. He uses his body well, gets into a good position at the point of contact, and goes after the ball in a very aggressive manner. Bryce doesn't use batting gloves and tends to lean over and grab a handful of dirt before each at-bat. The youngster displayed a good eye and a mature approach on Tuesday, waiting for his pitch and peppering the offerings that he can handle.

    I am planning on catching some more games between now and Sunday and will report back on Monday with added commentary on Harper as well as a number of other standouts. The Area Code Games, long considered one of the top talent showcases in the country, has produced more than 300 major league players in just over two decades. There may be 15 or 20 participants who will eventually don big-league uniforms, and the best of the bunch just might be a kid who is still too young to drive. While Bryce Harper has a long ways to go (three more years of high school for the Las Vegas Wildcats and a few years in the minors) before reaching the Show, the June 2011 draft couldn't come any sooner for the MLB team lucky enough to select him.

    * * *

    Area Code Teams

    Chicago White Sox – Midwest (Oklahoma, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri)
    Cincinnati Reds – Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada)
    Milwaukee Brewers (Blue) – Southern California
    Milwaukee Brewers (Gray) – Northern California
    New York Yankees – Northeast (New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts)
    Oakland Athletics – Southeast (Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida)
    Texas Rangers – Texas, Louisiana
    Washington Nationals – Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon)


    Tuesday, August 5:

    8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. – Player Evaluation (SPARQ Testing and Batting Practice)
    3:45 p.m. – White Sox vs. Rangers (9)
    7:15 p.m. – Reds vs. Nationals (9)

    Wednesday, August 6:

    8:30 a.m. – Rangers vs. Nationals (9)
    12:00 p.m. – Brewers (Blue) vs. Athletics
    3:00 p.m. – Brewers (Gray) vs. Yankees
    6:30 p.m. – MLB Scout Symposium (Long Beach Marriott)

    Thursday, August 7:

    8:30 a.m. – Brewers (Gray) vs. Athletics
    11:30 a.m. – Brewers (Blue) vs. Yankees
    2:30 p.m. – Reds vs. Rangers
    5:30 p.m. – Nationals vs. White Sox

    Friday, August 8:

    8:30 a.m. – Yankees vs. Nationals
    11:30 a.m. – Athletics vs. Rangers
    2:30 p.m. – Brewers (Blue) vs. White Sox
    5:30 p.m. – Brewers (Gray) vs. Reds (9)

    Saturday, August 9:

    8:30 a.m. – Reds vs. Brewers (Blue)
    11:30 a.m. – Nationals vs. Brewers (Gray)
    2:30 p.m. – White Sox vs. Brewers (Gray)
    5:30 p.m. – Athletics vs. Yankees (9)

    Sunday, August 10:

    8:30 a.m. – White Sox vs. Athletics
    11:30 a.m. – Yankees vs. Reds
    2:30 p.m. – Rangers vs. Brewers (Blue)

    Around the MinorsAugust 06, 2008
    Where Did They Come From?
    By Marc Hulet

    Every season we bear witness to a bevy of surprise performances by professional baseball players. That is what makes Major and Minor League Baseball so much fun. Let's take a look at a surprise offensive performance from each of the three Double-A leagues:

    Eastern League

    Luis Montanez, OF
    Bowie Baysox, Baltimore Orioles
    Drafted: 2000 first round by Chicago Cubs
    Acquired: 2007 as a Minor League free agent
    Born: Dec. 15, 1981

    Luis Montanez is a familiar name to prospect watchers and Chicago Cub fans. He was the club's No.1 draft pick (third overall) in the 2000 draft out of a Miami high school as an infielder. Montanez started off his career on fire and hit .344/.438/.531 in 192 Rookie League at-bats that same season.

    Unfortunately he then spent the next five years in A-ball and did not sniff Triple-A until 2006 at the age of 24. Now 26 and an outfielder, Montanez has spent the season in Double-A Bowie in the Baltimore Orioles organization and was hitting .335/.385/.601 with 26 homers in 451 at-bats. What is most surprising is the power; Montanez has never hit more than 14 homers in a season and was never considered a double-digit home run threat having broken the .500 slugging percentage mark only once previously.

    The Orioles obviously liked what they saw from him as he was promoted to the Majors today for the first time in his career. He may have what it takes to be a valuable utility player at the Major League level with his versatility and athleticism.

    Texas League

    Kila Kaaihue, 1B
    Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Kansas City Royals
    Drafted: 2002 15th round
    Born: March 29, 1984

    Kila Kaaihue may be one of baseball's biggest teases. But he may also finally be for real after numerous seasons of one step forward and two steps back. The Hawaiian comes from a baseball family, as his father Kala Kaaihue played in the minors for 11 seasons and brother (also named) Kala Kaaihue plays for the Braves organization.

    Kila was selected in the 15th round of the 2002 amateur draft out of high school and spent the next three seasons putting up OK, but not great, numbers. That changed when he entered the hitters' haven of High Desert in 2005 and he slugged 20 homers and hit .304/.428/.497 in 493 at-bats. He headed up to Double-A, though, and struggled mightily hitting .202/.305/.303 in 327 at-bats. Kila then split the next year between High-A ball and Double-A with modest results.

    The 2008 season began with Kila repeating Double-A for the third time and things finally clicked for the 24-year-old. He hit .314/.463/.624 with 26 homers and 80 walks in 287 at-bats. Kila was recently promoted to Triple-A where he is hitting .375/.423/.750 in five games. He may have finally found the happy medium between selling out for power and waiting for his pitch. With Billy Butler disappointing to a degree, the door may be open for Kila.

    Southern League

    Manny Mayorson, IF
    Carolina Mudcats, Florida Marlins
    Signed: 1999 non-drafted free agent by the Blue Jays
    Acquired: 2008 as a Minor League free agent
    Born: March 10, 1983

    Manny Mayorson's profile is a little different than the first two players in this article given his extreme lack of power, as seen by his career .317 slugging average. No, Mayorson is not going to be a star at the Major League level but his bat has improved enough over the last couple of years that he is no longer simply a good-field-no-hit player. Mayorson has always flashed Gold Glove skills at shortstop but he can play second and third base as well.

    Early in his career, Mayorson bounced around the low minors and struggled to hit .230 in his first five seasons. That changed, though, in 2005 when he hit .268/.309/.363 in his third go-around with the Florida State League. He then improved offensively each of the next two seasons although he was stuck in Double-A for the Jays both years. Finally free of the organization after the 2008 season due to Minor League free agency, Mayorson has come into his own, although he has spent most of the season in Double-A yet again.

    He is currently hitting .313/.372/.407 with 20 stolen bases, 26 walks (16 strikeouts) and 26 doubles in 297 Double-A at-bats. His average is good for ninth in the league. Earlier in the season Mayorson finally received a brief promotion to Triple-A where he hit .275/.321/.412 in 12 games. Yes there are some flaws in the Dominican's offensive game, but his combination of defensive skills and the ability to make contact make him an intriguing (and cheap) bench or part-time player option at the Major League level.

    * * *

    Well, that is only three interesting stories in a Minor League system filled with players. I'd love to hear about some of the story lines that you find interesting as the 2008 Minor League season begins to wind down.

    Change-UpAugust 05, 2008
    Here Goes
    By Patrick Sullivan

    I resisted commenting on the Manny Ramirez trade because it seemed like the deal was all anyone was interested in discussing - on tv, in the newspapers and around the web. I didn't think I necessarily had insight to add. But a number of people (mostly fellow Sox fans) have emailed asking why I haven't weighed in yet. I will compile some of my thoughts here.

    1) I am with those that believe he absolutely had to go. He made terribly inflammatory statements about the organization that had paid him $160 million, he strangled and threw to the ground Boston's 64-year old Traveling Secretary, he instigated a confrontation with teammate Kevin Youkilis, he was more or less insubordinate in asking out of the lineup in Seattle and back in Boston Friday before the trade deadline against Joba Chamberlain. There was no remaining professional relationship to repair.

    2) Manny's situation was affecting the team badly. Team chemistry and its effects are not typically the domain of this site but the Red Sox had been as bad as they were all season long. Something was off and if you were honestly to ask yourself whether or not Boston was a championship team the morning of July 31, they did not even come close to passing the smell test; run differential, talent, experience be damned. There was no chance.

    3) I will always believe this was the doing of Scott Boras. Manny has never been known as one to flaunt his money, which always made me believe that he was pretty content with his (um, healthy) financial situation. I think everyone has heard the stories of him leaving uncashed paychecks in his glovebox, etc. He had never indicated that playing out his option years in Boston would be a problem. His demeanor changed dramatically this season. This theory is based on very little in the way of fact but I think something approximating this series of events is what happened:

    - Boras asked Manny for a meeting this off-season, and explained to him that getting out of his option years was his only hope for one last big contract.

    - Manny had not given it a ton of thought but to his ears, Boras's pitch was spot on. He sold Manny.

    - Manny turned all of his attention to getting out of the options.

    Think about it, the following all represented change from Manny's previous seven seasons. He worked his ass of this off-season at API in Arizona. He came into Spring Training and made Curt Schilling look like a recluse with his media accessibility. And as mentioned above, he showed a tendency towards violence, and escalated his public remarks about the Red Sox to a level that rose to insubordination. All of it, save the violence in my opinion, was calculated.

    4) That I do believe much of it was calculated preserves Manny's reputation and legacy in my mind. This was business, and even if you do not think the way he went about his business was particularly ethical, it was still just business. He wanted more guaranteed years, more money, etc. This might rub you the wrong way and it doesn't sit well with me, but it was just business, and how one conducts themselves in a professional setting is personal insofar as the individual is entitled to determine what they want and map out how to get there. Say what you want about Manny's methods, but he will be an unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the 2008 campaign. It worked. As for where things stand now, his behavior this season and the way he left town stings a bit, but there was too much good that overrides the recent negativity surrounding him. His legacy will be just fine.

    5) Some have asserted he is the second best Red Sox hitter of all time but I think I disagree. Tris Speaker is way too overlooked and I think Jimmie Foxx presses him for third best. He was the best since Ted Williams, but not second best of all time after him.

    I'll miss watching him suit up for the Red Sox, and I wish him well.

    Designated HitterAugust 04, 2008
    The Cubs, MLB, and a Cuban Missile Crisis
    By Maury Brown

    Before we get started, don’t let the title fool you; this isn’t about that abysmal Cubs team that went 59-103 with El Tappe, Lou Klein, and Charlie Metro at the helm. And no, the world is not on the precipice like those days in 1962 when Kennedy and Khrushchev took the world to the brink of nuclear war. But, there is an arms race going on with this story, although not of the pitching variety.

    The sale of the Chicago Cubs from Sam Zell, the new owner of the Tribune Company, is nearing its final stages, and with it, history will be made. The sale of the Lovable Losers, Wrigley Field, and a 25 percent stake in ComcastSports Chicago will be bringing in well over $1 billion, thus surpassing the Red Sox sale in 2002 and setting the bar for other storied franchises that might come up for grabs, as well as push the needle up on all other clubs – big or small – if and when they hit the market. Somewhere, Harry Caray is saying, “Holy Cow!”

    Five approved bidders that have reached the second round in the process each have submitted bids around that jaw-dropping $1 billion. Those bidders include Thomas Ricketts, whose father Joe founded the TD Ameritrade brokerage, Michael Tokarz, chairman of MVC Capital Inc., Sports Properties Acquisitions Corp., who has Henry Aaron and Jack Kemp as public representatives, but is headed by Andrew Murstein, a New York taxi company magnate, and fueled by a $200 million shares sale this past January, a group headed up by Hersch Klaff, a real estate investor, and Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and Chairman of HDNet, an HDTV cable network.

    In a striking turn of events, the bidder deemed to be a near lock for the package, Madison Dearborn Partners CEO, John Canning, Jr. is sitting on the outside looking in after offering up an initial bid of approximately $800 million, a figure that while large, came in a cool $200 million below where those that made the cut landed. Canning, a minority owner of the Brewers, and a close friend of Bud Selig, fits MLB’s personal profile better than the best Armani suit, but at the end of the day, the Cubs sale is in such rarified air, at least in terms of the sale price, that Canning’s pull with the MLB brass simply couldn’t keep up dollar signs.

    And, while Canning may seem to be out of the running, there is certainly the possibility that he could pull together more capital and get right back in the mix. The question on MLB’s mind is, will he? This is, after all, the Cubs, a club that has been successful while being the Kings of Futility. There are brands in baseball, but short of the Yankees, Red Sox, and possibly the Dodgers, is there a name that resonates across America as well? MLB needs -- nearly demands – an owner like Canning. Because, sitting on the doorstep and knocking hard is the antithesis of what an MLB owner is like today.

    Mark Cuban, a man whose exceptional worth (reportedly $2.8 billion) was gained through new technology, selling to Yahoo! and in the process became a billionaire. And while those Armani suits describe Canning, Cuban is one who seems to see the black turtleneck and jeans ala Steve Jobs as being “dressed up.” He’s a jeans and tees guy, something that most anyone with a pulse would have a hard time seeing the vast majority of the ownership brethren ever wearing.

    Cuban, the NBA Mavericks owner, has been the one driving the arms race forward in the Cubs sale. A man that seems so driven to gain access to the Cubs that he reportedly has offered an initial bid of $1.3 billion, thus making it clear: you want to play hardball, bring your wallet.

    With Canning out (for the moment; maybe longer), Cuban becomes the wild card, and in some ways, the prohibitive favorite. Here’s why.

    Sam Zell, while wishing to retain a minority share of the Cubs, really has no interest in the baseball holdings tied to Tribune. Zell’s main motivation to keep that minority share is for tax dodge purposes. Earlier this year, when there was talk of the typical glacial process associated with an MLB sale, Zell said on CNBC’s Squawk Box, “Excuse me for being sarcastic, but the idea of a debate occurring over what I should do with my asset leaves me somewhat questioning the integrity of the debate. There’s a lot of people who would like to buy the Cubs and would like to buy the Cubs under their terms and conditions and, unfortunately, they have to deal with me.”

    In other words, a rigged deal where a lower bid is accepted by the MLB owners could have consequences; possibly of the legal variety. With Zell having a $650 million debt payment obligation due in December and approximately $250 million in medium-term notes due in 2008, he’s in need of the highest offer, and can you blame him? Going back to that 2002 sale of the Boston Red Sox, many will recall that Charles Dolan offered up $40 million more than the winning bid submitted by John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino. $40 million might be one thing. If Cuban throws, say, $100 million more at the Cubs than the other bidders, MLB will be hard pressed not to accept.

    But, here’s the real thing that could possibly scare the owners: It isn’t that Cuban is a wild card. It isn’t that he doesn’t dress the part. Cuban could wind up being brilliant.

    The Cubs are an underutilized brand. Wrigley hasn’t been fully tapped. Cuban took the Mavericks, in a city where the Dallas Cowboys are somewhere short of religion, and made them a player in the NBA. After purchasing the Mavericks in 2000 for $200 million, Forbes valued them at $461 million, the sixth highest rated valued franchise in the NBA. What if Cuban decides to do the same with the Cubs? How do you think Jerry Reinsdorf would feel about that?

    The fact that the club that would be impacted the most by a Cuban winning bid is also owned by a man that knows Cuban through the NBA smacks of the ironic. Reinsdorf, who owns the White Sox, also owns the Chicago Bulls. How did Jerry vote on Cuban coming to the NBA? He said no. Where does Jerry sit in order of the ownership brethren? He’s as close to Bud Selig as one can get. Cuban getting through the door will not be easy, but not impossible. He’s been on record as saying he’s opposed to guaranteed contracts in the NBA. Imagine if he put his weight behind that concept in MLB?

    As I wrote in late May (Thwart A Cash Heavy Deal By Cuban? Try A Marriage) the one real shot that MLB has to thwart this cash heavy Cuban missile crisis is to pull together bidders in an attempt to get the profile, and the money together. Then, Zell wins, and MLB wins. This was done with the sale of the Washington Nationals where real estate developer Ted Lerner was married up with Stan Kasten, who to date is still the only executive to hold the position of president across three major league sports franchises at the same time (Braves, Thrashers, Hawks). Sports Properties Acquisitions Corp could be that player. Henry Aaron and Jack Kemp certainly would be more stately than a man that has sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and racked up over $1 million in league fines through the NBA.

    The difficulty, of course, isn’t the “stateliness”, it’s the money. With the credit markets taking a massive hit, pulling together capital is not exactly easy these days. Bud will be working the phones overtime to try and get the players together.

    The one thing known in this deal is expect the unknown. Over, and over, and over I wrote how the deal was wired for John Canning, and Cuban was simply the Bombay Sapphire in the mix – a pawn being used to gin up the price. With Canning looking like he’s out of the mix, anything seems possible. But, let’s dream a bit. Let’s say that a year from now, it is Mark Cuban that wins the bidding, and is the owner of the Cubs and Wrigley Field. Isn’t it safe to say that the league will be more colorful for it? That Cuban would bring a competitive element? That in bringing his wallet to the table, he increased the value of all MLB clubs? Look for the next set of bids to occur in September, and the finalized deal announced shortly after the World Series. It seems then, and only then, will we know who will own the Cubs, and whether Mark Cuban is sitting at the table.

    Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer.

    Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.