Friday, November 30, 2007

A good move for Milledge

Sometimes a change in scenery is all a player needs for his career to take off, and Lastings Milledge received that Friday when the Mets traded the outfielder from Palmetto to the Nationals.

Stuck behind Carlos Beltran in New York, Milledge will have the opportunity play center field in Washington.

Plus, Milledge will be playing for a couple of key members of the Washington organization who really want him. They are general manager Jim Bowden and manager Manny Acta.

Acta and Milledge developed a relationship when Acta was with the Mets.

Bowden, the former Cincinnati GM, was impressed with Milledge ever since he saw him play for Lakewood Ranch High during Milledge’s senior season.

Bowden went as far as to call Milledge “a building block,” which is never a bad thing.

Milledge played in 115 games for the Mets over the past two years.

He’ll play a lot more that 115 games this season with the Nationals, and nothing helps a young player develop like regular work.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Young trade a good sign

Maybe the Tampa Bay Rays are getting serious about this winning thing.

It’s one thing to trade Aubrey Huff, the most productive hitter in team history, at the end of a contract. That’s a salary dump. Same with Julio Lugo and Toby Hall.

But Delmon Young?

The guy was supposed to be the future. The guy you could run out to right field every day and expect all-star level play.

Never have the Rays made a trade as ambitious as the one that sent Young to Minnesota on Wednesday.

But give Rays GM Andrew Friedman credit. The team needs starting pitching, and an everyday shortstop with major league experience is never a bad thing, especially when the alternative is role players like Josh Wilson and Brendan Harris.

At some point, the Rays had to trade one of their talented young players to help speed the development at another pitcher.

Matt Garza, the right-hander they picked up from Minnesota as part of Wednesday’s six-player trade, is further along than any pitcher the Rays currently have.

Jason Bartlett is an upgrade at shortstop, despite his 26 errors last season.

It’s always a risk when you trade a young talent like Young, but taking risks is how you build a winner.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Strong showing at AFL bodes well for Longoria

For those hoping Rays’ top prospect Evan Longoria reaches the big club this season, consider these numbers: 318 and 4.

They were Longoria’s batting average and the number of home runs he hit during his two-week stint in the Arizona Fall League.

The AFL has almost been a launching pad for top prospects. Boston’s Jacob Ellsbury, Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki and Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun were some of the players who played in Arizona in 2006 and the majors last season.

That those three shined once they reached the big leagues is a good sign for Longoria, the Rays' top prospect, who should see the bulk of the action at third base this spring and could begin the 2008 season as the Rays' starting third baseman while Akinori Iwamura makes the transition to second base.

And, judging by the praise from those who scouted Triple A last season, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Longoria have as much success as a rookie as Braun, Tulowitzki and Ellsbury.

Monday, November 19, 2007

MVP Props for Pena

How good was Carlos Pena this season? He garnered enough attention to finish ninth in the American League MVP voting, announced Monday.

Pena hit 46 home runs and drove in 121 runs — both career-highs and team records. Not bad for a guy who was the final cut of spring training, then brought back at the last minute to fill an injury void.

He was named on 24 ballots and was voted as high as third by two writers.

I think voting him third is a little too much, since he didn’t lift the Rays out of last place or prevent them from finishing with the worst record in baseball. But ninth?

Pena was one of the more pleasant surprises in baseball in 2006, let alone on the Rays, and there were more than a few GMs who wished they had his left-handed bat in their lineup down the stretch.

But if a tree hits 46 home runs and drives in 121 runs and has a has a .627 slugging percentage in a forrest and that tree is Carlos Pena and that forrest is Tropicana field, will anyone hear him? The answer, judging from the MVP voting, is no.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Young was good, Pedroia was better

Delmon Young had the stats, but Dustin Pedroia had the better rookie year in the American League.

Young, the Tampa Bay Rays right fielder, hit .288 with 13 home runs and 93 RBI. He was first among American League rookies in RBIs, multi-hit games, hits, and outfield assists. He was second in doubles and extra base hits, third in home runs, fourth in batting average and runs, sixth in stolen bases and eighth in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

And yet, the Baseball Writers Association of America voters, of which I am one, felt that was not enough, and here’s why. At least, here is what I thought:

Boston’s Pedroia played second base for a team fighting to win its first division title since 1995 in a city that demands nothing less. He batted leadoff for a stretch because shortstop Julio Lugo was awful at the top of the order.

Yes, Pedroia was surrounded by a hitters, but he still had to produce, and he did.
Think its easy batting leadoff for the Red Sox? I don’t.

Think it’s easy coming up as a rookie and walking into the pressure-cooker of a pennant race with the New York Yankees? I don’t.

Think its easy being a rookie for the Red Sox, period? I don’t.

Young had better numbers, but played in the relaxed atmosphere of a last-place team that is building for tomorrow or maybe the day after tomorrow. He goes 3-for-4 with a double, hurray. If not, no big deal.

Pedroia’s production counted today. TODAY! There are some seasoned-vets who can’t handle that pressure.

And that’s why I voted him first and Young second and Kansas City pitcher Brian Bannister third, which, as it turned out, was exactly how the voting fell.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

An idea I like

I could get used to an open-air stadium and baseballs splashing in the bay just beyond the right field fence.

I could get use to a quaint ballpark on the water, shoehorned into a city street.
I could do without rain storms and the delays they bring, but a funky retractable roof-like system would do the trick.

It will be interesting to see how the Tampa Bay Rays’ plans for a 35,000-seat stadium on the St. Petersburg waterfront will play out, but if everything goes as owner Stuart Sternberg plans, the Rays could be playing in their new stadium by the 2012 season.

I could get used to that.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Let's see that again

Occasionally, actually, more than occasionally, you see a meeting of the umpires to sort out a call.

Was it a long foul ball or did the baseball hook around the foul pole?
Would the ball have cleared the fence had the fan not reached over and the touched the ball?

What to do?

Go to the replay.

They do in football, hockey and basketball, but baseball, as always, is lagging in the proactive department.

That might change as soon as 2009 after the general managers voted 25-5 earlier this week to recommend instant replay as a means of settling disputes on whether home runs are fair or foul, fan interference and whether the ball hit the top of the outfield wall and bounced back or bounced back because it hit something on the other side of the wall.

It’s about time. Baseball has always maintained the umpire is always right, but replays have proven they are wrong from time to time.

Replay won’t be used to clarify out or safe calls or with balls and strikes, so the game still belongs to the men in blue, but it will assist on those occasions when none of the four had a clear view of the baseball.

It’s about time baseball gets on board with the video age.

Now if they can just find a way to end those World Series games before midnight …

Friday, November 2, 2007

Pass the branding iron

Barry Bonds said he won’t go to Cooperstown for his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame if the ball he struck for his record-breaking 756th home run is marked with an asterisk. I say, pass me a branding iron.

“I won’t go. I won’t be a part of it,” Bonds said in an interview aired Thursday on MSNBC.

I say, pass me a branding iron.

Marc Ecko, the guy who bought the baseball, put it to the fans to decide the ball’s fate. In an online poll, fans voted for an asterisk.

I say, well you know what I say.

Oh Bonds will show up for his induction ceremony, which will take place five years after he retires. Let’s not be silly here.

Bonds hasn’t let what fans think stop him yet, he’s not going to let them keep him out of the hall.

And the ball shouldn’t be marked in any way. His home run record is tainted only in the hearts of fans since baseball’s performance-enhancing policy has enough holes to allow someone like Bonds to keep swinging.

Still, it’s a nice idea by Ecko.

A tainted ball for a tainted record.

Boston's Ballgate

What is it with these Boston Red Sox and the whereabouts of baseballs?

They can rally from the brink of elimination in the ALCS, win a series they had no business winning and go on to win the World Series. But keep track of the ball used for the final out? Nope, that’s when they turn into the Keystone Cops.

Another World Series title, another search for a missing baseball.

Just like in 2004, the Red Sox are wondering what happened to the game ball used to record the final out in Game 4 at Coors Field.

Catcher Jason Varitek was seen tucking it into his back pocket as he ran to the mound, but he said he gave it to closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Papelbon’s agent said Papelbon has no idea where the ball is.

Unlike in 2004, this ball isn’t earmarked for the Hall of Fame, though Red Sox officials would love to keep it in the family.

“I guess we’ll have another story line as we head into November,” team vice president Charles Steinberg told the Boston Globe. “I don’t know where the ball is. I haven’t heard anything about it.”

Now, if you told me Manny Ramirez lost it I would believe you. Manny has lost many baseballs, usually on the other side of the outfield fence.

Maybe the ball just disappeared into Denver’s thin air.