A poetry reading.
I was feeling low
In front of the machine
That’s smarter than me
Watching an old baseball game
In an attempt to subvert
A detailed personal thesis
On all the reasons to panic
Including fears of inexplicably
Eating pen caps, AA batteries
And more generalized madness
Already covered by certain episodes
Of The Twilight Zone
Meanwhile, the game is rolling
And Endy Chavez stepped to the plate
Seeing Endy Chavez in the World Series made me think a lot of things
He made that stupefying catch that time
Defying Sir Isaac Newton and keeping the glove open
To deny that should have been Scott Rolen home run
But that was not the World Series
And the Mets lost, and that kind of mattered
I also thought
Endy Chavez is fun
Graceful, fast, full of effort
He’s a hitter like I’m a person
Good for a line drive once in awhile
Mostly trying to leg them out
The rollers and choppers and quails
That can be stretched for doubles
It reminded me of us
The way we’re fighting to fight
Denying our luck by entertaining the pressure
The pressure I picture as the spike pit from that arcade game
We played in the pizzeria back in ‘95
With our garlic fingertips
Kaleidoscopic child minds cycling candy pixels and floating gold rings
You get older and your head gets filled with other things
The desire for a soul quelled by the rationalization
That nobody has a face in the comments section
That everybody has a personal identification number
And explaining what makes us special
Would make them suspicious
We have appointments to uphold
And a diligent sadness to impart
Through all the love we reserve
And all the words of love unsaid
Hey Endy, do you ever feel the wall with your fingertips
After nabbing one at the warning track?
Ever feel the padding meant to preserve your ribcage?
The warmth from the summer sun absorbed on the wall
Like the tinfoil trapping the heat from the hot dog unwrapped
In the upper-deck
A wall clarifies
This is where the game exists
This is where the game is observed
Outfielders collaborate with the barrier
Their foot spikes leveraging a leap
Against the hot padding
Their bodies rising
Arms extending into the audience
For a moment of helpless waiting
Humans have always made walls into art
Endy and his brethren
Working with the object
Like the kids in the skate park
It’s only supposed to be a railing
It’s only supposed to be a ramp
It’s only supposed to be a wall
And Endy, ever stop and say
I am Endy Chavez, I am a part of it all?
But oneness is elusive
And everyone’s obsessed with protection
I’m supposed to be me, like a shield
I’m supposed to be me
But who appreciates Endy Chavez taking a low and outside fastball
Flipping his wrist to produce fortuitous backspin and whistle a line drive straight above the cap of the third baseman that was ready but unable to counteract serendipitous placement with his own precise muscle memory
While Endy cruises into second base like an assured surgeon
Parking her Lamborghini in the reserved space
Before saving someone’s life in the morning
The mind perceiving the double
Belongs to me
Yet I can’t answer
What that means
Except that maybe an individual
Can be better known
By the specificity
Of what they believe to be
So, that’s what I thought when I saw Endy Chavez in the World Series
Texas lost the game
They lost and they could have won
With a little more fortuitous backspin
But hey, they could have not been there to begin with
The Texas Rangers could have been sucked into a state of
Nonexistence due to a reversal of time linearity
Caused by an unexpected miscommunication
Between the offices of the fifth and sixth dimension
About where the meeting was supposed to take place
On May 16th, 2011 when the Rangers Professional baseball club received a complete game from Colby Lewis, who honed his craft in Hiroshima
To bump their record to 22-19
Endy Chavez had three hits, including a double
And compared to a serious mishap
Cosmic or otherwise
Losing the World Series doesn’t really mean anything
Like, isn’t crowning a Champion just an arbitrary demarcation
Separating one season from the next
Partially camouflaging the fact that sport is absurd
And the true pleasure is in a moment of forgetfulness
Instead of everything we want anything to be about?
Control, domination, the victor and vanquished
The disgraced and satisfied
The separation we knife into existence
So I should relate to a shark
With a weeping, bleeding seal between its teeth
Joe DiMaggio played for the San Francisco Seals
Nobody ate him and he had a glorious career
Well good for the Champions, anyway
Good for them and their lucky tongues tasting the champagne
There’s supposed to be a winner and loser
There’s supposed to be Endy Chavez
He’s supposed to do everything Endy Chavez does
And we’re supposed to breathing
We’re supposed to be feeling, too
We’re supposed to be in love, aren’t we?
We’re supposed to appreciate this moment
Hall of Fame
by Matt Waters
Duke 42 years old. Well dressed, wearing a long black coat and dark slacks. Hair is combed, lively disposition.
Brad 22 years old. Wearing a ragged Philadelphia Phillies jersey and jeans. Straight brimmed Philadelphia 76’ers hat hangs loose on his head. Slurring his words, head swivels as he speaks.
Gretta Just turned 7 years old. Wearing a children’s Phillies jersey.
Citizen’s Bank Park, where the Philadelphia Phillies play their home games. Three stadium styled chairs are set up center-stage, occupied by the characters. The seat of Gretta is not yet visible as the curtain rises.
(Shoving half a hot dog down his throat)
Come on Phillies! Get a hit! Fuck!
Take it easy, guy.
This is the season! We’re losing to Houston! Fuck!
One of 162, brother, this game is a needle in a haystack.
Is the profanity necessary?
You’ve been killing us all day, ump, all day! You have been murdering us! You are a disgrace to your profession! You are a disgrace to humanity!
It’s the second inning.
Would you relax?
Got to let them know that bullshit don’t fly in this town.
(Springs back up)
Oh my God! What kind of call is that? Oh my God! Is Wandy Rodriguez a Hall of fucking fame pitcher? Holy shit! Why don’t you just hand them the game? I remember this umpire, he pulled the same shit against us last May, and I think that was against Houston too! And I think Wandy was pitching! It’s a conspiracy!
(Spotlight shines. Reveals GRETTA, seated next to Duke, on his right)
Dad? What’s the hall of fucking? Fame?
That’s the Hall of Fame… sweetie… the Hall of Fame…. It’s a wonderful building in upstate New York. You remember upstate right, with the pretty forest trees? There’s a great hall with golden plaques.
That sounds fun.
It is. Would you like to visit someday?
Yes, that is highly intriguing.
Aw, Gretta, is that another word mommy taught you?
I’m not telling.
What does mommy say about words, Gret?
There are no big words, only better words.
Absolutely. That’s my girl.
Yes, string bean?
Is the magical Wandy going to the Hall of Fame?
Probably not, honey. Even though he is a good pitcher. But only the best make it to Cooperstown. That’s the town where the Hall is.
Then why can’t we hit him? Why are the Phillies missing everything? It’s quite prophetic.
I think you mean pathetic, my dear. Prophetic means a prediction coming true. Pathetic refers to a sad failure. But this isn’t pathetic, honey bunny. It’s baseball. Over the course of one hundred sixty two games, unexpected events occur constantly. Besides, it’s still early in this one. We’ve got a long way to go. Miles to go… miles to go… who said that Grettie? Who did we talk about the other day, in the car?
Oh… I know… I know… Robert… Freeze?
Oh, so close. Frost. Robert Frost. Very good, Grettie, very good…. You know, baseball is like poetry in motion. It’s like a story, and the players are the authors, the games are the chapters, and the season is a book.
Is Doctor Holiday going to the Hall of Fame?
That’s Halladay, sweet pea, Halladay. Our pitcher today, our ace, the best in the game… and yes, he’s going to the Hall of Fame. One day he’ll have a golden plaque.
In Cooper Town?
That’s right. He’s a beautiful pitcher. He puts the ball right where he wants it. There’s a difference between Roy and Wandy. They are both talented, but Roy is special. Wandy is special, too, but Roy is on another level. Because it’s all location, pitch location.
I don’t understand.
You will, honey, in time. When you start loving music. You’ll see a perfectly timed lyric, or chord, how a fastball on the outside corner is just the same… how the best musicians sound a little different, and the best pitchers…. You’ll get it. It’s all music.
Isn’t it funny that Wandy is beating Doctor Holiday?
It is funny, Grettie. But that’s life. And baseball. You have to roll with the punches.
You bums! You fucking bums! It’s pathetic! They get the first two guys on and do nothing! Now here comes Mayberry to strike out!
(To BRAD. Tugging on his shoulder)
Hey. Would you chill out? I’m trying to watch the game with my daughter.
This is Philly, bro. It’s the bleachers, bro. You from here, bro?
(Toward the field)
Mayberry! You suck!
(Pokes BRAD. Displays police badge under shirt)
The bleachers are no excuse, friend. Now sit down. And enjoy the game. Quietly.
(Face becomes fearful)
OK, man. Just chill.
(Sits down. Drinks out of paper cup)
Mayberry. You suck.
Tough crowd… you know… tough crowd.
(Leaning out of seat)
Nice swing, Mayberry. You… you bum! You fucking bum!
Listen. Mayberry isn’t a bum. There’s no such thing as a bum at the Major League level. Everyone is capable of helping the team in some kind of a way. It’s up to the manager to utilize their skills properly. And I trust Charlie.
Charlie’s an asshole. Mayberry sucks. And this entire team isn’t the same since losing in the playoffs last season. Bunch of pussies.
Oh. You think five games last October says more about this team than ninety plus wins the past four years?
The playoffs are what matters.
Yeah? You think that’s the best way to judge players?
And I’ve got my eyes on Halladay, too… that choker. He choked in game five! Choked!
Daddy, why is he saying doctor Holiday choked?
He didn’t choke, honey. Doctors don’t choke. They save people from choking. This guy is talking crazy.
It means he failed. Halladay failed last season. Like he’s failing today. And he should be ashamed.
Don’t talk to my daughter.
I’m just letting her know the truth.
Go on Mayberry! Get it over with!
There goes your boy, copper. Really helping the team! With his special skills! There he goes, down 0-2 in the count. You know what his special skill is, copper? Having a daddy who played in the big leagues. That’s all that matters… connections. Why don’t you teach your daughter that? This guy is fucking useless. What did he hit last season, .220?
Mayberry crushes lefties. That’s his job. It has nothing to do with his dad.
Wandy is a lefty. Why can’t he get a hit off him? Right now?
(Pulls out phone. Clicks away)
I’m going to look up what Mayberry hit against lefties last season.
(Pulls out phone too. Clicks away)
I’m going to look it up, too. Can’t trust your stats. You’ll probably tell me hit—
.306. .953 .OPS. Eight homers. That’s his job. And he does it well. Oh, and he also hit seven homers against righties. He’s a good player. You don’t know what you’re talking about.
(Stares at phone. Puts it away)
So what? Stats don’t mean shit. You think last season’s stats are going to help him out now? Today is all that matters.
(Jumps out of seat)
Yes! Yeah Mayberry! Yeah!
Three run home run! We take the lead!
(Sits down. To GRETTA)
See that, Gretta? Against guys like Wandy, Mayberry is like Ryan Howard. That’s why in life you have to put yourself in the right situations. Life is all about context.
That’s it. I’ve listened to your shit all day. That’s ridiculous. Mayberry does not hit like Ryan Howard. Not ever. I don’t give a shit if it’s me on the mound.
You’ve embarrassed yourself enough, and it’s only the second inning. Why don’t you drink your beer and shut up?
Yeah, well why don’t you…
(Drinks out of paper cup)
Why don’t I… you… (Stands and shoves fingers down throat)
What in God’s name are you doing?
(With fingers down throat)
(Vomits on DUKE and GRETTA)
Daddy… no… why…
(Springs out of chair)
You miserable piece of shit!
(Tosses Brad on the floor)
You are under arrest.
I still puked on you, copper!
Daddy, what’s happening?
Don’t worry, Grettie. Justice is being served.
(Picking vomit out of hair)
(Starts crying again)
Daddy… you’re sad…
(Wiping vomit out of eye)
It’s OK… honey… it’s OK…
Previewing the American League in 2012
By Matt Waters
The beginning of spring training represents a fine time for ideas. In Seattle, manager Eric Wedge plans on batting Ichiro Suzuki third in the lineup, and Chone Figgins in the leadoff position. The rationalization for this maneuver is protecting against a void at the bottom of the order. In reality though, player performance almost always has nothing to do with where they have been penciled into the order. Sure, there may be a rare occasion when a free-swinging slash master may benefit from the noble responsibility entailed with batting leadoff, encouraged to take more pitches, but even then, a player’s tendencies usually take time and extended effort to evolve.
Like any major shift in life, the fine-tuning of pitch recognition, patience, or even mechanical adjustments, such as hip turns and weight shifting, takes practice. The light switch may flash one fine day, resulting in immediate dividends, such as in the case of Curtis Granderson, who streamlined his mechanics with hitting coach Kevin Long in late 2010 and became a dangerous hitter against his nemesis, the left-handed pitcher. And there’s also a recognizable exception such as Jose Bautista, the meteoric Toronto Blue Jays slugger. He began violently snapping his lower body and obliterating baseballs wandering off the outer half of the plate with shocking regularity, circa September 2009. These astonishingly improved levels of performance may appear magical. But Jose Bautista probably needed all the experience he received through a transient career for the switch to be flipped. In a galaxy far away, the middle of this decade, he probably had more resonance with Mets fans, having memorized every player involved with the inexplicable machinations of the 2004 trade deadline, than the Pirates supporters for whom he plied his trade. (Not a knock on Pirates fans either. Hardcore Mets fans took losing Scott Kazmir really hard at the time. Like Tom Seaver hard… They definitely could have used Kazmir during their window of contention. But I digress) Bautista probably needed to see thousands upon thousands of baseballs flying into his peripheral, countless swings, endless practice, to perfect his timing. As for Granderson, its documented evidence that his sessions with Long, convened during a series with Kansas City (Ben Shipgel of the New York Times provides a chronicle here:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/24/sports/baseball/24granderson.html. And the line about Granderson being potentially replaced by free agents Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford must be sobering for Yankees fans) were something of an intervention. It was as if Granderson needed to stagger completely mechanically, for his game to elevate beyond established levels of performance, a temporary step backward preceding a leap forward. That’s the mark of true professionalism. This is why Granderson, and his brethren, have attained a professional status in their field. When a crisis can be transformed into an opportunity for sustained growth, careers evolve, beyond even the expectations of an optimistic scout or the mathematical conclusions of a projection system. (Though the projections are getting sharper and sharper, especially at rlyw.com, where a columnist named S.G. projects optimistic and pessimistic player projections, which match their skillset, via percentiles)
Baseball is a game of adjustments. And decades of experience, whether following baseball, or even tracking the positive advancements in our own existences, will prove nearly conclusively that the cosmetic is not a sound avenue for sustaining greatness, or anything remotely approximating that ideal. Placebos don’t convince, long term, they delude. If the Mariners offense surges in 2012, it will be because Ichiro, the sultan of slap, reverts to the player capable of compiling an .OPS approaching .800. That Suzuki is a technician, utilizing speed, athletic ability and intuitive skill to help his team win baseball games. Jesus Montero will more closely resemble the player who shined in his September audition, displaying opposite field strength reminiscent of recently elite hitters such as Manny Ramirez, instead of a prospect who slightly disappointed with a decreased .OPS while repeating Triple A. (.870 in 2010, .814 in 2011) And to brutally assess Figgins, if all it takes for his reinvigoration is a lineup alteration, after posting an on-base percentage below .250 in 313 at-bats last season, then there would be a stampede for lottery tickets every night of the week.
Figgins enjoyed the best season of his career before signing with the Mariners, with a strong on-base percentage of .395. That was the player Seattle signed. Or the one who had a batting average fueled .393 .OBP in 2007, but certified his chops in 2008 by maintaining productivity (.367) despite a diminishing hit total. If Figgins can tap into this type of performance, it will not have much to do with a lineup position. Patience has not been the problem. He had seventy-four walks in 2010, which is a higher amount than he ever posted with the Angels, aside from his aberrant contract year.
But, as the Billy Beane character said in the film adaptation of ‘Moneyball,’ with a touch of helplessness considering the demands of his job, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” Romance is our protection against reality. And sometimes it is a necessity, to believe new love is right around the corner. It keeps us going.
The Mariners are facing a cruel reality in 2012. The Angels have improved, immensely, it could be argued, with the additions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. The Texas Rangers continue making bold moves, attempting to compensate for the departure of Wilson with the addition of intriguing right-hander Yu Darvish. With Darvish, Neftali Felix, and Alexi Ogando in their rotation, not to mention hard throwing lefthanders Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, the Rangers’ staff will lead the American League in entertainment. Even the A’s had a fascinating offseason, and may field an improved team, sporting a wild roster. It boasts of the likes of defensively adept Coco Crisp, who has a bull’s-eye tattooed onto his neck. And Yoenis Cespedes, the prized free agent from Cuba, star of an unintentionally hilarious twenty-minute workout video. It was crafted for the benefit of curious scouts, but ultimately inspired anyone who saw it to laugh hysterically. Or work out. Hard. In other words, team Cespedes accidently duplicated the Rocky Balboa training montage effect. Judging from a limited base of knowledge, Cespedes may have a ceiling ranging from George Bell to Juan Encarnacion. The A’s would prefer lesser projections rendered meaningless by August. The A’s are also rocking and rolling with Bartolo Colon, packing heat and fresh stem cells in his right arm, Manny Ramirez on a redemptive quest, Brandon McCarthy, Tweeter extraordinaire and sudden ground ball specialist, and a reliever named ‘Balfour’ who blossomed when his location became precise. The A’s may appear in dire straits after dealing away Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, but, if acquisitions like control artist Tom Milone and Rookie of the Year candidate Brad Peacock can provide solid innings while neophytes, the presumably improved offense will have them knocking on the door of contention.
Indeed, the Mariners face a tough task. Their rotational depth, a source of pride in recent years despite continued offensive incompetence, has been compromised by the departures of Doug Fister and Michael Pineda. In the long view, they have impressive starting pitching in their farm system. The initial months of 2012 will demand unproven commodities such as Charlie Furbush and Hisashi Iwakuma produce immediately. And the offense still worries, despite the potential to annihilate expectations, should the youthful core of Montero, future All Star Dustin Ackley, and powerful first baseman Justin Smoak excel consistently over the grueling 162 game season. For now, manager Eric Wedge is allowed to dream of possibilities. In fact, he has to dream. Morale demands it. That lineup switch is such an easy fix. But time will tell.
What else will time tell us about the 2012 American League? Excuse some predicting…
American League East:
New York Yankees: The addition of Pineda rightfully attracted the most attention, the result of a pure baseball trade that will be fascinating to track over the course of the next five years, and beyond, should the players involved, including Hector Noesi and Jose Campos, fulfill their upside. However, it was the signing of Hiroki Kuroda that allows the Yankees to boast their best collection of starting pitching talent since the 2003 season.
Phil Hughes has found difficulty finishing off hitters when ahead of the count, and finding a weapon to utilize against left-handed hitters. Even if those problems persist, a Hughes who is healthy, and able to throw 200 innings, would take sizable pressure off the shoulders of three pitchers who could use a safety net: Ivan Nova, as he continues to mature and improve his slider, which will lead to more strikeouts, improved peripheral numbers, and long term success. Kuroda, as he adjusts to New York expectations and cold weather in April and early May, while also observing how the American League reacts to his biting slider. Pineda, as he tries easing Jesus Montero’s monster September off the minds of Yankees fans early in the new season.
The lineup is an on-base percentage dream. The bullpen has a chance to be baseball’s best, especially if Rafael Soriano rebounds from an injury plagued 2011.
C.C. Sabathia has been the best pitching bet in baseball for three years running. Many advanced statistical indicators pointed him ahead of Justin Verlander last season, especially when considering home ballpark effects. Excellent team.
Tampa Bay Rays: The pitching depth is staggering. Matt Moore can excel immediately. The return of Carlos Pena and addition of Luke Scott, paired with Matt Joyce, gives the Rays’ offense legitimate left-handed power. The close contests Tampa Bay will inevitably engage in all season long will often be determined on one swing. The Rays now have two more players on their side capable of taking that swing, and connecting.
Jose Molina is an excellent game caller and defensive catcher. He and Jose Lobaton can prove a sturdy combination behind the plate. There’s a possibility the bullpen regresses, especially closer Kyle Farnsworth.
Desmond Jennings is capable of posting an .OPS north of .750 while stealing bases and playing quality defense, should he stay healthy. The Rays can win over 95 games. Anything less may keep them out of the playoffs.
Boston Red Sox: A very talented team. Adrian Gonzalez was the monster most expected, and this offseason was not clouded by shoulder surgery. Considering his style of hitting, Dustin Pedroia was practically born to play in Fenway Park, swatting doubles off the monster in left field. Pedroia will continue to be an elite hitter at home. Jacoby Ellsbury may regress, but tossing up a season comparable to Kenny Lofton’s 1996 isn’t exactly going to prevent him from getting a seven year deal next winter.
The Red Sox rotation is a concern. They are relying upon both Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard to successfully transition from relievers to starters, when there is a decent possibility that neither can. Vincente Padilla and Aaron Cook will probably both see significant action.
The bullpen, sans Papelbon and Bard, might prove flammable. Andrew Bailey has dealt with injuries each of the last two seasons. Mark Melancon had breakout campaign in 2011, rather anonymously with the Houston Astros. The Red Sox will be leaning on him heavily, especially early in the season, before Bard returns to his setup role for the stretch drive. Bullpens can be constructed on the fly, but this is a highly competitive division. The Rays have a slight edge in pitching depth.
Toronto Blue Jays: Pitching is the issue. Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie are going to do damage during their first full collaboration; that is nearly a given. But the Blue Jays are going to face a high degree of difficulty when the bottom of their rotation is pitted against the backend of the staffs put together by the Yankees and Rays, not to mention contending clubs in other divisions such as the Angels, Rangers, and even arguably, the Tigers. Trading Nestor Molina for Sergio Santos at the beginning of the Hot Stove season seemed to indicate a team planning for a playoff charge. The Jays proceeded to narrowly lose the Yu Darvish bid, which could have been their most significant maneuver, even just as an object of attention in Toronto, since the halcyon early nineties. Instead, the Blue Jays remain a few moves away, barring superlative seasons from Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez, or the DIPS gods smiling down upon Brett Cecil.
Baltimore Orioles: Broadcasters can boast about the team building ability of Buck Showalter into infinity. The truth about these Orioles is that they, at this stage, needed Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta to be reliable, glue holding together a lineup cobbled from the best their farm system had to offer and players discarded by other teams. (The O’s have not signed a top free agent since Miguel Tejada after 2002) If the plan designed by departed General Manager Andy MacPhail went swimmingly, the flame throwing, but still learning, lefthander Zach Britton would not have been the pivotal piece to a 2012 rotation. Instead, for the O’s to approach a break-even record, Britton will need to consistently approximate his performance from early 2011, when he dominated lineups, and avoid the struggles he had to overcome thereafter. New G.M. Dan Duquette was active in foreign markets while in charge with the Red Sox, and he continued that proclivity during his first Orioles offseason, adding Japanese lefthander Tsuyoshi Wada, who may provide aid to a suspect rotation. Nominal Ace Jeremy Guthrie was dealt to the Rockies for Jason Hammel, who drastically lowered his innings to hits allowed ratio in 2011, (175 hits in 170 innings, down from 201 hits and 203 hits the previous two seasons within similar innings numbers) but mitigated that improvement by allowing a career high 68 walks.
American League Central:
Detroit Tigers: There is plenty to appreciate about this roster. Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera are middle of the order archetypes. Alex Avila has opposite field power and a .389 .OBP season in the bank as a twenty four year old starting catcher. Finally funneling Brandon Inge out of the starting lineup, and replacing him, offensively, with Cabrera, could be a difference of five hundred points in .OPS. (Yeah, you know, no big deal or anything)
The defensive concerns are legitimate, especially with a sinkerball pitcher like Rick Porcello, and contact oriented starter such as Doug Fister, being prominent members of the rotation. Jhonny Peralta was moved off shortstop while with Cleveland due to concerns about his range, and now he will enter his second year as Detroit’s shortstop playing next to Cabrera, whose aptitude at third base has to be considered a bolded question mark, even for the most optimistic among Tigers fans. Interestingly, Peralta’s UZR defensive rating was 9.9 in 2011, which placed him in the upper echelon of American League shortstops. The SABR community has yet to agree upon one definitive way to evaluate defense. But no matter whether one analyzes from a scouting perspective, simply guesses based on past performance, or projects statistically, the safe conclusion is that Peralta will regress defensively in 2012. Taken together with the likely defensive contributions of Cabrera and Fielder, and the Tigers are flirting with a leather disaster.
Chances are though, with the designated hitter slot still technically available, due to Victor Martinez’s unfortunate injury, the slow motion infield will not be able to cause enough havoc for Detroit to miss October. And also, Justin Verlander still pitches for them.
Kansas City Royals: Each member of the Royals’ outfield in 2011 posted an .OPS over .800. Among that group, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur shocked more than a few followers of their most recent exploits by emerging as key offensive cogs through the entire season. Time may have been running short on Alex Gordon to prove himself, and the odds were against him, learning to play leftfield, clearing the way for Mike Moustakas. Instead of wilting, Gordon was renewed, playing superb defense, hammering forty doubles, twenty-three home runs, and slugging over .500. (.502) Of that surprisingly successful trinity, each auditioning to be a piece of the Royals’ long term plan, Cabrera was jettisoned, which will give Lorenzo Cain, a key part of the compensation for Zach Greinke, a chance to show his skills in centerfield.
The Cabrera trade weighs heavy on the Royals’ 2012 prospects. They acquired Jonathan Sanchez in the deal. Sanchez possesses an equal propensity for both missing bats and the strike zone. Setting aside his 2008 season, where Sanchez handled a full starting workload at the Major League level for the first time, he has consistently logged quality seasons, even if they were met with frustration by fans and San Francisco Giants management. Sanchez was criticized for not constantly pitching to his full potential. Even still though, Sanchez’s key skill, suppressing hits, put the Giants in position to win ballgames, and his 2010 was quite impressive: a 3.07 earned run average, 205 strikeouts in 193 innings, 142 hits allowed, one World Series ring attained. Considering the terrific depth in Kansas City’s bullpen, which may be further fortified by the addition of a potentially healthy and productive Jonathan Broxton, the Royals do not necessarily need Sanchez to become the pitcher San Francisco so desperately wanted him to be. With increased run support, strong six innings efforts from Sanchez, even if accompanied by walks, hits batsmen, and ugly overall aesthetics, will greatly benefit the Royals. Kanas City needed another starter, and Sanchez was certainly victimized by the Giants’ atrocious offense last season in going 4-7 while healthy. (He had tendinitis in June and sprained his ankle in August)
From the Giants’ perspective, they acquired a twenty six year old switch hitter off a breakout .809 .OPS, capable of playing all three-outfield positions with varying degrees of competence. From the Royals perspective, they traded for a 28 year-old left-handed starter who deadens opposition bats in the manner of an ace, and whose control could still improve. This pitcher for Melky Cabrera, who the Braves outright waived after 2010. One of these perspectives is going to be proven way more sensible after 2012. If the Royals win the trade, this could be their first winning season since 2003. They’ll have Eric Hosmer from April onward, Johnny Giavotella, boasting an impressive minor league track record, attempting to hammer down the second base job, plus the aforementioned Moustakas, who appeared to be finding his stride at the Big League level as 2011 expired.
Luke Hochevar, in a similar fashion to Sanchez, will always be evaluated in terms of what he has not accomplished, but his numbers have steadily improved across the board the past three seasons. Felipe Paulino has great stuff. And Danny Duffy may be revolting to watch for the control pitching aficionado, but the 105 innings of big league experience he logged last season will greatly benefit the electric left-hander as he continues forward.
Cleveland Indians: When the Indians started 2011 with a 30-15 record, and contended into the summer, it was certainly shocking, but a prevailing sense of maybe underlined all the skepticism. Hey, maybe Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner would be healthy and enjoying productive seasons together for the first time since 2007, which, not coincidentally, was the last time they made the playoffs. Sure, Sizemore started 2011 on the disabled list, but he was smoking the ball for a little while upon returning to the lineup. Long enough for the Indians fans to wish and hope. And maybe the young, right leaning rotation would prove to be the division’s most stable, over the long haul. Appropriately enough, the Indians ultimately gambled on a ‘maybe’ proposition. They traded for Ubaldo Jimenez, trusting that the two or three miles per hour missing on his fastball weren’t significant enough to remove him from the top tier of starters in baseball, a level he has regressed from since the middle of 2010.
Eventually, as they often do over the course of baseball’s savage march of attrition toward October, those ‘maybes’ were answered negatively. Sizemore continued his staggering, injury related plummet. His 2009 season, seen as a letdown at the time, a brief lapse Sizemore would erase after returning to health, now appears practical gold when weighed against ’10 and ’11. The Indians would probably gladly take 503 at-bats and .788 .OPS at this point. Although Justin Masterson is surely for real, Jimenez was not remotely effective enough for the Indians to remain even on the outskirts of the Central race. As for Hafner, he has established a new baseline, his past three seasons remarkably similar. He gets on base, misses games due to being hurt, and retains enough skill to be productive while in the lineup. From 2004-2006, Hafner averaged a 1.000 OPS, prolific hitting. From 2009-2011, his .OPS floated between .811 and .826, and at-bats between 368 and 462. To use the word tease is certainly unfair, because Hafner is undoubtedly attempting to play and tries his best when he does, but it must be frustrating for both him and the Indians that big-time seasons were probably attainable each of the past three years, and simply slipped away due to nagging ailments.
The news certainly isn’t entirely negative for Cleveland. A record hovering near .500 was probably an organizational expectation in 2011. The manner in which they compiled that mark, however, falling apart after a promising beginning, may make the team’s situation appear grim. It’s not. Asdrubal Cabrera contributes a superb offensive contribution at shortstop. Shin-Soo Choo can probably be counted on for a rebound in 2012. And after being the subject of trade rumors, and having to adjust to a new city midseason, it would not be a stretch to assume a more comfortable Jimenez rediscovers the effectiveness that made him the Rockies’ ace in 2009, when they made the playoffs. He may not reach the peak of 2010 again, but Jimenez and Masterson could be a formidable duo.
The Indians bullpen is both effective and deceptive: Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano are side-winding righties, while Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez are lefthanders with frenetic deliveries. The closer, Chris Perez, is a more conventional right-handed power pitcher, but his intense demeanor and nasty arsenal make him fun to watch, as well.
The Indians are a team in the middle of the pack, run intelligently from a front office standpoint. Every club is bound to have a best player, but there is a huge difference between being the finest commodity a third or fourth place team has to offer, and that special star status. Sizemore and Hafner were the type of star players that elevate a middle market team, or any team, really. At the moment, Cleveland is on the brink of being a consistent contender. Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis may both be productive big leaguers. Due to injuries though, the Tribe still lacks that one offensive star… and the agonizing part of it is, they used to have two, signed for the long haul.
Minnesota Twins: The term disaster is certainly overused when writing about sports. In the case of the 2011 Twins, however, the designation comes perilously close to applying. Essentially nothing went right for Minnesota, from franchise player Joe Mauer alternating between illness and injury as he had his least productive big league season, to Justin Morneau battling through lingering concussion symptoms to post a downright depressing .618 .OPS. Terry Ryan, the Twins’ General Manager before Bill Smith, has reassumed command. He signed Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, and Ryan Doumit during the winter, the last two moves important for the purposes of depth bolstering. The Twins need to have a stabilizing season before thinking about contention again. The return of Ryan as General Manager seems indicative of that mindset. Even if Mauer and Morneau are healthy, the Twins’ unimpressive rotation, wiffle ball bat wielding infield (aside from Morneau, when he plays) and porous bullpen will doom them to the bottom of the division.
Chicago White Sox: It’s strange. 2005 is ancient history, in the demanding culture of professional sports, anyway. Jermaine Dye has been out of action for two years now and recently retired. Mark Buehrle is pitching for the Miami Marlins this season. Juan Uribe, Freddy Garcia, Aaron Rowand, and other key members of that championship White Sox team are approaching the end of their careers. Ozzie Guillen is going to be hanging out with Buehrle in Miami. And yet, Ken Williams appears comfortably ensconced as the White Sox General Manager. The White Sox window has closed, and they need to rebuild a barren farm system. Williams, though, extended John Danks instead of trading him for prospects. Yet he dealt closer Sergio Santos and outfielder Carlos Quentin. Are the White Sox rebuilding? Attempting to build around a specific core? Is everyone available… or not? It’s hard to get a feel for what the White Sox are doing. Danks may be on the next great White Sox team, but his contract figures were surprising given the gradual slip in his statistics over the past three seasons. Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, and Jake Peavy aren’t exactly easily moveable accessories, due to their contracts and recent performances, so perhaps Williams is hedging. The White Sox are saddled with players who have not lived up to expectations. It’s never good being saddled.
American League West
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Playing skeptic on Kendrys Morales’ recovery is certainly not terrifically fun (considering the nature of his injury, and it’s extent, it’d be great for Morales returns to his previous level of performance, even just in the interest of karmic fairness) but these Angels will be able to withstand the possibility of further Morales absences. They never replaced the injured first baseman’s production in 2011. Mark Trumbo’s born to hack hitting mentality will prevent him from ever being a hitter in Morales’ class, even if the latter, in his own right, is not exactly a walk machine. Turn the page. Pujols is the Angels’ most talented offensive asset since Vlad Guerrero, and he’s actually far superior in comparison to the Impaler. (Yes, even the 2004 Vlad) If Morales is healthy, the Angels can be the best team in a loaded American League. Should he aggravate his injury, or be diminished as a hitter, C.J. Wilson’s arrival still keeps them on top of the division, with an offense not elite, but good enough to pile up wins in support of a tremendous rotation.
Texas Rangers: If Josh Hamilton had carved out a decent Major League career, after the tribulations shadowing his early professional career, his life would have remained inspiring. Instead he won an MVP award. But success on the field is not an indicator of satisfaction within a personal life. The high profile nature of Josh Hamilton’s life gives him the opportunity for a forum. Hopefully he can channel his position in society toward a positive, ultimately rewarding end.
The Rangers’ have a loaded lineup and talent all over the place, but an overlooked truth about this roster is its brittleness. Key Rangers players are often injured, and it’s been sound baseball analysis in recent years to add additional value to Texas’ performance, for having survived extended disabled stints from the likes of Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Hamilton, and Beltre last season. (And in the years to come — as he ages) The Rangers withstood those blows, and it would take a cataclysm to knock them out of the 90-win range this season. The rotation in the second half is a concern, though. Darvish will be pitching through his first Major League schedule. Feliz will be on an innings limit, and could wear down. Ogando did wear down in 2011, and it’s a mystery how he will respond.
Oakland A’s: Rumors of Oakland’s impending crimes against baseball are highly exaggerated. Are they a serious player in the AL West? Hardly. Are they going to scale the one hundred loss wall? Not a chance. Gio Gonzalez was a very effective hurler for the A’s, but he was also aided and abetted by the Coliseum, which has not changed in dimension, or decreased foul territory, just because he, Cahill, and Andrew Bailey were sent away. The loss of Bailey will barely be a factor, and there is nothing in life overstated quite like the panic of a non-contending baseball team trading their closer. Grant Balfour will be a sound replacement, and Bailey only contributed roughly eighty innings to the A’s in the past two seasons combined, anyway. Filling the innings left behind by Cahill and Gonzalez presents a far great challenge. Tyson Ross, Tom Milone, and Brad Peacock should prevent the drop-off from being too severe, however. Gonzalez and Cahill weren’t replaced by charter members of the 2003 Tigers rotation, and with their name tag pitchers rolling with the punches and freak show offense setting off the odd firework, the A’s may hover around .500.
Seattle Mariners: The Mariners share a similar space with the A’s, enough talent to hang comfortably over the seventy win mark, with the possibility for a full-blown disaster if the depth is put to the test. Considering where Seattle was in 2010, a nightmarish ride that resulted in the firing of Don Wakamatsu after he had seemingly established himself for the long term, the Mariners hierarchy has not done terribly attempting to rebuild. The existing talent base was so weak, though, that acquiring the two prime targets for Cliff Lee’s services in 2010, Jesus Montero and Smoak, within two years of each other, thanks to a surplus of young pitching, may be obscured as losses continue to mount.
A.L. MVP: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
A.L. Cy Young: C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees
A.L. Rookie of the Year: Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners
A.L. Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin, Oakland A’s
A.L. Comeback Player of the Year: Vernon Wells, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (My brother believes me insane for making this pick, for the record. Incredibly enough though; Wells has pretty much alternated good and bad seasons since ’06-’07, right down the line. Look for a .825 .OPS or thereabouts, if track record can overcome aging.