Thursday, June 25, 2009

Smoltz back, but worth a pickup?

No, the line wasn't pretty:  5 IP, 7 hits, 1 BB, 5 K, 5 ER.

But don't discard John Smoltz's first outing of the season and debut with the Red Sox.

Sure, it came in D.C., but the Nats are a pesky-hitting bunch and when you look at the bigger picture, there were several encouraging signs for Smoltz owners (or all you wanna-be's out there who can't quite muster up the nerve).

  • Rust factor: For starters, 4 of the 5 runs came in the first, as did 4 of the 7 hits and the lone walk. In anyone's first inning, there's bound to be nerves, regardless of the experience level. Giving up just one run and three singles in the next four inning is nothing to sneeze at.
  • Velocity: Smoltz was in the low-to-mid 90s at times, averaging 91.7 mph, which shows the arm strength is not an issue.
  • Control: Of the 92 pitches thrown, 62 were for strike (67 percent) and Smoltz's one walk shows he's still got the pin-point accuracy that he famously would paint the corner in Atlanta for a million years. 
The next start at Baltimore will be even more telling, but one look at Smoltz's pre-All-Star schedule and it's almost impossible not to pick him up on speculation: at Baltimore, vs. Oakland and vs. Kansas City.

And perhaps most telling is the what the 42-year-old Smoltz, fresh off shoulder surgery, had to say afterward.

"I feel like I can accomplish whatever I want this year," Smoltz said. "That's why I came back and the rehab went the way it did. Now it's just a matter of going out there and doing it like I did before."

And knowing how competitive Smoltz is, I wouldn't count anything impossible.

Fantasy spin: Sure, it's a little risky to add a 42-year-old who pitches half his game at Fenway, but this is no ordinary flame-thrower. Now, that Smoltz has a little of the rust off, it could be the perfect time to add him. All it takes is one gem and he'll be flying off the shelves. Look for an ERA just under 4.00 and a nothing-to-write-home-about 1.25 WHIP, but with plenty of Ks and Ws in the second half.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sosa steroid news barely raises eyebrows

After a few days digesting the Sammy Sosa link to PEDs, I'm still a little foggy on where I stand on the steroid issue.

Not that I'm saying it's right. But I think there's shades of grey starting to appear on the issue.

This is what happens when the biggest home run hitters of our generation (Sosa, Arod, Giambi, etc.) are being exposed for testing positive. And we know there's at least 100 more names that haven't been disclosed from the now-infamous 2003 test.

Am I ashamed, as a Cubs - and Sosa - fan that Sammy was caught? To be honest, not really. I'm trying to articulate in my own mind why that is and here's the best I can come up with:

Steroids were legal in baseball. End of story.

Sure, they are horrible for your body. They set an awful precedent to our youth. They've distorted the home run record book forever.

But, folks, they were not illegal.

I wonder if I'm making excuses for Sammy and then I remember thinking the same thing when Mark McGwire was vilified by Congress, and more importantly, public opinion for not answering the steroid question (and later dodging it again by an ESPN reporter).

It would be so much cleaner and tidier, had Sammy not played the language barrier card that day, asking for a translator.

He should've owned up and said, hey, I did it. We all did it. Look at the pictures of me 10 years ago and then today and it's not rocket science (and we all had our suspicions). Nobody gets that big, that fast. Not Barry. Not Mark. Not me.

And then he could've said something like "baseball's been bery, bery good to me."

We all would've chuckled and went about our day.

Think about it. Jason Giambi apologized for his usage (albeit indirectly). Andy Pettitte has admitted to it. Brian Roberts came clean.

What do all these guys have in common? They're forgiven. At least in my mind they are. Maybe yours, too.

We've moved on.

The talking heads this week all say that the 2003 list will eventually come out so let's just tear the Band-Aid off. I'm actually in favor of this. Every time a name is leaked, it sets baseball back a couple years.

"It's a shame baseball keeps going back to the past," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said this week, then admitted about releasing the list. "It might be the best thing."

Those names on the list will have some answering to do, certainly.

But 2009 is a different time than 2006. We're numb to the steroid news now. Once the ARod came out, all other news will just be a footnote.

The Hall of Fame will have to deal with this era at some point. And my guess is eventually McGwire and Sosa and Bonds will all be inducted. Perhaps with an asterisk.

After all. How can the Hall hold against players something that was within the rules of the game?

They can't.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Is Minute Maid hill really a good idea?

HOUSTON - For a split second, as Michael Bourn fell on his back, you could almost hear the thoughts of Astros fans whisking through Minute Maid Park.

That stupid hill.

Bourn backpedalled faster than most people can frontpedal and had a beat on a towering blast by the Cubs' Micah Hoffpauir on Thursday afternoon.

Nanoseconds before the ball return to earth, Bourn hit the inclined hill in center field and landed square on his back.

That stupid hill.

The name of that hill is Tal's Hill, named after Astros owner Tal Smith, who came up with the idea as a tribute to Cincinnati's Crosley Field. There's a flagpole in fair territory, two feet from the fence, inspired by Tigers Stadium.

A flagpole inside the outfield fence? What is this, a park rec softball field?

Ten years ago, the idea of the pole and hill was novel. In some ways it still is.

But is it really necessary?

The hill, called "The Grassy Knoll" by some players, added some needed character to what is otherwise an ordinary retractable-roof stadium (I'd rank Minute Maid in the middle of the pack of stadiums I've seen, although the brick facade outside is stunning). A Minute Maid experience feels like a night at a Bobcats game:

T-shirt giveaways. Cd-giveaways. Air-guitar cams.

Most of the summer, the roof is closed to keep out the extreme Houston heat, which have to help season-ticket sales.

A wall of windows certainly disguises the fact that you are watching it indoors. It's light years ahead of watching ball at The Trop in Tampa, but indoor baseball is like putting ketchup on a steak.

Regardless, as Bourn laid on his back, he never thought about giving up on the catch, even though he wasn't exactly sure where it was landing.

Watch the catch here.

“I never lost the flight of the ball,” Bourn told the Houston Chronicle. “I lost the sight of it at the end, but I kind of knew where it was at. I just put my glove up to where it was going to be at and I caught it.”

And as the Minute Maid crowd roared, he momentarily forgot about that hill.

That stupid hill.

"I practice going up the hill a little bit," Bourn said. "But in that instance you just have to go on instinct."

But what about the other 29 center fielders in baseball? How often do they practice such a play?

And as my brother-in-law said, "What happens when a $50 million dollar player breaks his leg on that hill?"

My guess is the hill will be leveled the next day.

Stupid or not, the hill is a bit gimmicky, but one of the most unique places in all of sports.

And maybe, just another reason to love baseball.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Peavy may be out for 12 weeks

A quick update about Jake Peavy, who's been doing a lousy job disguising his hobbled ankle, but gutsy nonetheless...

The Padres are saying Peavy will be out at least a month with a cast on his ankle to help a partially torn tendon heal. Peavy has been dealing with it since May 22.

But a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune late Friday night says that, according to trainer Todd Hutcheson, it could be eight to 12 weeks before Peavy gets back on the mound.

Eight to 12? At least a month? Maybe it's all the same diagnosis, but if you're an owner (or worse, in multiple leagues), you have my deepest sympathies. I'm feeling your pain. Send yourself some flowers if it'll help.

But it's time to move on. Time to write him off, at least for considerable contributions. The injury probably eliminates any trade talk to the Cubs or another contender. Maybe you'll get 12 starts out of Peavy, but counting on anything more is about as smart as buying stock in GM. In 2006.

Certainly, if you can get 70 cents on the dollar, sell. I'm thinking a John Lackey, Felix Hernandez or Cliff Lee type would all be decent 1-for-1 returns.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What to make of Hanson's debut

Baseball prediction are as worthless as a Canadian nickel at a soda machine.

Über-prospect Tommy Hanson of Atlanta made his major league debut on Sunday and all week Yahoo! was asking folks to predict the outcome. You know, rub your crystal baseball.

But very few thought it would go like this: 6 IP, 6 hits, 7 runs, 6 ER, 1 BB, 5 Ks.

So, what happened??? Isn't this the same guy who posted a 1.49 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 66 1/3 innings in AAA?

In a phrase...welcome to the big leagues, Tommy.

No, the difference isn't usually that stark, but it really shows you how master pitching in the majors takes more than just great stuff.

Hanson was hitting upper 90's in spring training, with a filthy slider. He fanned 90 batters in 11 starts with Gwinnet, but he wasn't facing the Charlotte Knights or the Norfolk Tides.

"Just chalk it up to, today happened, get it behind me, get ready for the next one," Hanson said. "If I keep my command I think it turns out a lot better."

If you're like most fantasy players, you were itching to grab Hanson like a poison ivy patient at a crowded Urgent Care. For some Yahoo! leagues, he's not even on the site yet (that should be happening around 3 a.m. Monday).

I'm still putting all my chips down on this rookie.

You certainly have to temper your expectations down to roughly a Freschetta Pizza plateau. Almost all rookies have rough patches in their rookie campaign, but Hanson's the rest of the way should be better than most.

And on Sunday, he simply mowed through the first 13 batters, striking out the side in the second with a 96-mph heater. Then the wheels fell off, starting with a pair of home runs to Ryan Braun and a Mike Cameron 2-run shot. The first home run pitch was so meaty, it almost was dripping with some marinara. But Hanson will quickly learn where not to throw pitches to one of baseball's Top 5 hitters.

Figure around this sort of production the rest of the way, as you contemplate whether or not to dip your toe into the Hanson waters: 3.65 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 115 Ks, 9 wins.

Glavine update: The Tom Glavine era may be over in Atlanta, but the drama may not be. A report by says Glavine's agent is looking into filing a grievance over Glavine's $1 million roster bonus. The Braves swear money wasn't an issue, and since it's not a black and white issue, this grievance may not go very far. But stay tuned.

Friday, June 5, 2009

In a flash, Knights lose Beckham

To call Gordon Beckham's rise through the minors meteoric is almost an insult to the solar system.

The White Sox promoted Beckham from AA Birmingham to Charlotte after just 38 games. Then, after 7 games in Charlotte, Knights manager Chris Chambliss called Beckham into his office after a 3-for-5 night about 10:15 p.m. and told him the news.

You're headed to the bigs.

"It was an unbelievable moment for me," Beckham told the Chicago Tribune. "I couldn't even describe it."

Beckham, 22, was the No. 8 overall pick in 2008 after a stellar career at Georgia, leading the Bulldogs to a runner-up finish. With only 58 minor league games, Beckham is the fastest White Sox player since pitcher Alex Fernandez (1990) to get the call.

What can you expect from Beckham?

Well, he doesn't come with a Spice Girl, if that's what you're thinking.

But if his pedigree is plenty spicy (.411 average, 22 HR in 71 college games in 2008; .319, 7 HR, 58 games in the minors). To answer your next question, Beckham's probably worthy of a pickup in all NL-only leagues and some shallow mixed leagues as he'll take over the regular 3B job from Josh Fields if he hits a lick.

Initially, the White Sox might bury Beckham at the bottom of the order, but one thing Ozzie Guillen will do is push the guys who are performing up high. Take one look at scrap-heap castoff Scott Podsednik for proof. (Of course, Beckham went 0-for-3 in his debut, but give him some time).

Unfortunately, for Knights fans, Beckham only played two of his seven games at Knights Castle. But for those in attendance either Tuesday or Wednesday, they may one day be able to say they saw a future baseball all-star.

And on top of his talent, Beckham is a very articulate interview. Here's a bit after he hit a home run in the CWS last June.

Andrew McCutchen: If you missed the fallout of the Nate McClouth-to-Atlanta trade, it's the promotion of McCutchen a 5-tool prospect with more speed than power, but someone who is making immediate impact and should be picked up yesterday. McCutchen could swipe 20-30 bases the rest of the way and hit 5-10 HR and should give you a steady diet of runs as the new Pirates leadoff batter.

Jose Reyes: Late news just in about the rehabbing Mets shortstop is not going. Reyes tore his right hamstring and is behing shut down for a couple days before resuming treatment. For a guy who makes his living on the basepaths, this isn't thrilling news.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Braves release Glavine, trade for McClouth

Braves fans won't like this one.

In a stunning move that saves the team a $1 million roster bonus, Atlanta released 43-year-old Tom Glavine on Wednesday.

Thanks for the memories, Tom.

Glavine, who had just completed a six-inning shutout with Class-A Rome on Tuesday night, is the final pillar of the pitching trinity of Glavine-John Smoltz-Greg Maddux that anchored 14 straight playoff appearances in Atlanta.

Recovering from shoulder and elbow surgery in the offseason, Glavine's all-time record stands at 305-203. This may be the end of the road for Glavine, although a contender in need of an innings-eater like the Phillies may be send his agent a text message as we speak.

The Braves also traded for Pirates' five-tool OF Nate McClouth, giving up three prospects – OF Gorkys Hernandez, LHP Jeff Locke and RHP Charlie Morton. Hernandez was ranked as the No. 4 Braves prospect, while Locke was No. 7.

Announcing the beginning of a new era, the Braves also made it official that fireballer Tommy Hanson will be called up to start Saturday, with Kris Medlen moved to the bullpen after Jorge Campillo was placed on the DL today.

Hanson had a fine spring, hitting 99 on the radar gun in his debut.

Fantasy spin: The biggest of the three news items is Hanson, who has dominated at AAA Gwinett, compiling a 1.49 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 90 strikeouts in 66 1/3 IP. He's a must-add in every format and while you can't expect these numbers, check back to Tim Lincecum's rookie season for a guideline.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Manny an All-Star? It's possible

If you watched the Cubs-Dodgers blowout Sunday night, you heard plenty of debate about Manny Ramirez.

Way too much, as it were.

But there were a few interesting topics brought up:

1). Should Manny be allowed to begin a minor league rehab with 10 games left on his suspension?

2). If Manny is voted in as an All-Star starter, should he be allowed to play?

The first issue is not a Manny-specific rule. It's a baseball rule and in the collective bargaining agreement it states that a person suspended for 50 games for violating the drug policy can start a minor league rehab after serving 40 games. 

I personally disagree with this, as the suspension should cover his time away from baseball. Sure, a week-long stint in AAA Albuquerque isn't the same as the majors, but it feels more like a 40-game suspension and this penalty should be more severe, if anything, not less.

The second issue may not come into play now, as the latest All-Star voting results have Manny slipping to fifth place in the N.L. outfielder vote behind Ryan Braun, Raul Ibanez, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran. Manny would need to make up 135,000 votes to crack the starting lineup.

And since he's eligible to come off the suspension on July 3 (and the All-Star Game on July 14), it's possible for Manny to play in the mid-summer classic.

Some think Manny should come out with a statement, urging fans to cast his vote for other deserving N.L. outfielders, thus not having to force Bud Selig's hand if he's voted in.

Frankly, I don't want to see Manny there, but by voting him in, this may finally change the way the All-Star voters are selected, which is long overdue. It's simply a popularity contest, having very little reflection of who is deserving.

What do you think about these two issues?

Should Manny be allowed to go on a minor league rehab stint? Should he be allowed to play in the All-Star game?