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Archive for November, 2006

What is the Attraction of J.D. Drew for the Boston Red Sox?

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

                             J.D. Drew

The attraction of J.D. Drew to the Boston Red Sox seems to me to be one of the great mysteries of life. What would behoove the BoSox to be attracted to Drew’s up-and-down career inconsistency?  Are we talking about attraction or fatal attraction?  The only season where Drew even began to live up to his power potential was with the 2001 St. Louis Cardinals when he hit 27 homers, drove in 73 runs and hit .323 in 109 games while losing time to a broken right hand and a lower back sprain.

I can still remember J.D. Drew and his run-in with the Phillies in 1997.  The woeful ‘97 Phils finished last in the NL East that year with a 68-94 record and sorely needed a player with Drew’s power potential.

Baseball Library’s profile on Drew reports;

Drew’s abundant talent garnered comparisons to immortals Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle before he had played even a full month with the St. Louis Cardinals. After a record-setting three years at Florida State, he had become a poster-boy for greedy ballplayers when he engaged in an acrimonious contract holdout after being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997.

He didn’t take up baseball until the age of 13, when he tired of playing wide receiver on his high school’s run-oriented football squad. Taken in the 20th round of the 1994 draft by San Francisco, Drew elected instead for college, telling the Giants that he wanted to get bigger and stronger.

The Phillies selected Drew with the second overall pick of the 1997 draft. Boras and Drew asked for a contract package that totaled $11 million, a number that Philadelphia staunchly refused to consider. In a bizarre chapter of the saga, Drew claimed never to have received three executed minor-league contracts the Phillies sent via Federal Express to his parents’ home in Georgia and later to his Florida State address.

Unable to agree to a contract with the Phillies, Drew opted to spend the 1997 season with the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League, where he batted .318 with 18 home runs and 50 RBIs in 44 games, earning the league’s Rookie of the Year Award. Despite his offensive assault, Drew faced resentment from both fans and player for his holdout.

 In my mind, the “poster-boy for greedy ballplayers” tag has stuck with Drew throughout what has been a mostly mediocre 9 year career.  It seems apparent that after the Phillies suffered Drew’s attempted shakedown, they unloaded him like a bad habit.

Baseball Library’s profile on Drew continues;

Drew re-entered the draft the next year, and the Cardinals took him with fifth overall pick in June 1998. After signing a four-year deal worth approximately $8.5 million and playing just 45 games at Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Memphis, Drew was called up to St. Louis that September. He made his debut on September 8, 1998, the day Mark McGwire hit his record-setting 62nd home run. Playing his first road game the next day at Cincinnati, Drew responded to the jeers and boos of the crows by launching his first major-league home run, a 438-foot blast off Gabe White. In 14 games that month, Drew batted .417 with five home runs, fueling expectations for his impending rookie year. While Drew tore through the exhibition season in the spring of 1999, Cardinals coaches fell all over themselves trying to praise him. Hitting coach Mike Easler described the left-handed swinger as “Wade Boggs with power” and compared his running and defensive skills to Mantle. Manager Tony LaRussa opined, “He has the standard five tools and I give him an extra-credit half tool because he knows how to use them.”But despite opening his rookie campaign batting in the most coveted lineup spot in baseball – directly ahead of new home run champ McGwire – Drew’s first year did not turn out as planned. He batted just .242 with 13 home runs and 19 steals in 104 games, and was criticized by LaRussa for poor outfield fundamentals. Adding injury to insult, Drew was sidelined more than six weeks by a quadriceps injury in May.The rookie also suffered the wrath of the City of Brotherly Love when the Cardinals traveled to Philadelphia in August.  Philadelphia fans booed Drew lustily and brought all manner of colorful signs to the ballpark. Eight arrests were made at his Veterans Stadium debut on August 10, 1999 when two D-cell batteries were thrown at him in the outfield.Drew’s 2000 season augured better, as he raised his average to .295 with 18 home runs. He began to fulfill the predictions of greatness in 2001, when he batted above .320 with bulked-up power numbers despite losing time to a broken right hand and a lower back sprain.

But then, in the 2002 season, Drew suffered a regression slumping to 18 homers, 56 RBIs and a .252 for the Cards in 135 games and then to 15 homers, 42 RBIs and a .289 average in 2003 before again putting up decent power numbers; 31 homers, 93 RBIs and .305 average in 145 games with  Atlanta in 2004.

In 2005, Drew went to the Dodgers and suffered through another injury-plagued season appearing in only 72 games and hitting 15 homers, driving in 36 runs with a .286 average.  Last season, Drew played in the most games of his career, 146 and hit 20 homers with a career-high 100 RBIs with a .283 average for the Dodgers.  At best, he can be called a middle-wrung and over-priced commodity off of his failure thus far to live up to the potential portrayed by “comparisons to immortals Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle” when he was drafted.

The Red Sox seem intent on acquiring a replacement for powerful rightfielder Manny Ramirez.

                    Manny Ramirez

Ramirez, while being a character with two years left on his eight-year contract and having asked to be traded several times, has impressive, consistent power numbers; 0ver 30 homers in 10 of 14 seasons, over 100 RBIs in 10 of 14 seasons, batting average over .300 in 10 of 14 seasons and a lifetime .314 batting average.  With those numbers, it would seem that the Sox could overlook a lot of shtick.

The questions are; How big a difference does age (Drew 31, Ramirez 34) make?  With  J. D. Drew’s apparent asking price; $70 Million for 5 years, is signing him seen by Boston as an economy move for the Sox after shelling out the highly pulicized $51 million to merely bid on Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka?  Ramirez is due $18 million next season and $20 million in 2008. Both players have seen bouts on the DL.  Would Drew’s price tag be accompanied by his finally reaching potential or would Boston be swapping one high-maintenance flake for another while losing Ramirez’s immense numbers?   Loss of such numbers is bound to have negative impact on Boston’s 2007 won-loss record unless recouped somewhere.

Pro or Con: The Phillies Search for Protection for Ryan Howard in #5 Slot

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

            Ryan Howard      Ryan Howard    Ryan Howard

While a lot of fans are upset that the Phillies didn’t sign that big-name free agent to fit into the number 5 slot behind MVP slugger Ryan Howard, two sports colunmists present opposite views on protection and whether or not
the search is really necessary or whether there is already ample resources in-house.

Inquirer Sports columnist Bill Conlin writes;

Now, only a trade that will involve components Gillick either does not have or can’t afford to give up can add a righthanded bat to a lineup that still has more questions than answers.

Blog Nation and its e-mailing disciples remain locked in historic silk-purse-for-sow’s-ear mode. Like their snail-mailing fathers and catcalling grandfathers, they insist you can get five-tool outfielder Vernon Wells from the Blue Jays for oft-injured, power-deprived outfielder Aaron Rowand and $4.2 million bonus flop Gavin Floyd.

They believe a similar package certainly should be able to land Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, a former MVP. Oh, yeah, since the Migster is adamant about remaining at shortstop, selfless, all-for-the-team-except-taking-a-pitch Jimmy Rollins would volunteer to jump on over to third base. Sure. The deal-breaker, of course, is at the action end of the deal, not the consequences end.

Andruw Jones, that’s it. Atlanta GM John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox are dying to move their best player so they can help Ryan Howard get more pitches to jack out of the yard. Let’s see… How about Rowand, Floyd and a couple of minor league pitching prospects, maybe Gio Gonzalez and J.A. Happ?

Nobody ever wonders, of course, how people that dumb managed to win their division 14 straight seasons.

But, Kevin Roberts of the Courier-Post sports staff has a different spin on whether or not protection, acquisition of a big bat is needed behind Ryan Howard;

The protection thing?

It’s a myth.

According to every substantive study in the history of man, the quality of the on-deck hitter has about zero effect on the hitter at the plate. Statisticians, pundits, seamheads and Sabremetricians (the good people from Society of American Baseball Research) have devoted countless hours to this, crunching the numbers from every possible angle, and no one seems to be able to prove that a good fifth hitter makes your fourth hitter any better — or that a bad fifth hitter hurts your fourth hitter in any way.

“In the second half pitchers were very careful, and I had to be patient,” Howard said. “The hard part is, you’re coming up there knowing they’re not going to give you much to hit — so when you do get a pitch, you have to be ready to jump all over it.”

Indeed, when Howard committed himself to being more selective and walking more, that’s when he took off. Before the All-Star break, Howard hit .278 with 28 homers in 316 at-bats and 33 walks in 87 games. Then he won the home run derby, and pitchers became more aware of him.

As they worked Howard more carefully, Howard adjusted (the way he adapts at the plate is part of what makes him such a spectacular hitter). As he became more selective, he went from a dangerous hitter to the most valuable player in the league.

After the All-Star break, Howard walked a stunning 77 times in 75 games — and he hit .355 with 30 homers in 265 at-bats. His production increased.

Walking Howard didn’t hurt the Phillies at all — after the All-Star break the Phillies were 31-13 when Howard drew a walk, including 15-5 when he walked more than once.

Now that doesn’t mean the Phillies can just bat Abe Nunez behind Howard and go get ‘em. Walks are not a bad thing, and protection is a myth — but there is a reason managers put a lineup together a certain way.

“It matters, to a certain degree,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “Pitchers are always going to be careful with Ryan and he has to be patient. But whoever hits behind him has got to have a good season.”

This is where the hitters who bat behind Howard matter — when pitchers walk him (and they will), there has to be a price to pay. The next hitter, and the next two or three hitters, have to produce when opposing pitchers put runners on base.

And it turns out the Phillies have a guy who was pretty good after opposing pitchers walked Howard. You want to guess who it is?

Brace yourself . . .

              Pat Burrell

Pat Burrell hit .423 after opposing pitchers walked Howard, with a .769 slugging percentage.

Burrell had all sorts of problems last year, but producing after pitchers walked Howard was not one of them. In fact, you could argue that batting Burrell behind Howard helped rescue the Phillies’ season.

Through July, with Bobby Abreu hitting third, Howard batted fifth (234 at-bats) or sixth (63 at-bats). The Phillies were abysmal after Howard walked — led by David Bell and Aaron Rowand, the Phillies mustered a .182 batting average after a walk to Howard.

In August, after Abreu was traded, Howard moved to the fourth spot with Burrell primarily hitting fifth. And the lineup took off — the Phillies batted .472 after a walk to Howard in August. The Phillies batted .279 after a walk to Howard in September, but that’s a little misleading — Burrell and Jeff Conine (Howard’s primary “protection”) combined to hit .382 after a walk to Howard.

Because Manuel was so quick to yank Burrell in the late innings, Howard often found himself batting ahead of the likes of Chris Roberson or Danny Sandoval — which led to a lot of intentional walks in the late innings that didn’t cost the opposition a bit.

But until then, the Phillies offense made great use of Howard’s walks — which is why they did, indeed, lead the league in runs scored.

“I’m a very competitive person,” Howard said. “When they’re taking the bat out of your hands by walking you, it’s frustrating. But at the same time, they’re putting you on base. You just hope the guy coming up next picks you up.”

The Phillies, particularly Burrell, did just fine in that regard. And it all makes the case that chasing the protection myth instead of adding to the pitching staff would be a mistake for the Phillies.

Fan feedback is appreciated via comments on this blog.

Phillies Lose Two, Gain One in Free Agency Signings

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

RHP Adam Eaton Signs With Phillies; LHP Randy Wolf to LA Dodgers

The Phillies were involved or impacted by 3 Free Agent transactions on Monday. 

              Adam Eaton             Adam Eaton           Randy Wolf

In the pitching department, they’ve agreed on a $24 million, three-year contract with 7 year veteran Adam Eaton, formerly of the Texas Rangers while losing 8 year veteran lefthander Randy Wolf to an $8 million, one-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.   Wolf’s deal with the Dodgers is reported to include $9 million option for 2008 which becomes guaranteed provided Wolf pitches 180 innings next season.  Wolf receives $7.5 million next year, and the Dodgers have a $500,000 buyout for 2008.

Both Eaton and Wolf have seen substantial time on the disabled list. 
AP sports reporter
Rob Maadi writes;

Eaton had elbow surgery in July 2001 and didn’t return until the following September. He missed several starts in ‘05 with a strained middle finger and didn’t make his first start with Texas until late July because of the same finger injury.

Regarding Wolf, AP’s Ken Peters reports;

Wolf was a reliable starter for Philadelphia from 2000-03, winning 48 games and pitching at least 200 innings three times. But he began having elbow pain the following season and was limited to 136 2-3 innings, then started 13 games in 2005 before having ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow.

Eaton’s best year was in 2005 when he went 11-5 with a 4.27 ERA for the San Deigo Padres before being traded to Texas.

Wolf showed a lot of promise for the Phillies going 11-9 in 2002 with a 3.20 ERA and 16-10 with a 4.23 ERA in 2003 before injuries set in.

In terms of innings pitched and ERA in 2006 and for career, both pitchers are basically a wash.  Eaton pitched 65 innings with a 5.12 ERA in going 7-4 last year with the Rangers.  Lifetime, he is 54-45 with an ERA of 4.40.

Wolf pitched 56 2/3 innings in 2006 with a 5.56 ERA while going 4-0.  Lifetime, he is 69-60 with an ERA of 4.21.

Inquirer Staff Writer Todd Zolecki writes about Eaton;

The Phillies preferred Eaton over the other pitchers on the market - Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt expressed no interest in Philadelphia, so they were never options - for a few reasons. The most important: They simply think he has better stuff. But then there is the familiarity factor. They also consider him to be a better athlete who can field his position, and even hit a little.

Eaton has missed time in the previous two seasons with an injured tendon in the middle finger on his pitching hand. He had surgery in April, but returned in July and went 7-4 with a 5.12 ERA in 13 starts for the Texas Rangers.

The Phillies consider Eaton a step in the right direction.

       OF David Dellucci to Cleveland Indians

                             David Dellucci

In the 3rd of Free Agent transactions affecting the Phils, Free Agent outfielder David Dellucci and the Cleveland Indians have reached preliminary agreement on an $11.5 million, three-year contract and Dellucci has been promised the starting job in leftfield.

Tom Withers of AP Sports reports;

The 33-year-old Dellucci has a physical scheduled for Thursday in Cleveland, and he’ll finalize his deal with the Indians if he passes it.

“The key factor there was his role,” agent Joe Longo said. “They’ve given him the left fielder’s job. He also felt he wanted to be in a lineup that had a chance to win. He wanted to come back to the American League. That was the best fit.”

Dellucci batted .292 with 13 homers and 39 RBIs in 132 games for the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Before that, he spent two seasons with Texas and has also played for the New York Yankees, Arizona and Baltimore.

Dellucci hit 29 homers for the Rangers in 2005.

Longo said several teams were in the hunt for Dellucci, a left-handed hitter who has a .263 career average.

Dellucci’s deal would pay him $3.75 million next season, $3.75 million in 2008 and $4 million in 2009.

The Indians will have more options in their outfield. Jason Michaels would likely back up Dellucci in left, Shin-Soo Choo could become the everyday starter in right with Casey Blake, a former infielder, moving to first base.

Dellucci can play both corner outfield positions.

The Phils still need to shore up in 2 areas; bullpen help and finding that illusive #5 hitter to protect Ryan Howard.

Former Orioles Pitcher Pat Dobson Passes Away at 64…

Friday, November 24th, 2006

                    Pat Dobson

Pat Dobson, part of the famous pitching staff of the 1971 Baltimore Orioles which sported four 20 games winners, passed away on Wednesday at age 64.   USA Today reports that his wife, Kathe Dobson explained that Dobson died Wednesday after being diagnosed a day earlier with leukemia.

The USA Today staff and wire goes on to report;

“I’ve been in this game for 40 years,” said Dave Campbell, Dobson’s former roommate with the San Diego Padres, and he was undoubtedly the funniest man in the game.”

Dobson, who had five children, is expected to be honored at a memorial service in San Francisco, Kathe Dobson said.

“He was an angel on earth who touched everyone and absolutely loved the game of baseball,” Kathe Dobson said.

Dobson went 20-8 with a 2.90 ERA for the AL champion Orioles in 1971, rounding out a famous rotation that also included Hall of Famer Jim Palmer (20-9), Dave McNally (21-5) and Mike Cuellar (20-9). The 1920 Chicago White Sox are the only other team in major league history to have four 20-game winners.

“He’s one of four that everybody will remember,” former Orioles manager Earl Weaver told The Associated Press. “He had a great year for us.”

An All-Star with Baltimore in 1972, Dobson was 122-129 with a 3.54 ERA in 11 major league seasons and won a World Series ring with the 1968 Detroit Tigers. He also pitched for San Diego, Atlanta, the New York Yankees and Cleveland.

Dobson’s bio in San Francisco’s media guide said he was living in El Cajon. He was born on Feb. 12, 1942, in Depew, N.Y., and is survived by wife Kathe and six children: Pat III, Nancy, Stacy, Chris, Shannon and Stephanie.

Janie McCauley, AP Sports Writer reports more on Dobson’s pitching career subsequent to 1972 as well as his scouting and coaching career after retirement;

The next season, Dobson made the AL All-Star team. Though he finished that year 16-18, he posted a solid 2.65 ERA.

“He had a great curveball,” said Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, Dobson’s teammate with the Orioles. “He was a real gamer, a real competitor. He didn’t give in to anybody.”

He was 19-15 with a 3.07 ERA for the 1974 New York Yankees. The right-hander also pitched for San Diego, Atlanta and Cleveland.

Dobson started Game 4 of the 1971 World Series against Pittsburgh and got a no-decision, allowing three runs and 10 hits in 5 1-3 innings. The Pirates beat Baltimore in seven games.

“He was a free spirit and I enjoyed having him,” Weaver said. “He was a pleasure to have on the team. He caused a lot of laughs, and he kept his teammates laughing.”

Weaver, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996, recalled that Dobson had a terrific curveball even when he was struggling with Detroit mostly as a reliever — but he rarely threw it for a strike.

After his playing career ended, Dobson spent eight seasons as a big league pitching coach for Milwaukee (1982-84), San Diego (1988-90), Kansas City (1991) and Baltimore (1996). He tutored a pair of Cy Young Award winners:  Pete Vuckovich of the Brewers in 1982 and Mark Davis of the Padres in 1989.

Dobson joined the Giants in 1997, serving as an advance scout and a trusted adviser to Sabean.

“Pat’s untimely death is a complete shock to the whole organization and me and it’s hard for us to express our feelings right now,” Sabean said. “We’ve all become so close through the years and we’re going to miss him dearly. … I can’t put into words the impact Pat had on the Giants over the years.

Soriano, Ramirez Sign, Re-sign With Cubs, What’s the Phillies Plan to Protect Ryan Howard?

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

In following the annual Free Agent machinations, we’ve seen the men of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs re-sign their offensively talented formerly free agent 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez as well as signing former  Washington Nationals power hitting leftfielder Alfonso Soriano to huge multi-year deals, both players were coveted by the Phillies as possible #5 hitters behind Ryan Howard.  With their acquistion of additional pitching in the off-season, the Cubs seem destined to go from NL Central Division cellar-dwellers to mounting a serious drive toward the NL Central Division title and beyond in 2007.

But where does this leave the Phillies in their efforts to add power protection for Ryan Howard to their lineup?

With the Ramirez, Soriano signings, the Phils now seem to be focusing on  Texas Rangers’ powerful leftfielder and free agent Carlos Lee who hit 37 homers with 116 RBIs and a .300 BA in 2006.  But with the humongous contracts signed by Ramirez and Soriano, Lee’s stock is now rising through the roof.  Lee’s tag, and the competition to sign him, may push the envelope of the price tag to a figure too steep for the Phils.

But General Manager Pat Gillick claims to have a “backup plan.’   PhillyNews.com reporter Marcus Hayes writes;

General manager Pat Gillick indicated that the Phillies didn’t mind so much Soriano’s $17 million annual price tag - they opened at around $15 million - but they weren’t considering anything like the 8 years the Cubs gave Soriano, 30.

“We were uncomfortable with the length, not the average salary,” Gillick said. “We have a backup plan.”

Gillick has said that other free-agent outfielders could be signed if they lost out on Soriano, though he indicated that Carlos Lee, the last of the big-name, long-term position players on the market, might price himself out of the Phillies’ range, especially since Soriano’s deal likely increased Lee from a $12 million-a-year player to substantially more.

“Sometimes, you have to take small steps. They add up,” Gillick said.

If the Phillies do sign a small-step player - Preston Wilson?  Bernie Williams? Gary Matthews Jr.? - they still are expected to try to deal leftfielder Pat Burrell.

An obvious solution would be trading with Toronto for Vernon Wells but the Phillies’ trade cupboard is pretty bare, unless Toronto would be interested in Burrell. Gillick has called a trade for Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez unlikely due to Ramirez’ “headache” of a personality.

For the moment, manager Charlie Manuel is hoping for a hint of a season from Burrell, Aaron Rowand or Wes Helms that, say, righty Jeff Kent had in 2000 and ‘02 hitting behind Barry Bonds.

“A lot of times, you don’t know what’s going to happen with a guy that year,” Manuel said. “It could be Burrell. It could be Rowand. It could be Helms.”

Of the “small-step players” Gillick speaks of, outfielder Matthews Jr. easily had the most impressive 2006 stats in what was for him a break-out year of 19 HRs, 79 RBIs, 194 hits and a .313 batting average.  But his career stats are low and up and down throughout his 8 year career.

But the 3 “small-step players” are iffy at best and their stats indicate a lack of productivity, perhaps even beneath the level of Pat Burrell in an off-year.

Hayes makes reference in the article to Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Vernon Wells who shows coonsistency and steady improvement over the last 3 seasons including a 2006 season of 32 HRs, 106 RBIs and .303 BA.  Wells looks easily like the best of the lot of “small-step players” at this point.

It’s still early and we’ll see if Pat Gillick has any rabbits to pull out of his hat.  In the meantime, as great a slugger as he is, we can only hope that Ryan Howard works hard over the winter on cutting down his strikeouts without adversely effecting his homer, RBI production and his batting average.

Editor’s Note: Subsequent to posting this article, it was learned that the Angels Agree to Terms with Gary Matthews Jr.

Ryan Howard’s Award-Filled November…

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

              Ryan Howard       Ryan Howard

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has had an awards-filled November.  If  Reggie Jackson is forever remembered as “Mr. October”, than Howard is worthy of “Mr. November” for the multitude of awards, plaques and honors bestowed upon him this month which still has 8 more days to go.

Well actually, the honors started flowing Ryan Howard’s way 11 days into October with his receiving the Sporting News Player of the Year Award.  Then on October 29, he was honored along with Derek Jeter with presentation of the Hank Aaron Award.  But the deluge of awards was yet to begin.

              Ryan Howard         Ryan Howard

The MLB All Stars travelled to Japan to take on the Japanese All Stars in what has become an annual exhibition series.  During the first 9 days of November, Howard decimated Japanese pitching with 5 homers, some monumental tape-measure jobs, in the 6 games (including the opening “friendly” exhibition game) and was awarded Japan Tour MVP honors.

On November 9, Howard received more honors outpolling Albert Pujols for Player of the Year and NL Outstanding Player Awards.

And finally, 2 days ago on November 20, Howard won the most coveted award of all, the NL MVP award once again outpolling Pujols for the honor.  Howard thus is one of the few to win MVP honors in his second year after first winning Rookie of the Year honors in the previous season, 2005.

Philadelphia Columnist Bill Conlin says it all at the conclusion of a column devoted to Ryan Howard and his awards;

Mr. November has pretty much won it all. Any of the 11 major awards to fall his way in less than two full seasons would have been career highlights for a lesser star. Or, enough for a good team during a hot decade.

Now it is time for Gillick to delve back into the Rolodex he keeps in his head and continue the most important job he has had since taking the helm of baseball’s Flying Dutchmen.

Gillick has to start putting the pieces in place that will make a new and even more important nickname possible for Ryan Howard, 2006 National League MVP:   Mr. October.

(*Pat Gillick is the Phillies General Manager.)