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Archive for February, 2008

Will Curt Schilling Pitch This Season, or Ever?

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

                        Curt Schilling

While the nation focuses on the congressional hearings on the Mitchell report regarding who took steroids, HGH etc., or rather “Rocket” Roger Clemens — did he or didn’t he(?), this blog remains focused on baseball purism.

As I have stated in the past, this blog is not about the sensationalism of the paparazzi coverage of the entire steroids, HGH and sports issue.  This blog is about baseball — all baseball, all the time.

As such, this blog’s focus remains on such topics as the impact of Curt Schilling’s latest shoulder injury on his 2008 season, contract and career, the Phillies’ signing of Kris Benson, a Tommy John surgery recipient trying to resurrect his pitching career, the countdown to Ryan Howard’s arbitration salary hearing or Chicago Cubs’ closer Ryan Dempster’s 2008 Cubs in  World Series prediction. This blog will address all of these topics topics and more as anticipation heats up for the 2008 season as Thursday, February 14 marked Spring Training’s first voluntary report date.

Curt Schilling has been one of my all-time favorites since he burst onto the Phillies’ scene in 1992 after the Houston Astros traded him in exchange for the erratic and mediocre Jason Grimsley who didn’t even make the Astros and ended up with the Cleveland Indians in 1993 through the 1997 season amidst a journeyman career which ended in 2006 after spanning 15 seasons and 7 teams.

Meantime, Schilling went 14-11 for the 70-92 Phillies of 1992 and finished 16-7 in leading the 1993 Phils to the NL Pennant and to playing the Toronto Blue Jays in the forgettable Mitch Williams, Joe Carter 1993 World Series.

The 1994, 95 and 96 seasons were injury-marred and abbreviated off-years for Schilling although he did return to form going 17-11 in 1997, 15-14 in 1998 and 15-6 in 1999 with the Phillies before being traded to Arizona in mid-2000.  I’ve been a Schilling fan since, irrespective of whether he was with the Diamondbacks (2000-2003 including 2001 World Championship) or with the Boston Red Sox (2004-present including World Championships in 2004, 2007).

I was happy to see “The Schill” nail down his 200th win back in May, 2006 enroute to a 15-7 record, during this blog’s inaugural season.  Unfortunately, shoulder woes and assorted other injuries caused him to miss part of that 2006 season as well as most of last season, although he performed in typical Schilling style with the money on the line in the post-season, going 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA in four postseason starts, improving his career playoff and World Series record to 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA.

But the big question, the $10 million question — will Schilling pitch in 2008, or is his career at an end?

AP sports writer Howard Ulman reports for Yahoo sports;

While the precise nature of Schilling’s injury is not known, it is believed that the right-hander is suffering from an injury to the rotator cuff and/or labrum that might require surgery. It is possible that the sides disagree on how to treat Schilling’s ailment…

If Schilling has surgery on his shoulder, it is almost certain that he would be unable to pitch this season.

Presumably, Schilling underwent a physical exam when the Red Sox signed him to his guaranteed contract in November. It is unclear whether Schilling’s current problem was overlooked at the time or if he suffered the injury at a later date.

Schilling did not pitch between June 18 and Aug. 6 of last season when he was on the disabled list with a right shoulder ailment. At the time, the problems were believed to be related to tendinitis and general fatigue.

Privately, club officials believed that some of Schilling’s difficulties early last season resulted from him showing up in poor condition at spring training. Schilling’s new contract includes incentive clauses for the pitcher meeting specified weight requirements at various checkpoints through the season.

Schilling comments on the current injury on his “38 pitches” blog;

At the time we negotiated the 2008 contract I passed all physical exams and testing, as well as the MRI the club required me to take. I knew in my heart of hearts that the extra time I was giving my arm to rest this winter would in fact be the cure for what I went through the entire 2007 season. I had a strong desire to not have to go through multiple cortisone injections in my shoulder for another year.  There was absolutely no reason for anyone involved to believe I would be anything other than completely healthy and ready for the 2008 baseball season.

Things have changed since then and I contacted the team early last month with concerns and we’ve been working diligently to resolve them.

There have been disagreements these past few weeks in an effort to provide me with a solution that would allow me to pitch as much as possible during the 2008 season. At no time did I ever consider taking a course of action against the clubs wishes. In the end, regardless of who agreed with whom, I have chosen the clubs course of action and will vigorously pursue any and every option I can to be able to help this team to another World Series title in 2008.

I have agreed to abide with the clubs wishes in hopes that will provide the results they believe it will.

To Curt Schilling, best wishes for a return to form, a successful 2008 season, and a 2008 World Series date with the Phillies.

Arbitration Avoidance, 5 for 1 Deals, Run-Up to Howard Hearing

Monday, February 11th, 2008

                   Erik Bedard        Ryan Howard

The second major lefthanded ace changed hands last week as Erik Bedard was traded by the Baltimore Orioles to the Seattle Mariners in exchange a reliever and four prospects as the Orioles work on rebuilding.

The Associated Press report for ESPN notes;

A four-year veteran, Bedard was 28-16 with a 3.47 ERA over the last two seasons. Now, he is primed to earn at least $6 million in an arbitration hearing scheduled in the coming days. He could get tens of millions more in a multiyear contract Seattle has already started to discuss with Bedard’s representatives. He is under Seattle’s control for at least the next two seasons.

He said the Orioles never made a true effort to sign him to a long-term contract; MacPhail said Bedard never wanted to stay.

The addition of Bedard, 13-5, 3.16 ERA last season, along with righthanders Miguel Batista 16-11, 4.29 ERA and Felix Hernandez 14-7, 3.92 ERA and Carlos Silva 13-14, 4.19 ERA and fifth starter lefthander  Jarrod Washburn gives the Mariners one of the more formidable starting rotations in the entire AL.

Meanwhile the New York Yankees dodged arbitration by making a $30 million, 4-year deal with their 3rd year 2nd baseman Robinson Cano who hit 19 homers while driving in 97 runs, scoring 93 and hitting .306 in 160 games last season.  Cano, an All Star and runner-up for rookie of the year in 2006, also clubbed 41 doubles in 2007.

The AP report on the Cano deal for Yahoo sports discloses;

The deal is potentially worth $57 million over six seasons. The 25-year-old Cano will get $3 million this season, $6 million next year, $9 million in 2010 and $10 million in 2011. New York has a $14 million option for 2012 with a $2 million buyout. If that option is exercised, the Yankees would have a $15 million option for 2013 with a $2 million buyout.

The Colorado Rockies similarly dodged arbitration twice in signing both 3rd baseman Garrett Atkins and rightfielder Brad Hawpe.

Both players agreed to one year deals; Atkins’ is worth $4.38 million while Hawpe’s contract is worth $4.74 million.

Ticker’s report for Yahoo sports notes;

Atkins overcame a slow start last season to bat .301 with 25 home runs and 111 RBI, numbers that represented a slight regression from his breakout 2006 season - when he hit .329 with 29 homers and 120 RBI.

The 6-3 Atkins also struggled during the 2007 postseason for the reigning National League champion Rockies, batting just .175 (7-for-40) with one homer and three RBI in 11 games.

Atkins, 28, is a career .302 hitter with 68 homers and 332 RBI in parts of five seasons - all with the Rockies.

Hawpe, 28, exploded onto the scene in 2007, batting .291 and setting career highs with 29 homers and 116 RBI. Hawpe is a career .282 hitter with 63 home runs and 256 RBI in four seasons with Colorado.   

However, the Phillies and powerful 1st baseman Ryan Howard are still mired with a $3 million gap in their positions as Howard’s arbitration date of February 20 draws ever closer.  Howard seeks at least a 1 year deal for $10 million while the Phils hold stubbornly to the $7 million figure.  In a long-term deal, Howard seeks substantially more than 2nd baseman Chase Utley’s seven-year, $85-million contract and, according to people knowledge in the situation, he would be looking for salaries in the $20 million range in the final years of the deal.

It’s very possible that the arbitration process could get nasty and that the Phils risk alienating Howard, their chief power source, as Spring Training gets under way and on the eve of a concerted drive to repeat in the NL East and to advance to the World Series.  It is unfortunate that the Phillies appear to be taking a detached position in the matter — “It’s just business.”

Howard has pounded 129 homers, driven in 353 runs and carries a cumulative .291 BA through 3 seasons.  But on the negative side, the lefthanded slugger has struck out 493 times or in nearly 1/3 of his plate appearances.  The strike outs are something that Howard has to work hard on to severely curtail.

It would be best if the two sides came to a mutually beneficial long-term deal before the arbitration clock hits 12.

David Wright’s Tack? “Phillies the Team to Beat”

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

                           David Wright

Mets standout 3rd baseman David Wright recently voiced the observation that the Phillies are “the team to beat” in the NL East.  It happens to be true, the previous season’s first place team is always the team that has to be beaten, has to be unseated in the subsequent season.  But teams or individuals rarely make such a statement publicly lest they psychologically cast their team as defeatist.

NY Daily News sports writer Mark Feinsand reports Wright’s comments;

“The team to beat in my eyes is the team that won last year,” Wright said. “Philadelphia took care of us last year. They took care of business in the division. Going into this year, we have to take control again of the NL East.”

Quickly however, Feinsand notes that Wright followed up the comment which could have been taken as defeatist with this;

Wright wasn’t prepared to make any such predictions for 2008, but with the Mets adding Santana to their rotation and the Phillies doing very little in terms of changing their roster, the pendulum may have swung back in New York’s favor.

Wright believes that the trade for Santana - who will be formally introduced at a Shea Stadium press conference today - has finally allowed the Mets to put the debacle of last fall behind them and concentrate on the task ahead.

“It allowed us to effectively completely shut the book on ‘07,” Wright said of the deal.

But question remains; What of Wright’s “Phillies — team to beat” comment?  It seems obvious that Wright voiced this comment for the same reason that Jimmy Rollins voiced his Phillies — team to beat comment before the 2007 season — to fire up his team.  In this case, call it reverse psychology, but Wright apparently sees that something else beside the acquisition needs to be done to help the Mets shake the stigma of their historic collapse, of blowing the 7 game lead they held last season with 17 games to play.

True, he may fire up his team, but the Phillies have too many young arms, legs and bats next to the Met’s pitching staff which, with exception of John Maine and Santana, is aging, creaking and problematic.  The Mets possess a  powerful lineup on paper, but the Phils, even with the loss of centerfielder Aaron Rowand, may well have more power.

It would seem that Wright is speaking to the Mets’ questionable on-field performance last season in crucial areas which was epitomized by instances of shortstop Jose Reyes lacking hustle in running out in-play batted balls.

But, psychology aside, I’ll stick with the Phillies, Rollins’ 100 wins, the NL East title and more.

Tigers, Granderson Ink Win-Win Deal

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

                        Curtis Granderson

The Detroit Tigers and their lefthanded hitting centerfielder Curtis Granderson struck a $30.25 million, 5 year deal as the Tigers followed suit after the Colorado Rockies’ as the second team this winter to cast service time to the wind.

AP Sports writer Larry Lage reports for Yahoo sports;

A club option for 2013… could make the deal worth up to $43.25 million.

“The Tigers held all the chips and didn’t have to do anything,” Granderson said. “I’m very happy with the way everything happened.”

Tigers president Dave Dombrowski is not known to give long-term deals to players before they are even eligible for arbitration, but Granderson merited an exception.

What makes it different is the quality of player we’re talking about and his makeup as a person,” Dombrowski said.

Manager Jim Leyland said it was “a great deal” for Granderson and the Tigers.

“He’s the kind of player we want, not only in terms of ability but as a quality person,” Leyland told The Associated Press. “He’s as good as it gets on and off the field.”

Granderson had a standout season in 2007 with 23 homers, 74 RBIs, a .302 BA to go long with 23 triples and 26 steals.  His 23 triples led the majors and was the highest total since Ty Cobb’s 24 3-baggers for the 1917 4th place Detroit Tigers.

Lage adds;
 
He joined
Willie Mays and Frank “Wildfire” Schulte as the only players in major league history with 20 steals, 20 homers, 20 triples and 20 doubles. Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins became a part of the 20-20-20-20 club later in the season.

Schulte was the first to accomplish the feat in 1911 while playing for the Chicago Cubs, and Mays did it in 1957 with the New York Giants.

The interesting thing about Granderson is that he achieved his 2007 stats while striking out 141 times, the most vulnerable aspect of his game.  In 2006, his first full season iin the majors, he hit .260 with 19 HRs and 68 RBIs while striking out 174 times — that’s a mere 7 less than Phillies’ lefthanded slugger Ryan Howard’s 2006 numbers; 181 strike outs while hitting 58 homers and driving in 149 runs.

It seems to me that Granderson could have held out for much more money, after all, Boston is forking over $70 million in its 5 year deal with rightfielder J.D. Drew who bombed royally in his first season with the Sox.  Granderson however seems to opted for security over mega-bucks.  But, hey $30 million over 5 years is nothing to sneeze at.  Managed properly and not squandered, he is set for life.

Granderson is an integral cog on a busy and potentially powerful Tigers squad which includes All-Stars Miguel Cabrera,  Edgar Renteria along with  Jacque Jones as well as lefthander Dontrelle Willis.

 The Tigers also re-signed starters Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, closer  Todd Jones and excercised their club option on catcher Ivan Rodriguez’s contract.  With another fine year from Granderson, the Tigers seem, on paper, sure to provide ample challenge for last season’s Central Division and AL Pennant winning Cleveland Indians.

Santana to the Mets: Ace or Albatross?

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

                                  Johan Santana

Well the big news of the weekend in baseball is that the Mets came to agreement on a long-term contract with star lefthander Johan Santana, thus finalizing their deal with the Minnesota Twins.

Santana and the Mets inked a $137.5 million, six-year contract on Friday evening followed by Santana’s passing his physical on Saturday,  completing the four for one deal which sent the Twins four top prospects.

AP Baseball Writer Mike Fitzpatrick managed to obtain, in broad terms, an early analysis of the dollars-side of the deal for Yahoo sports;

Terms of the agreement were disclosed by a baseball official with knowledge of the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made. The deal includes deferred money and a club option for 2014 with a $5.5 million buyout that could make the contract worth about $150 million over seven seasons. Depending on Santana’s performance, the option could become guaranteed.

On Saturday, MLB.com’s Charlie Noble reported a more comprehensive look at the dollars year-by-year on a deal which could mushroom, according to New York Times’ Ben Shpigel,  to as much as $157 million if Santana meets the criteria for a “player’s option” to vest.

Santana sports a career record spanning over 8 seasons of 93-44, including a 20-6 mark in 2004 and a 19-6 record in 2006, with a lifetime ERA of 3.22 having never walked more than 54 hitters in a season while averaging over 200 innings and striking out over 230 hitters in each of his last 4 seasons.  In 2007, having had a somewhat off-year, his homer count jumped to 33 vs 22-24 in the previous 3 seasons and his ERA leaped to 3.33 from the mid-2.70s -2.80s in the previous seasons.

I find both fascinating, and hopeful for the Phillies, the reactions of former Met Tom Glavine, now with the Atlanta Braves, as well as others regarding the deal.

MLB.com’s Marty Noble reports Glavine’s take on the deal;

“Obviously, this is a huge lift for them,” Glavine said. “The guy is arguably the best pitcher in the game right now. They have every reason to be excited about that and optimistic about their season, but so do we. I think we addressed our needs really well, and I think we all feel good about our chances.

“When Randy Johnson went to the Yankees … everybody was ready to hand them the World Series trophy, and it never happened. That’s why you play the games. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

APs’ Fitzpatrick reported these comments;

“He’s good but he’s not unbeatable. He got hit around last year,” said pitcher Tim Hudson of the Atlanta Braves, one of the Mets’ chief rivals in the NL East along with Philadelphia. “We’ve just got to be concerned about ourselves. We can’t be consumed by what anyone else does.”

Finally, ESPN’s Jayson Stark provides the enlightening take of one unnamed GM on the deal and on the Mets in general;

We polled 12 front-office types this week on whether they thought the Phillies or post-Johan Mets would win the NL East. Ten of them took the Mets. But one who didn’t, an NL executive, was adamant that the Phillies have an energy and a personality the Mets lack.

“I’m talking about the way guys like (Jimmy) Rollins and  (Chase) Utley and (Shane) Victorino play,” he said. “Guys like that find ways to grind out wins. The Mets don’t have those kinds of guys. Both those teams had a lot of guys who got hurt last year. But after the Mets got hurt, they didn’t play the same way. Chase Utley got hurt and the Phillies kept on coming. To me, that’s because that ‘gamer quotient’ was still there.”

Further, it must be remembered that the Mets, as exemplified by shortstop Jose Reyes, gave up on groundballs by not running them out.
Offensively, they didn’t have what it took down the stretch.  And once one gets past Santana and
John Maine, the rest of the rotation is one huge and aging questionmark.   I’ll stick by my Santana, Maine, three days of rain analogy and assert that the Mets will be looking up at the Phillies in 2008 rather than over their shoulders even with Santana’s acquisition.

I would feel even better about the Phillies if they acquired an innings-eating, mid-3s ERA 4th starter behind Hamels, Myers and Kendrick as well as a capable middle reliever.