David Ortiz, Seeking to Prove He’s More Insecure Than Most High School Girls, Lashes Out at Reporters Following Loss.

A meltdown following the second game of 2010 spells a long season for Ortiz.

Well that didn’t take long. 

Following a 6-4 loss to New York on Tuesday night the Boston Red Sox found themselves sitting at 1-1 and on pace for a .500 season; clearly it was time to hit the panic button. Former slugger and current decrepit designated hitter David Ortiz, who went hitless in the first two games of the season, was asked by reporters following the game whether he was concerned about his slow start after last year’s disastrous meltdown (Ortiz hit .185 with one HR and 18 RBI’s last April/May). Apparently the question struck a nerve, and Big Papi responded with Dickens-like eloquence: 

“Good…you guys wait ’til [expletive] happens, then you can talk [expletive]. Two [expletive] games, and already you [expletives] are going crazy. What’s up with that, man? [Expletive]. [Expletive] 160 games left. That’s a [expletive]. One of you [expletives] got to go ahead and hit for me.” 

Even if I can’t correctly identify all of the expletives listed above (s-word, s-word, f-ing, mother-effers, f-word, f-ing, s-word ton, mother-effers?) the gist of Ortiz’s comments is quite clear: don’t judge me by two games. 

He’s right of course. Seven at-bats is an extremely small sample size, and if Ortiz played in San Diego or Kansas City this minor slump would be a non-issue. Unfortunately Ortiz doesn’t play for the Royals, he plays for the Red Sox in one of the largest media markets in the sport. As a player in New York or Boston you’re under the microscope 24/7, which Ortiz should realize entering his 8th season with the Red Sox.

If Ortiz had just brushed off the questions, or laughed at his own expense, it’s unlikely we would still be talking about his slow start today. But by lashing out at reporters, Big Papi revealed what many in the media speculated last year…that the end is near. Ortiz is no longer the 40-50 home run threat he was when he first arrived in Boston and unless he rights the ship soon, both physically and mentally, Big Papi’s days in Beantown might be numbered with Mike Lowell waiting in the wings.

Love ’em or hate ’em the Red Sox sure know how to make things interesting.

Ken Griffey Jr. is the Most Important Player in Baseball. Here’s Why.

At 40-years-old, Ken Griffey Jr. is primed for the most important season of his career.

Ken Griffey Jr. is no longer “the Kid”. He won’t be climbing walls and stealing would-be home runs or depositing 40+ souvenirs into the outfield stands in 2010. Junior will huff and puff trying to score from second on a single, struggle to catch up with above-average fastballs and will likely spend more time on the bench than he does on the field. Yet, despite all the shortcomings of his 40-year-old body, Ken Griffey Jr. has never meant more to the Seattle Mariners or the sport of baseball than he will in 2010.

The Mariners enter the season as a threat to win the AL West and a dark horse (though that term is forever soiled by the latest Nickleback album) to make a deep postseason run. The roster has been completely overhauled by new GM Jack Zduriencik and the additions of Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley give Seattle an even more talented roster than the one that went 85-77 last year. However, no offseason move was more important to the Mariners and their fans than bringing back Griffey for the 2010 season.

Junior completely transformed the Mariners last year, turning a dugout that looked like a crypt into somewhere more fun than an episode of MXC. For the first time in years Seattle players looked like they were having fun in 2009 (heck even Ichiro smiled, and he was diagnosed with a rare condition that makes it extremely painful to show any emotion) and it’s impossible to overstate how important chemistry was to the Mariners’ success last season.

Ken Griffey Jr. makes me want to be a better man.

Griffey will once again be counted on as the unquestioned leader of the Mariners in 2010, and will have his work cut out for him with the addition of the mercurial Bradley, a talented but troubled player who needs to perform at a high level if Seattle is to succeed in a competitive AL West. If the Mariners do manage to win their division (because the Wild Card will come out of the AL East), Junior is one of just a handful of players on the team with any prior postseason experience and the only remaining link to the Mariners’ magical 1995 season.

Griffey is part player, part coach and part class clown—and Seattle needs him to fulfill all three roles if the team hopes to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Junior is integral to the success or failure of the Mariners in 2010, but he is even more important as a symbol of hope for the still tarnished sport of baseball.

Though Major League Baseball would like to continue to sweep the issue of steroids under the carpet, Mark McGwire’s return to the game has once again brought the taboo topic to the forefront of fans’ minds. Nearly every prolific home run hitter from the last two decades (Barry Bonds, McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, etc.) has been linked in some way to steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs…but not Ken Griffey Jr.

He stands above the fray as a man who played the game of baseball the right way, and by not aging gracefully, Griffey in fact aged gracefully. Junior’s head didn’t grow while he was in his 30’s and he peaked when he was 28 or 29, not 38 or 39 (cough Barry Bonds cough). Ken Griffey Jr. is the lone source of light in the darkness that envelops the steroids era and has shown other players and the young kids that look up to him that success can be found without the help of a needle. Griffey took the responsibility of being a role model seriously, and if there is anything that baseball can salvage from the past twenty years, it’s thanks to Junior.

Hopefully baseball fans give Griffey the farewell he deserves this season. He’s done more for the game than we may ever know.

Vicente Padilla’s Resurgence Raises Serious Question: Is Swine Flu Baseball’s Newest Peformance Enhancing Drug?

The secret to Padilla's newfound success has been linked to the H1N1 virus.

The secret to Padilla’s newfound success has been linked to the H1N1 virus.

Just when baseball thought it had cleared itself of a league wide steroid problem the ugly performance enhancing drug monster reared its ugly once again—and this time the sport is powerless to stop the new drug’s proliferation.

A few short months again Vicente Padilla was a cast-off from the Texas Rangers, banished to the waiver wire by a potent combination of poor pitching, bad breath and general unlikeability. Even a pitching starved franchise like Texas wasn’t willing to put up with Padilla’s behavior, and this is a team whose opening day starting pitchers this decade have included the likes of Rick Helling, Ismael Valdez (slaps forehead) and Ryan Drese.

The Rangers sent Padilla packing on August 17th, citing “poor personal hygiene” and his “disruptive clubhouse presence” as reasons for the release. At the time of his departure, Padilla was 8-6 for the Rangers, but sported a ghastly 4.92 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Just two days later, the NL West leading Los Angeles Dodgers signed the Nicaraguan Nightmare to a minor league contract in order to bolster their starting rotation. After a short stint in the minors, Padilla was called up to start for L.A. and immediately looked like a man reborn, closing out the season in style with a 4-0 record, 3.20 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.  He’s been even better in the postseason thus far, allowing only one earned run in 14 1/3 innings to go along with 10 K’s and only 2 walks, quickly establishing himself as the Dodger’s defacto playoff ace.

The origin of Padilla's super-powers.

The origin of Padilla’s super-powers.

All this from the same pitcher who a few short months again was cut by Texas and left for dead. Now Padilla is in the midst of a playoff run for L.A. and looking like Orel Hershiser; what exactly happened between his time with the Rangers and his signing with the Dodgers? As the great theologian Terrell Owens famously said, “if it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat.” Vicente Padilla does smell like a rat…and that rat is named swine flu.

Padilla was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus on July 22nd and was believed to be the first player in the four major American sports (baseball, quidditch, jai-alai and poker) to test positive for the disease. He was scratched from a start against the Red Sox and was kept away from the rest of the team to prevent a spread of the virus. Apparently quarantining Padilla worked, because he’s still the only major league player that developed a confirmed case of swine flu, although that may change after the startling discovery of Dr. Van Nostrom at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Van Nostrom, a specialist in infectious diseases, released a report yesterday that confirmed one of the most well-known old wives’ tales: that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. In his article published by Car & Driver & Science the doctor revealed his findings from Padilla’s stool sample, which may change the way America views the H1N1 virus. Below is an excerpt from Van Nostrom’s report:

“Much like a spider bite transformed Peter Parker into the powerful Spiderman and toxic ooze mutated ordinary turtles into extraordinary crime fighters, Vicente Padilla’s DNA was radically altered by his encounter with the H1N1 virus. After overcoming the disease, he was endowed with all the best characteristics of an adult pig: a strong sense of smell and keen understanding of the strikezone, as well as the ability to talk to spiders and increased velocity on his pitches. Since the diagnosis of swine flu, Padilla’s fastballs have looked better than ever and his curveballs are dropping right off the table, and this is only the beginning. If Padilla is able to fully harness the powers of the pig he will become unstoppable. There is no treatment, there is no cure, there is only unimaginable suffering ahead for all humankind.”

Padilla now has more in common with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than he does with other human beings.

Padilla now has more in common with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than he does with other human beings.

If what Dr. Van Nostrom indicated in his report is true, how long will it be until baseball players are throwing swine flu parties in hopes of catching up with Padilla? Is H1N1 baseball’s newest fad performance enhancer?

Not so fast, says Van Nostrom: “There are so many different strains of the flu and everyone’s body responds differently to disease, so it’s unlikely another player will have results like Vicente. That surly bastard is truly one of a kind and anyone else who develops this disease is putting their life at risk…it’s just not worth it.”

Baseball’s playing field, which had been leveled by the sports’ tough drug testing, is thrown into disarray once again with the evolution of Padilla into a super-human shutdown pitcher.

Padilla’s agent Bus Cook refused to comment on the situation, only saying that his client was pitching well because of hard work and determination, not the swine flu, and called Van Nostrom’s theory “preposterous”. Padilla was approached at his locker by a swarm of reporters following the Dodgers 5-4 loss to the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLCS, and in between karaoke renditions of Randy Newman’s I Love L.A., the right-hander muttered  “how ’bout them Cowboys”, but nothing about the H1N1 virus–only fueling speculation that he gained some special abilities from the disease.

At this point there’s nothing baseball can do to slow down Padilla. After all, Bud Selig can’t suspend someone for getting sick, even if that sickness imbued the pitcher with super-human skills the likes of which baseball has never seen before. The Dodgers will be the favorites to win every time Padilla takes the mound, and it won’t be long before the team discovers they should start him each and every game, because everyone knows that pigs never need rest. Padilla will be a free agent at the end of the season and stands to make a large chunk of change, how big simply depends on how long teams believe his powers will last…and how much better they think he can get.

Vicente Padilla; from an afterthought to the best pitcher in baseball, all thanks to the biggest health scare in America since SARS and the kangaroo flu. There’s no doubt that Padilla will dominate the baseball landscape over the next decade, Dr. Van Nostrom’s work proves this, but it also raise a very serious question. Will Padilla use his powers for good or evil once he retires? If his past behavior is any indication, governments around the world had better start working on a swine kryptonite…and soon.

Glass Half Full: Baseball’s Midseason Stars

Last year's Cy Young winner has been even better in 2009.

Last year's Cy Young winner has been even better in 2009.

It may be hard to believe, but the the MLB season is already halfway over. As the month of July rolls along most teams have played 80 to 81 games and about two-thirds of those teams are still in the playoff hunt (apologies to the Pirates, Indians, Athletics, Nationals, etc–start looking forward to the new Harry Potter movie next year) The season has been full of highs (Randy Johnson’s 300th win, Gary Sheffield’s 500th HR), lows (Manny Ramirez steroid scandal) and bizzare celebrity deaths (Michael Jackson and Billy Mays) and undoubtedly there are plenty more of each ahead (is anyone in Hollywood safe these days?) The 162-game marathon has reached the midway point and though there is still plenty of baseball left to play, certain players are worthy of recognition for their contributions thus far. Let’s examine the best from both leagues in the first half:

NL MVP (Albert Pujols-St. Louis): Not much of a debate on this one, Pujols leads the league in nearly every offensive category (HR, RBI, R, BB, SLG, OBP, OPS) and might capture the NL’s first Triple Crown since 1937. Phat Albert has almost single-handedly lead a mediocre Cardinals squad to the top of the NL Central and if St. Louis decides to get some protection for him in the lineup (cough Matt Holliday cough), Pujols will have a season for the ages. No doubt about, 2009 will mark the third time Albert takes home the MVP award. How in the world was this guy only a 13th round pick?

NL Cy Young (Tim Lincecum-San Francisco): There are a plethora of quality young pitchers in the NL (Dan Haren, Johnny Cueto, Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Jair Jurrjens) but the best of the bunch so far has been the Giants’ Tim Lincecum. The defending Cy Young award winner has gotten even better this season, posting a record of 9-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 141 Ks in 121 innings. Lincecum has made major strides with his command, dramatically lowering his walk rate while still striking out more than a batter an inning (which helps to explain his current 23-inning scoreless streak). At only 25, “the Freak” is firmly establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.

Rasmus is starting to look like a star for the Redbirds.

Rasmus is starting to look like a star for the Redbirds.

NL Rookie of the Year (Colby Rasmus-St. Louis): After a slow start to the year, Rasmus has rewarded the Cardinals’ faith in him by hitting for average and power in the #2 hole of St. Louis’ lineup. Rasmus is only 22 and came into the year with zero big league experience so a bit of a learning curve was expected. He only hit .254 in April and .212 in May, but has rebounded to .333 in June and .462 so far in July. It’s a good sign that he didn’t lose his confidence during the early season struggles and it looks like he could team up with Pujols to keep the Cardinals contending for years to come.

AL MVP (Justin Morneau-Minnesota): The AL MVP race isn’t nearly the runaway that it is in the NL, but if the season ended today the junior circuit’s MVP would be Twins 1B Justin Morneau. Although he already captured the award in 2006 (suck on that Derek Jeter), Morneau has continued to fly under the radar as one of the game’s best sluggers. Halfway through the season, Morneau is hitting .323 with 21 HRs and 69 RBIs, putting him on pace for career highs in each. The Canadian Crusher is 4th in the league in batting and 2nd in HRs, RBIs, OPS and SLG. If Morneau can lead the Twins to the division crown, the award should be his.

The Royals stink, but don't blame Grienke.

The Royals stink, but don't blame Grienke.

AL Cy Young (Zack Grienke-Kansas City): Although the Royals’ hurler has come back to earth after an unbelievable start, Grienke stills leads the AL in most major pitching categories. After 17 starts, he is 10-4 with a 2.00 ERA and 120 Ks against only 19 walks, putting him on pace for the pitching triple crown. Even though Kansas City has fallen out of contention (who would have ever thought?), if Grienke can keep pitching like it’s the dead-ball era, the young star could become the Royals’ first Cy Young winner since David Cone in 1994. His only major hurdle will be getting enough wins; Grienke may have been able to overcome social anxiety disorder, but the woeful Kansas City lineup and defense are another story. Look for Roy Halladay to snatch the award if Zach Attack can’t close the deal in the second half.

AL Rookie of the Year (Andrew Bailey-Oakland): There aren’t too many rookies that are difference makers in the AL currently as many hot shot prospects (Elvis Andrus, Matt Weiters, Matt LaPorta) struggle to adjust to the major leagues; the best thus far has been a reliever–Oakland A’s pitcher Andrew Bailey. Bailey came into the season with little hype, but has put a stranglehold on the A’s closer position after Brad Ziegler missed time early on. The rookie reliever has gone 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA and 57 Ks in 48 innings and has also saved 9 games. For his stellar first half work, Bailey was selected to represent Oakland (narrowly beating out Jack Hannahan) in the All-Star game on July 14th.

Report Indicates That Sammy Sosa Tested Positive in 2003: Sosa’s Response “No Se”

Wait, this guy used steroids? Couldn't be!

Wait, this guy used steroids? Couldn't be!

Well, perhaps after yesterday’s news, it won’t be such a calm wait for induction into the Hall-of-Fame. The anonymous report, which proved what had long been suspected, indicated that Sammy Sosa tested positive for a banned substance in 2003, joining Alex Rodriguez as the two players whose identities have been leaked from the list of 104 names.

While the specific substance Sosa used wasn’t revealed, the indication is that it was some sort of performance enhancing drug (i.e. STEROIDS, STEROIDS, STEROIDS). Sosa’s legacy had already been tarnished from the corked bat incident and it certainly seemed to the naked eye that Sosa grew rather unnaturally throughout his time with the Chicago Cubs (see photo above).

Despite the fact that his career numbers are outstanding (609 HR, 1667 RBIs, 2306 Ks) this latest revelation destroyed any chance that Sosa had of being elected to the Hall-of-Fame. After all, Mark McGwire hasn’t been able to garner anywhere near the number of votes necessary for induction in the HOF, and there is nothing against McGwire but anecdotal evidence (and one very poor appearance in court).

Sosa rose to national prominence in 1998 when he and McGwire engaged in an epic assault on Roger Maris’ single season HR record. While McGwire eventually won the race to 61 and ended up hitting 70 longballs, Sosa smashed 66 HRs on his way to capturing the NL MVP and winning over the hearts of fans in both America and his native Dominican Republic. Between 1999 and 2002, Sosa continued his prodigious display of power hitting 63, 50, 64 and 49 HRs respectively.

In 2003, Sosa received immense scrutiny after he was caught using a corked bat in a game, but was quickly forgiven by his ardent fans and the Wrigley faithful (give the guy a break, he did say it was an accident, and he seems honest). Sosa spent one more year in Chicago before toiling in Baltimore and Texas during his final seasons. He didn’t play in the major leagues in 2008 and just recently had announced his retirement from baseball, ending his career sixth on the all-time HR list.

The Sosa allegations are just another sad chapter in baseball's steroid era.

The Sosa allegations are just another sad chapter in baseball's steroid era.

Sosa was part of the group of players including Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco and McGwire that testified before congress in 2005 about the use of steroids in baseball. During the hearing Sosa mysteriously lost the ability to speak English but through his lawyer issued the statement “to be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.” This statement, so blatantly erroneous on the surface, actually has some truth to it. Sosa, a native of the Dominican Republic, could have easily acquired steroids in his home country where they’re not illegal. More than anything, Sosa was guilty of a lie of omission, and this report finally brought the truth to the surface.

In an interview about the allegations, Bud Selig seemed to ignore the past, and professed his affection for Sammy Sosa and repeatedly brought up the fact that baseball now has the toughest drug testing of any sport. Selig wasn’t exaggerating, baseball’s testing is extremely stringent and effective (just ask Manny Ramirez), but he can’t simply gloss over what has happened in baseball during his regime.

If the sport is to truly move forward and leave the Steroids Era, baseball will need to continue to purge itself of cheaters, past and present. Revealing the players on that list from 2003 is an act of carthasis for baseball, the only the way the sport will be able to regain its reputation. Exposing Sosa and A-Rod is a step in the right direction…now let’s bring those 102 other players forward.

Manny being Manny? Ramirez suspended 50 games for violation of MLB’s drug policy.

Ramirez's suspension will cost him 50 games and nearly $8 million.

Ramirez's suspension will cost him 50 games and nearly $8 million.

It appears that Alex Rodriguez’s confession in March was only the tip of the iceberg. When news broke early this morning that Manny Ramirez had violated MLB’s drug policy, two questions came to mind: Was he simply ignorant about what he was putting into his body? Or did he actually have the audacity to try and circumvent the rules and still use steroids even after the A-Rod debacle?

The reports that went out today indicated that Ramirez tested positive for a women’s fertility drug, which caused an increased level of testosterone in his body, leading to a positive drug test and the resulting 50-game suspension. Ramirez claimed that the positive test was triggered by a medication that he recently received from a physician for an unspecified medical condition. However, the drug hCG has been linked to other players such as Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, and is commonly used by body builders to restart testosterone production following a steroid cycle. Ramirez has not yet explained why he was taking hCG and does not plan to appeal the suspension.

This shocking revelation couldn’t have come at a worse time for baseball, with teams already struggling to sell tickets in a down economy and A-Rod set to return to the field for the first time since he admitted to Peter Gammons that he took steroids. Ramirez, despite his numerous shortcomings, is one of the most popular players in the game and was seemingly above the cloud of suspicion surrounding baseball’s best hitters over the past decade. Manny is 17th on the all-time HR list with 533, and fans had hoped that he would be able to pass tainted sluggers like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. But in today’s society, it doesn’t take long for the players once praised to become the target of jeers and insults.

Besides the long-term effects to his reputation, Ramirez’s suspension will clearly hurt the Dodgers (who will be without his services until July 3rd) as well as his teammates from the Indians, Red Sox and Dodgers who will all be viewed with a certain amount of skepticism moving forward. Does Ramirez’s suspension mean that his former bash brothers Jim Thome and David Ortiz took steroids? No, but it certainly doesn’t help their case, or that of any player from this current era. Fans, still reeling from the A-Rod scandal and continued allegations, will find it more and more difficult to believe that any player is truly clean. The titans of the game continue to fall at an alarming rate; how long until another hero falls from his pedestal and how long will fans continue to support this kind of hypocrisy?

The Dodgers may still make the playoffs, but the chances of Manny entering the HOF took a serious hit.

The Dodgers may still make the playoffs, but the chances of Manny entering the HOF took a serious hit.

The Dodgers had raced out to a MLB best 21-8 (including 13 in a row at home) thanks to stellar pitching and the steady bat of Ramirez, who was batting .348 with 6 HRs and 20 RBIs. The team will now be without its best hitter for nearly one-third of the season, and Ramirez will be forced to return about $7.5 of the $25 million he was set to make this season. Baseball Prospectus indicates that Ramirez’s abscence will cost the Dodgers about 3 games, which still puts them on pace for 95 wins, tops in the NL.

The Dodgers will probably still make the playoffs and Manny will still probably put up big numbers throughout the remainder of his contract. But what happens when Ramirez becomes a free agent? Will any team be willing to gamble on a poor fielder and teammate who tested positive for a substance linked to steroids? And what about when Manny retires? A sure fire Hall-of-Famer and one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time, Ramirez will likely join other convicted cheaters like Bonds, Palmeiro and A-Rod on the outside looking in to Cooperstown.

It’s a sad day for baseball. The once sunny and free-spirited Manny Ramirez will be covered in a dark cloud for the rest of his career. The red-hot Dodgers will be without their best hitter for 50 games. And most tragically, fans will once again lose a hero of the game, as another of their idols falls from grace into the bleak oblivion that is the Steroids Era.

Are there brighter days ahead for America’s past-time? I’m not so sure anymore…

2009 MLB Season Preview, Predictions and Projections

Your 2009 NL MVP

Your 2009 NL MVP

The sun is shining, the snow is melting and Oprah’s weight is ballooning again–which can only mean one thing…that’s right ladies and germs, Spring Training is upon us. That glorious time of year when every team (not including the Royals, Nationals, Mariners, Orioles, Pirates or any team from the NL West) believes its their turn to win it all. A time when young players have a chance to prove their worth and seasoned vets fight for one last shot (paging Mike Sweeney to the manager’s office). A time of year when A-Rod dodges every question thrown his way and Brett Favre once again “retires” for good. A time to look at ahead at what baseball is bringing to the table in 2009 and ask important questions like: Which team will be this year’s Tampa Bay Rays? Will the Yankees off season spending spree pay off? Who framed Roger Rabbit? Can Albert Pujols hit .400? Will Manny Ramirez find a team? Who will win the World Series? It’s prognostication time! Let’s start with the individual movers and shakers in each league:

AL MVP–Grady Sizemore (Cleveland Indians CF): Just 26 years-old, this kid keeps getting better, and 2009 is the year he makes his mark and becomes a true superstar. One of the most talented all-around players in the game, Sizemore’s combination of speed and power at the top of the lineup are more frightening than Barry Bonds’ bacne. He has the potential to become the first 40HR-40SB player since Alfonso Soriano and if he can lead the Indians to the playoffs, voters will be hard pressed not to pick this 5-tool talent.

2009 projected season numbers (.285 BA-37HR-101RBI-37SB-107R)

NL MVP–David Wright (New York Mets 3B): The third baseman in New York who isn’t dating Madonna, this uber-talented diaper dandy (who like Sizemore, is just 26) excells at the dish but has also captured two Gold Gloves, and should break out with his best season yet. More importantly, the Mets finally have a bullpen, which should allow them to reach the postseason, further helping Wright’s case. He could one day win a triple crown, but he will have to “settle” for MVP this year.

2009 projected season numbers (.310 BA-40HR-129RBI-20SB-120R)

AL Cy Young–Roy Halladay (Toronto Blue Jays): “Doc” Halladay will come out with guns-a-blazin in 2009, eager to pick up the slack left by since departed teammate AJ Burnett. Arguably the most consistent pitcher in the game, Halladay epitomizes the term “workhorse” gobbling up innings like Ruben Studdard gobbles up hoho’s. He won 20 games last year, and had the highest strikeout rate of his career; as long he stays healthy, he should put up big numbers again. The Blue Jays will stink in 2009, but Roy Halladay will come out smelling like roses…or whatever flowers Canadians love.

2009 projected season numbers: (19-8, 2.85 ERA, 200 Ks, 1.07 WHIP)

NL Cy Young–Johan Santana (New York Mets):  While it’s generally hard to hide out in New York, Santana’s terriffic first season in a Mets’ uniform was largely overshadowed by the teams’ late season collapse. Despite a porous bullpen, Santana finished the year 16-7 and led the league with a 2.53 ERA and finished second to Tim Lincecum with 206 Ks. He should again finish near the top of the league in ERA and Ks and will almost certainly win more games than last year thanks to the additions of JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez.

2009 projected season numbers (21-8, 2.71 ERA, 220 Ks, 1.09 WHIP)

You don't recognize him...yet.

You don't recognize him...yet.

AL Rookie of the Year–Matt Laporta (Cleveland Indians OF): Matt LaPorta (pictured right) was the crown jewel of the CC Sabathia trade last summer, instantly becoming the Cleveland Indians best prospect upon his arrival. In just 302 ABs at Double-A last season, LaPorta cracked 20 HRs and drove in 66, to go with a .288 BA and .402 OBP. He might start the year in the minors, but when he does arrive, expect a strong season from Ryan Braun 2.0.

2009 season projected numbers: (.279-18HRs-71RBIs-60Rs)

NL Rookie of the Year–Colby Rasmus (St Louis Cardinals OF): Colby Rasmus is the #1 prospect in the Cardinal’s farm system, and if he finds some way into playing time in the St Louis outfield logjam, should turn a lot of heads. A 5-tool talent, Rasmus struggled in the minors last year (.251-12HR-38RBI) but was hampered by injuries, and is expected to head into the 2009 system at full health. Look for Rasmus to team up with Albert Pujols to create a formidable 1-2 punch in the lineup for years to come.

2009 projected season numbers: (.290-20HRs-78RBIs-68Rs)

Coming soon: 2009 projected finishes and World Series winner!

Scott Boras and Manny Ramirez: The Blind Leading the Blind

Yes that's correct, I am a tool.
“Yes that’s correct, I am a giant tool.”

Manny continues to be Manny this off-season, but this time it may end up hurting his wallet more than it hurts his team. Ramirez and his agent Scott Boras (aka the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, etc.) turned down the LA Dodgers’ latest offer of one year/$25 million with a $20 million player option for 2010. The $25 million salary would have made Manny the second highest paid player in baseball behind A-Rod who is not surprisingly, also a Boras client. Additionally, the contract would have allowed Ramirez to opt out at the end of the year and seek a new contract if the economy improves over the course of the season (magic eight ball prognosis—unlikely). Boras warned the Dodgers “not to play chicken” with him and has turned down each offer as if they are somehow insulting. It’s easy to see why. As is, he only stands to make about $2.5 million with the deal – tough life.  

This was the Dodgers fourth offer to Ramirez during the off-season; they offered him arbitration which was declined, a 2 year/$45 million deal which they took off the table after Boras said that his client was only looking at serious offers, and a straight up one   year/$20 million deal. Apparently, over $20 million a year in a major economic slump for a 36-year-old who plays defense about as well as Stephen Hawking plays Wii Tennis is not a “serious” offer. The Dodgers have bent over backwards to accommodate Ramirez, who seems to have more demands than most poodles (looks like someone will only eat Fancy Feast), yet Boras isn’t willing to budge an inch. One can see why fans have become frustrated with the greed in major sports; ticket prices continue to soar as millions are fired across the country, but here is Ramirez and his agent asking for a king’s ransom.  

Boras claims that there are a number of teams in pursuit of Ramirez, but is that really the case? Most teams have been unwilling to spend large chunks of money this off-season, the Yankees being the obvious exception, and many talented players like Orlando Hudson, that would have been quickly snatched up in years past are still looking for work.  The Giants claim that they are interested–if the price is right–but are they going to up the Dodger’s ante? Boston has the money but are clearly out of the equation (hell hath no fury like a Sox fan scorned) and the Yankees don’t have a spot for Ramirez in the field after their free agent splurge. The Mets are rumored to be looking at Manny, which is denied by GM Omar Minaya and after signing Oliver Perez and being hit by Madoff’s ponzi scheme, don’t really have any more money to throw around (at least not like Howie Mandell).

The Dodgers are a completely different team with Ramirez in the lineup as he finished last season with a stat line of .332 BA-37 HRs-121 RBIs, including hitting a ridiculous .520 in the postseason. Manny is one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time (think Jimmie Foxx with dreads) and is a lock for the Hall of Fame, but he does come with his baggage. Often chided for his lackadaisical play, Ramirez seemingly forced his way out of Boston with a laundry list of “injuries”, decreased production at the plate, and utter bewilderment in leftfield (we’re talking Paris Hilton in a library confused). A beloved player who had led the Red Sox to two World Series in four years had worn out his welcome in the summer of 2008, leaving Boston GM Theo Epstein little choice but to ship Manny across the country to L.A. Once the precocious Ramirez felt once again that he was the center of the universe, he magically rediscovered how to hit, and the fresh L.A. air reignited his passion for the game. Playing for the Dodgers, he dove for fly balls and sprinted down the first base line like his life depended on it. The only time Manny ran in Boston is when a new Dunkin’ Donuts opened up.

The Dodgers have no one else in their lineup who can come close to that kind of production (and no, the signing of Mark Loretta is not the answer), but why should the Dodgers let Boras manipulate them into bidding against themselves? Ramirez wants a multi-year deal but his track record suggests keeping him on a short leash is the best way to get him to produce. If this continues to drag out, the Dodgers may simply decide he’s not worth the trouble and walk away, leaving Ramirez out of options and Boras a long overdue date with the Karma Police.

Ken Griffey Jr. heads to the Windy City: The Kid looks for his first ring with the White Sox

Can the Kid recapture his mojo in the AL?

Can the Kid recapture his mojo in the AL?

In what eventually proved to be the penultimate trade of the day (see Ramirez, Manny) future first ballot hall of famer Ken Griffey Jr. was shipped from his hometown Cincinnati Reds to Chicago’s other team, the oft forgotten White Sox.

Griffey Jr. was traded for minor league infielder Danny Richar and reliever Nick Masset. As a condition of the trade the Reds and White Sox will agree to split the remaining portion of Griffey’s salary as well as the $4 million cost of his buyout at the end of the season.

The Sox hope that the addition of Griffey will add left-handed pop and veteran leadership to a team that enters today a half game ahead of the hard charging Minnesota Twins in the AL Central. Junior is expected to suit up tonight as Chicago travels to Kansas City to meet the Royals in the first of a three game series.

Although currently sitting at a line of only .245-15-53, Griffey is riding a 12-game hitting streak and Chicago GM Kenny Williams believes that the pennant chase may inspire a second half resurgence from Junior. Griffey hasn’t been to the postseason since 1997 with the Mariners, but in his three postseason series he is a .305 hitter, including tying a then postseason record of five homeruns in a series against the Yankees in 1995.

Cincinnati gains little from this deal, really only dumping some salary in a season that was lost long ago. Richar is a fringe major league second baseman, but the Reds signed Brandon Phillips to a four year deal in February and are set at that position through 2011, so the best case scenario is that he becomes a utility infielder. Masset was mediocre out of the White Sox bullpen with a 4.63 ERA but sported an atrocious 1.70 WHIP thanks in large part to allowing 55 hits in only 44 2/3 innings pitched. He may be able to contribute out of the pen as an average middle reliever, but neither of these players seem to factor in the long term plans of the Red’s organization.

Junior in pinstripes? It's worth a shot.

Junior in pinstripes? It's worth a shot.

While Chicago didn’t have to give up much to acquire Griffey, the real question becomes where does he fit into the lineup and defense? Jermaine Dye and Carlos Quentin are set at the corner outfield positions, leaving centerfielder Nick Swisher the odd man out. It’s expected that Swisher will move to first base to take the place of the dyingslumping Paul Konerko. If this all shakes out as planned Griffey will return to the position where he won 10 straight gold gloves, albeit the last one coming during the Clinton administration (1999).

I expect Junior to produce well at the plate as Cingular Field plays similarly to the Great American Ballpark in terms of homeruns and runs scored. While his power and average are both down, Griffey has shown patience at the plate and the ability to work a count, as he currently has the third-best BB/K ratio of his career. However, while the addition of him will marginally improve their offense, the White Sox outfield defense will suffer as Griffey has not played full time in center since 2006 and has been below average in right field this season. Overall, this looks like a decent deal for Chicago, who hope that Junior can capture the spirit of ’97 as they push forward towards the AL Central crown.

Man-Ram headed to Hollywood: Blockbuster trade sends Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers

Hey! Must be the money!

Dodger Dogs beware!

The long awaited Manny Ramirez trade took place today, although not to the team (Florida Marlins) that many had predicted. As the minutes ticked down towards the end of the trade deadline the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates pulled off a blockbuster six player trade.

Ramirez packs his bags for L.A. to play left field for the Dodgers, the Red Sox receive Jason Bay from the Pirates, and Pittsburgh receives two prospects from both teams as part of the last second deal that could dramatically shift the course of two divisions.

There has seemingly been a deal in place to trade Manny from the Red Sox from the day he arrived in Boston, but that speculation finally turned into reality today as GM Theo Epstein apparently decided that “Manny being Manny” was no longer what his team needed. Ramirez was a key cog in the Sox lineup over the last 7 1/2 years and helped lead them to two World Series victories. But his lackadaisical effort in the field and on the basepaths as well as his recent comments, “the Red Sox don’t deserve a player like me”, outweighed his production at the plate and forced Boston to make a move. In addition to shipping Manny to the Dodgers, the BoSox also sent reliever Craig Hansen and outfielder Brandon Moss to the Pirates and agreed to pay the remaining $7 million on Ramirez’s contract.

The Dodgers, sorely lacking a true threat in the middle of their lineup (apologies to Jeff Kent), pulled the trigger on the deal that brings them a two month rental of a future hall-of-famer for the cost of two prospects, third baseman Andy LaRoche and pitcher Bryan Morris. Despite coming into the day at 54-53 the Dodgers find themselves just one game behind the NL West leading Arizona Diamondbacks. Ramirez will move into a crowded outfield that already includes Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Juan Pierre and the ghost of Andruw Jones.

The Pirates continue their 30-year rebuilding plan by trading away a productive outfielder and fan favorite in Jason Bay for a package of four prospects. Pittsburgh actually receives a decent haul in this deal as LaRoche could become an average everyday third baseman with plus-power, and Moss could turn into a quality fourth outfielder, or even a starter (think David Murphy, another Boston product). Craig Hansen is a former first round draft choice with electric stuff who has yet to find any consistency out of Boston’s bullpen. Bryan Morris is still likely a few years away for the big leagues, but the Pirates got three players that they can add to their roster immediately and coupled with the package they received from the Yankees in the Nady-Marte trade, could compete for the NL Central title in the next few seasons. 

This move sent shockwaves throughout the baseball world which will continue to be felt as the season progresses and the pennant races shape up. The Dodgers add a power bat in the middle of the order and make themselves an instant favorite to capture the weak NL West. The Red Sox gave up one of their most consistent headaches hitters and can only hope that Bay matches Ramirez’s production as they battle the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees for the AL East title. The Pirates continue to frustrate their fanbase by trading away a quality player for unproven talent. The full ramifications of this trade will not be known until October (and many years later for Pittsburgh), but on paper it significantly impacts the landscapes of two divisions and finally puts Andruw Jones where he belongs, on a diet the bench.