Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Expanded Playoffs and More


     By Ross Newhan

      Major league owners meeting in Arizona next month will continue discussions on an expanded playoff that would include addition of a second wild card team in each league and become effective in 2012. Not every owner, according to multiple sources, is on board yet, their indecision hinging on the final format, but Commissioner Bud Selig, responding to lobbying by general managers and his own inclination, is expected to continue a push for it.

      By including a second wild card team in each league and either a best of three or even a one game playoff between the two wild cards in each league, those teams would be forced to use their best pitcher or pitchers, losing what has allowed the wild card to open the current playoff system with a pitcher who is as good or better than the division winner they are facing. This has contributed to a number of wild card teams advancing to the championship series and World Series, to the overall enhancement of parity, but it has also grated on field managers and general managers who contend that the wild card should be forced to pay a price for failing to win its division.

     There are several formats under discussion, and the key debate centers on how an expanded playoff would affect the 162 game schedule without a) forcing an earlier March start, b) creating the need for more doubleheaders (potential revenue losers for the owners) or c) jeopardizing the World Series with bad weather in November.

      The schedule may prove to be too large an obstacle, but more teams seem on board with the concept of a second wild card team than when the wild card was initially adopted in 1993 and "purists" hammered Selig, who has emerged a financial and artistic winner with almost all of his introductory concepts. Some will argue, in this case,  that a fifth playoff team in each league will dilute baseball's playoff to the level of the NFL, NBA and NHL, but over the last 15 years, the fifth best team in the National League has averaged 89.1 wins and the fifth best in the American League has averaged 88.8, both respectable figures.

      *  *  *

      Milwaukee General Manager Doug Melvin moved shrewdly in acquiring pitchers Zack Greinke from Kansas City and Shaun Marcum from Toronto without sacrificing any of his potent offense and advancing the Brewers ahead of incumbent champion Cincinnati as the team to beat in the National League Central.

     The Royals, generally conceded to have the best farm system in baseball, continued that building process by acquiring shortstop Alcides Escobar and three top prospects, including potential 2011 outfield starter Lorenzo Cain. Greineke had asked to be traded, believing the building process would not be finished by the time his current contract expired in 2012.

    The Royals had nursed Greineke, the AL's Cy Young Award winner in 2009, through nine seasons, attempting to work with him on the social anxiety disorder for which he takes medication and which prompted him to sit out the 2006 season, but the relationship had run its course. Many in the organization accepted that reality on the first Friday night home game of the 2010 season when the Royals brought in Bret Saberhagen and David Cone and honored their latest Cy Young winner, his wife and parents with a variety of gifts only to have Greineke wave to the crowd and walk away without saying anything over the PA. That  was more telling to some of KC's top executives than his trade request.




Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Few Market Thoughts

        By Ross Newhan

     ---Maybe Cliff Lee, in spurning more money from the Yankees and probably from the Rangers, really enjoyed his experience in Philadelphia and wanted to be part of what now becomes an illustrious rotation. Or maybe he just doesn't like the idea of putting the bulk of the financial and fan expectations on his own shoulders, even though he seemingly has the ability to do just that. And the fact remains that Lee will still earn the highest average annual salary among pitchers on a multi year contract---about $24 million.

      ---When you have the big money Yankees and Red Sox lurking behind every negotiation, why would you give either the chance of blowing you out as the Angels did with Carl Crawford? The free agent outfielder and speedster was the one player the Angels wanted and needed most, and owner Arte Moreno had said when the season ended that money would be no obstacle in getting his team back to the playoffs. Yet Tony Reagins' initial offer to the prized Crawford was $106 million, not even as much as the Washington Nationals--the Washington Nationals--had ultimately given Jayson Werth. Why not show Crawford from the start how serious you are and try to blast out both of the Evil Empires instead of playing a negotiating game? Crawford might have still ended up with the Red Sox, but doesn't opening with an overpaying bid for the player you really want make more sense than ultimately overpaying for Scott Downs?

    ---Dan Duquette, the former Red Sox GM,  points out Crawford's unique value: He's only the eighth player since 1900 to attain 100 homers, 100 triples and 400 stolen bases. The others: Cobb, Speaker, Brock, Frish, Lofton, Molitor and Raines, and Crawford has done it at a younger age than any of the other seven.

    ---The loss of Lee probably intensifies the Rangers interest in Adrian Beltre (Michael Young would probably move to DH), creating another bidding war for the Angels, who had hoped to keep the price down on Beltre. 

     ---I'll stick with my belief that Dodger GM Ned Colletti has done as well as he could under his financial restraints while acknowleding that his additions haven't exactly left you dialing the season ticket number, and he still needs an outfielder with an impact bat. Manny Ramirez?

    ---Of course, how do you explain Frank McCourt's financial restraints when he continues to stay at one of Beverly Hills' most expensive hotels and recently took a lady friend on a Paris vacation? However, if Jamie McCourt continues to win legal decisions most insiders believe Frank's indebtedness will compel him to sell the Dodgers, or Commissioner Bud Selig will take some form of custodial action.

    ---Eugene Orza, the longtime war horse of the players union who has announced he will soon be retiring, still can't fathom what he considers the latest Hall of Fame snub at union icon Marvin Miller by the Expansion Era committee's failure to elect him by one vote. "I just don't know how people justify it intellectually and can't imagine why the individual votes aren't made public," Orza said by phone. "Marvin changed the landscape, and it's the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Would a national art museum not include Renoir, Rembrandt or Van Gogh?" (Disclaimer: As a member of the Expansion Era committee I will continue to honor the Hall's request that we refrain from discussing our individual votes and deliberations, but I do believe the Hall should consider a permanent exhibit featuring Miller and the union.)

   ---The acquisitions of Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy should give the left side of Buck Showalter's Oriole infield a boost, although Reynolds home run total with Arizona fell from 44 to 32 last year when he led the National League in strike outs for the third straight year, and Hardy, after hitting a total of 50 homers in 2007 and 2008, hit 11 in 2009 and only six last season while playing in the homer happy Metrodome.



Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Garvey and Others Eye Dodgers Amid Deepening Ownership Crises

     By Ross Newhan

     As several potential buyers, including a group rumored to be headed by former Dodger Steve Garvey and another headed by Los Angeles philanthropist and insurance man Dennis Gilbert, do their best to remain patient, the Dodgers' long-term ownership situation remains more uncertain than ever.

     The decision Tuesday by Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon in the prolonged divorce action between Frank and Jamie McCourt--played out to the lyrics of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"--to throw out the marital property agreement because it did not conform to California law, was a major setback for Frank

    And it could set the stage for a) years of appeals, b) the club going to Jamie, who could then seek partners or sell it, or c) intervention by Commissioner Bud Selig in the best interest of baseball and one of his flagship franchises, although it is uncertain exactly what Selig's options are unless he felt legally confident that he could appoint a caretaker, as he once did in Montreal.

    Tony Tavares, who served as president of the Angels during the Disney ownership and who shepherded the Expos in their final, lame duck years in Montreal, is available. The Milwaukee based Selig might also have a local owner in mind for the Brewers, allowing Mark Attanasio, the Los Angeles based Brewer owner, to buy the Dodgers (possibly bringing Prince Fielder with him?).

    Meanwhile, General Manager Ned Colletti has done his best to piece the Dodgers together without McCourt requiring another family loan. With the signing Tuesday of Vicente Padilla he had acquired seven free agents at about $77 million, and he was said to be on the verge of cheaply signing Tony Gwynn Jr. as a center field option after San Diego did not re-sign Gwynn. Junior is not the hitter his dad was (is anyone?), and the Dodgers could use another impact bat in the outfield, but Colletti has at least filled out the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley with the re-signing of Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda and Padilla, and the re-signing of Dodger alum Jon Garland.

   The Dodgers have also become better in recent days through the process known as addition by subtraction. Adrian Gonzalez has moved to the American League, and it's obvious that the now rebuilding Padres won't be the division obstacle they were last year. The division rival Arizona Diamondbacks are also in a rebuilding phase, having shipped homer hitting Mark Reynolds to the American League Orioles. Also, Adam Dunn, always a tough out for the Dodgers, has moved out of the National League, joining the American League White Sox. In 64 career games against Los Angeles, Dunn had driven in 36 runs and hit 13 homers with a .380 on-base percentage.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Will New System Help Get Miller and Steinbrenner to Hall?

      By Ross Newhan

      The impact of a new voting procedure in the Hall of Fame's veterans category will be determined this weekend when a 16 member committee composed of executives, writers and Hall of Fame players votes on 12 candidates as selected by a historical overview committee.

      The 16 member committee will meet and vote Sunday in Orlando, Fla. with results announced Monday morning as a prelude to baseball's annual winter meetings starting in that city the same day.

     Any candidate receiving 75 % of the votes will be inducted during the annual Cooperstown ceremonies in July of next year.

     The Hall has been experimenting with the veterans process for several years, attempting to find an equitable system that, as Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, said will allow voters "to compare apples to apples"---the respective candidates basically coming from the same era.

     Saturday's vote involves 12 candidates--eight players, three executives and a former manager--coming from what the Hall is calling the expansion era, ostensibly starting with the introduction of the designated hitter in 1973 through the present. Another voting committee will consider players, managers, umpires and executives from what the Hall calls the Golden Era, starting with integration in 1946 through 1972, and a third committee will consider players, managers, umpires and executives from what the Hall calls the pre-integration era (1871-1946). Each voting committee will meet only every three years, so that the eras rotate from year to year.

    The historical committee, comprised largely of members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America, selected the following 12 players for consideration by the expansion era electorate:

     Former Players: Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons and Rusty Staub.

   Former Executives: Pat Gillick, Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner.

   Former Manager: Billy Martin.

   The players had to have played 10 years in the major leagues, and had to have been retired for 21 years or more (obviously none of the eight received the required 75% while they were on the ballot voted on by the general BBWAA electorate each December). The managers had to have worked for 10 years in the major leagues and have been retired for five years. The executives had to have been retired for five years, or were at least 65 years old.

    The 16 people who will vote on the 12 candidates includes former players Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith; executives Andy MacPhail, Bill Giles, David Glass and Jerry Reinsdorf, and baseball writers Bob Elliott, Tom Verducci, Tim Kurkjian and myself.

    The Hall has been experimenting with a veterans committee in various forms starting in 1953. Idelson insists that the new committees are not aimed at getting more players, managers, umpires and executives in the Hall or lowering the standards.

    "By comparing apples to apples," he reiterated, "the voters can ask themselves, 'Is this era incomplete without the inclusion of these people?'"

    The 2010 electorate replaces a veteran committee that in 2003-2007 was composed of writers, broadcasters and Hall of Fame players. Then, in 2008, the membership was made up of only Hall of Fame players voting on players who played after World War II. Those committees voted three times and didn't elect anyone, including Miller, who was executive director of the Major League Players Assn. from 1966 to 1982 and probably did as much to change the baseball landscape--economically and otherwise--as any executive.

    It has been suggested that the new voting breakdown will make it easier for Miller and Steinbrenner, the late New York Yankee owner, to reach Cooperston, but Idelson disputed that.

    "It serves no purpose and there is no value in developing a system which benefits only one or two people," he said. "I have complete confidence in the electorate and the sanctity of the process."