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Sunday, October 30, 2011

It Will Eventually Become Tougher for Wild Card



     By Ross Newhan

     With their spectacular and improbable comeback from a 10 1/2 game deficit in late August to World Series winner, the St. Louis Cardinals became the fifth wild card team to successfully negotiate the post-season since the wild card's creation in 1993. They joined the Florida Marlins of 1997 and 2003, the Angels of 2002 and the Boston Red Sox of 2004.

    The task is eventually going to become more difficult, which has been a goal of  baseball's managers and general managers for several years.

    It won't happen in 2012, but 2013 or soon after is a strong possibility.

    Angel manager Mike Scioscia, a member of Commissioner Bud Selig's special 14 member committee to investigate realignment and expansion of the postseason, suggested as much in a private chat Saturday.

    The process would be two-fold:

    1--The American and National leagues would be realigned with 15 teams in each and five teams in every division.

   2--A second wild card based on the next best record in each league would be added to the playoffs with the two wild card teams in each league playing one play-in game, the winner qualifying for the division series in each league.

   "The playoffs would never take the form of any of the other sports where eight or 10 teams qualify, but this would be a safety valve for a second wild card team which might have won 90 or more games but now is totally out," Scioscia said. "This year, for example, you would have had Boston and Tampa Bay playing a one game play-in (in the American League and Atlanta and St. Louis in the National)."

   Scioscia wouldn't say this, but his managerial and GM colleagues have long believed that the wild card in each league should pay a price for not having won any of the three divisions. A play-in game would force the two wild cards to use either their best or second best pitchers, meaning that pitcher wouldn't be pitching the division series opener and might be limited to just one start in that five game series.

   Thus, winning a division would still carry the highest premium and reward.

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  Jerry Dipoto made an impressive debut in his introductory news conference as the Angels new GM Saturday, but the only way to judge any general manager is by his performance.

  Owner Arte Moreno said Dipoto will have "complete power" and the semi-security of a three year contract wtih two option years.

   However, his relationship with Scioscia, whose contract runs through 2018 and matter of factly said he will continue voicing his opinions, will be watched closely.

  Give Dipoto credit, however, for both dismissing his concern about that subject and welcoming Scioscia's opinion with a touch of humor.

  Speaking of the interviewing process with Moreno and club president John Carpino, the new GM said:

  "I never woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat wondering if I was going to get steamrolled by Mike. At no time did this become a sticking point for me.

  "I've worked in this business my entire adult life, for 24 years, and what might look unusual outside the league is very common to me. I love the opinion of baseball people and talking to strong-minded people."

  Dipoto, having participated in just about every phase of the sport and it's management, has faced tougher crucibles than working with Scioscia, which is undoubtedly over-stating the assignment of working with the personable but strong willed manager.

  The new general manager revealed he battled thyroid cancer in the 90s, dealt with a blood clot that briefly stopped his heart and coped wth a bulging disc that contributed to the end of his playing career.

   His philosophies and opinions about the game are contained in a 45 page book that he calls a "living document" and began compiling five years ago. He is a strong believer in on-base percentage, but sources insist he is on the fringes of the computer-dominated Moneyball school and not a full-fledged advocate. 

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   In that imperfect but classic Game 6 of the World Series, I thought Texas manager Ron Washington made his costliest mistake of the Series when he used Derek Holland in relief rather than saving him for a potential start in Game 7. Washington stuck with his season-long rotation, using Matt Harrison despite the dominance of Holland in his 4-0 Game 4 victory over the Cardinals.

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   Albert Pujols made $16 million in the final year of a seven year, $100 million contract. He will be 32 in January.Is he really going to find a semi-similar contract anywhere except St. Louis?

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  The out of the blue emergence of David Freese as MVP of both the World Series and League Championship Series should serve as motivation for any young player who has thought of giving up the game or has become mentally blown out at the idea of another year in the minors. As the father of a former big leaguer, the percentage of those who have actually been given the privilege of living the dream is so small compared to those whose dreams have died on a distant sandlot is so small that the idea of giving up the uniform volunarily should be a bridge crossed only if there is no other choice.

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   If Steve Garvey truly has a group capable of paying whatever price the Dodgers are going to sell for in the apparent settlement between Selig and Frank McCourt he should play it cool and stop appearing on the talk radio circuit discussing his plans for the team and Dodger Stadium. The names of several prospective buyers have yet to surface, according to Los Angeles based sources I have talked to, and Garvey fits the category of longshot, although this soap opera has been so crazy no one can saying anything with absolute certainty.

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 Information on David Newhan's baseball academy: DavidNewhan.com                                 

         

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Has Napoli Overtaken Ryan as Angels' Worst Mistake?



      By Ross Newhan

      With each clutch, Bunyanesque hit during the post-season, with each base stealer thrown out (and everyone in Anaheim remembers how bad a defensive catrcher he was supposed to be, as the Angels alleged), the albatross that was the trading of Mike Napoli tighens around the necks of Arte Moreno, Tony Reagins and Mike Scioscia.

      It doesn't matter who does the finger pointing among the three or in which direction the finger is pointed, Napoli simply keeps hammering it in, driving the division rival Texas Rangers toward a World Series title, and this could be painful to the Angels for more than one year and in more than one way.

     First of all, catchers with Napoli's offensive prowess (he hit 66 homers in three seasons--two of which were part-time--with the Angels) and 30 with the Rangers this year aren't hanging from every tree or easily apparent on every big league roster. There's Brian McCann of Atlanta, OK. After that, Joe Mauer is probably headed to first base in Minnesota, Geovanny Soto has not regained his 2008 Rookie of the Year form with the Chicago Cubs, Buster Posey of the Giants is recovering from a broken leg, Yadier Molina of the Cardinals is more defense than offense, and Jorge Posada of the Yankees is in the twighlight of an outstanding career and no longer a fulltime catcher. With Posey sidelined, the only young catcher that stirs a little Napoli imagination is Matt Wieters, who hit 22 homers and drove in 68 runs in his second full season as Baltimore's catcher, although the Angels will try to say that Hank Conger's promise (six homers in 197 at bats) was part of the reason Napoli was available.

       Secondly, the Angels are burdened with three more years and $63 million of Vernon Wells' contract, and it is anyone's guess which direction Wells is headed after leaving Toronto. He kept looking for his lost form during sporadic trips to the Angels' bench and never found it in any kind of definitive way. He did end the season with 25 home runs, but he batted .218 with a sickly on base percentage of .248. Wells' financial burden could limit what the club's new leadership can do during the coming winter.

    In the meantime, Napoli's post-season barrage, in the aftermath of a season in which he helped the Rangers leave the Angels 10 games back in what is essentially a two team division, has Angel fans shaking their heads and some legitimately asking if Napoli's departure surpasses the departure of Nolan Ryan as the worst mistake in Angel history. Ryan left after the 1979 season when owner Gene Autry and general manager Buzzie Bavasi refused to meet his free agent demand of $1 million. Ryan had thrown four no-hitters with the Angels and set a single season strike out record as a workhorse drawing card. He would go on to pitch 14 more years, throw three more no-hitters and finish with a record 5,714 strike outs and 324 wins.

   Bavasi, who passed away recently, sent Ryan a wire as he continued to enhance his Angels statistics, first with Houston and then with Texas, that read: "I have already said that not re-signing you was my biggest mistake. You don't have to keep rubbing it in." As Napoli rubs it in, Fox cameras have been sending nightly views of Ryan, now the Texas co-owner, cheering on his catcher--a double dose of sad longing for Angel fans.

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   We are in the process of re-designing this blog site.

   My son, the former major leaguer David Newhan, was sharing the site and doing some outstanding blogs when we first got started, but he now coaches in the San Diego Padres system and has a baseball academy in the Carlsbad area in the off-season.

  For more information on that you can check DavidNewhan.com.
                  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Scioscia Is a Major Issue (Problem?) in Moreno's GM Search



      By Ross Newhan

      At the time of Bill Stoneman's retirement as general manager of the Angels, virtually every columnist and baseball reporter in Southern California, including this writer, observed that manager Mike Scioscia, given his longterm contract and managerial success, would assume a more powerful position in roster decisions and the organization's structure.

      If that is true, if that, indeed, is the way it has played out, then Scioscia bears some responsibility for at least some of the decisions that have removed Tony Reagins as general manager, just as owner Arte Moreno does.

     No decision is made in a vacuum. If the Angels pass on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre but opt to open the mint for Vernon Wells, it wasn't strictly Reagins decision.

     Now, with Moreno and club president John Carpino apparently heading the search for a new general manager, it doesn't matter which or how many candidates they interview because all of them will want to be assured that they would have full authority in the daily operation and won't be just a personal secretary for Scioscia, providing Scioscia himself isn't elevated to the GM role.

     It is also possible, the word was circulating Saturday, that Scioscia, despite his contract security and       
accepted voice in organization decisions, might feel this is the right time to depart if the right offer comes along. It would have to be a big money, long term, immediate win situation, of which there aren't many, but it's almost certain that the Boston Red Sox, among others, may investigate.

    In the meantime, it can be said with total assuredness that Moreno is going to have to define Scioscia's stature each time he meets with a GM candidate.