Three Pieces: Washington Nationals

The 2005 season was a success in a lot of ways for the Nationals. Away from the baseball Siberia of Montreal the Nats were a far more competitive team, particularly during the first half of the season. Although they fell in the standings after the break, they managed finish at exactly .500, far exceeding many preseason preditions, including my own. Can Washington build on their success first year success, or will they go the way of last MLB team to play in DC "First in war, first in peace, last in the American League" (which is would now be last in the National League East)?

1. Fire Jim Bowden

I've long been of the opinion that this man is the worst GM in baseball. His undistinguished tenure as Reds GM saw years of failing to address an obvious pitching weakness at either the minor league or major league level. His free agent signings last winter was some of the worst I've ever seen. Granted, I didn't think Guzman would become the worst everyday player in the game, but it wasn't difficult to predict he might not be worth the lavish contract Bowden offered him. And Vinny Castilla?! If there was ever a textbook case of the Coors Field effect, here it was. I give him some credit for making bold moves to try and improve the Nationals, but they were all the wrong ones. The Nationals managed to compete despite the moves Bowden made in the off-season, not because of them. If it wasn't for the emotional boost from playing in front of an enthusiastic home crowd for the first time in years, the Nationals may very well have finished well below 500.

2. Find an Owner

The Nationals may be able to get along with being a ward of Major League Baseball for a time. In the long term however, it will be impossible to remain a viable franchise without a new stadium and without an owner. I'm rather mystified why Reggie Jackson was reportedly interested in the Twins who aren't for sale and don't have a new stadium in place, even considering he wanted to move them to Vegas. The Nationals on the other hand have been on the market for a long time, have become a proven draw for fans, and are currently competitive. Baseball needs to do a better job of selling this club, and do whatever it takes to make the Nationals attractive to a potential owner. It would be better for the game if owners were forced to open their collective wallet and pay for a new ballpark, rather than allow the Nationals to fail in their new market. These next few months will be critical for the future of the franchise.

3. Fix the Trouble on the Farm

In a recent poll on John Sickel's excellent prospect blog, readers ranked the Nationals dead last in terms of their farm system. While I believe that is highly debatable choice (the Yankees are at least as bad) this is a major problem for the Nationals. No team can afford to completely neglect their minor league system, as the Yankees are beginning to find out. While the Yankees have the breathing room that 200 million dollars in payroll can provide, the Nationals have a far smaller margin for error. With nearly all of their most highly touted prospects failing to meet expectations in 2005, the Nationals have a long way to go. They need to revamp their entire draft strategy, minor league instruction and prospect analysis systems. Unforunately I have abolutely no faith in Jim Bowden to do this properly. This will be an uphill climb, at best, and could eliminate the chances of long term competitiveness in DC.

The Bottom Line:

The Nationals have a lot of problems. While the Major League team is in moderately good shape with the help of workhorses like Livan Herandez, they have a number of severe long term problems. The problems of the Nationals go beyond the simple solution of adding some right handed power or finding a dependable number two starter; the Nationals need to make the kind of decisions which will determine their viability as a baseball franchise. Without a new owner, a competent general manager and the painstaking work of rebuilding a shattered minor league organization the Nationals will simply not succeed. For the sake of Major League Baseball, I hope either I'm wrong that they find a way to solve these problems. Otherwise, the issue of contraction may very well be back on the table, and our national capital may, once again, want for a home team.


Three Pieces: San Diego Padres

While the Padres did manage to 'win' the NL West, it was kind of like beating your younger sibling in a competition, unsatisfying and ultimately a victory that leaves more questions about your skills than answers. If the Padres had been in the NL East, they would have finished one game out of last place, and now they've made a trade for an aging slugger with that one team the would have beaten in the East. But can the Padres manage to win this season, after going only 82 and 80 last year? Will anyone hit a homerun to straightaway center? Will Bruce Bochy, dissatisfied by the play of any thirdbaseman for the second straight season, begin playing the San Diego Chicken?

1. Have fun

Team that develop a tradition of winning, and teams that have won in the playoffs over the last decade or so, have by in large, been teams that clearly enjoyed playing the game. The White Sox are clearly an example of this in 2005, as were the Astros. If you go back a year, the same thing was true of the Red Sox, and before them the Marlins, Angels, Diamondbacks, Yankees and the Marlins again. The division winners (or contenders) usually tend to be teams that enjoy themselves as well, the A's and Twins of recent years come to mind. Last year, no one in the NL West was having any fun. Everyone was worrying about not losing, and this isn't a great way to become inspired. The pressure is going to kill the Padres if they don't relax, especially with the possibility of a full season from Barry Bonds, a man who creates more offense than any other player in the majors. If they worry about the homeruns they're going to give up (away from PetCo), about the errors they're going to make, the games they're going to lose, they're going to 'Bill Buckner' themselves to death.

2. Bring in the fences

I spent far too long searching for this article on ESPN.com, only to find it on MLB.com. Thank you Business of Baseball report. It addresses the Padres' plan to bring in the fences in right center from 411 feet to about 395. The hitters in San Diego have been so flummoxed by the dimensions of the field, even a small change may give players a psychological boost. It's a gesture, sure, but it's something. Hopefully they get this into action soon enough to have it in place for the World Baseball Classic. I can't tell you how excited I am about this, and it's great to see how much this means to all the international players.

3. Start using/acquiring some speed

Cameron could help the Padres. He went .273/.342/.477 last year and is .249/.340/.442 for his career. Nady is .263/.320/.414 fo his career, so San Diego is picking up some power. I'm not even going to dignify the trade for Vinny Castilla with a response. Okay, that was harsh, but the man spent 8 seasons in Colorado and turns 38 this year. He's just very high risk. But to trying to bring in sluggers is not a great strategy for this team. Right now, there's little difference between this team and the Marlins: young, hard throwing starters who may turn out great, a huge outfield, and an identity crisis. The Marlins were a success when they built on their speed and pitching and stopped trying to hit balls out of the park. This apporach should be drilled into Padres hitters' heads, and the GM's office should make every attempt to move more speed into any position they can. With a few more manufactured runs, the Padres might be able to move to five games over .500, and repeat in the NL West.


Three Pieces: Milwaukee Brewers

At the end of nearly every season there are a number of up-and-coming ballclubs who believe that they need just one or two more key players in order to make the playoffs. The Brewers have been mocked from all corners of the baseball world in recent years. They were the team (well, one of the teams) nobody loved. Baseball fans in small markets outside Wisconsin resented them because they were Selig's team. Others have mocked Miller Park as a expensive boondoggle because of its neverending roof problems. However, in 2005 the Brewers proved that on the field, they would not be the subject to the same sort of ridicule they've seen for over a decade. The Brewers were suprisingly competitive last season, managing to avoid a losing season for the first time since 1992. But will they continue to move forward, or will they be more notable for plunging their mascot into a tub of beer than for baseball exellence?

1. Don’t Panic

The tendency of a lot of organizations with an emerging core of good, young players is to sign a big name guy or two to compliment them. This isn’t a horrible strategy; in fact I wish my hometown team had pursued it long ago. In the case of the Brewers, however, it would be a big mistake. The free agent market is too thin and the players in it too overvalued for the Brewers to take a chance on it. Anyway, the Brewers already added the big bat they needed in the Podsednik for Lee trade (one of those rare moves which seemed to help both clubs). This isn’t to say the Brewers don’t have needs; theirs are just less dire than the needs than most clubs, and will not be filled with an overpriced free agent.

2. A good bullpen arm

The Brewers have a young rotation, and I believe that their young arms like Jose Capellan and Chris Capuano will continue to develop under the pitching coach Mike Maddox (and yes, he’s Greg Maddox’s bother). Ben Sheets is an established force at the major league level, and Tomo Ohka is a solid number four guy, especially when you consider how cheap he came from Washington. However, I’m concerned about the relief pitching. Derrick Turnbow had a breakout year in 2005. Coming out of nowhere (reminiscent of Eric Gange in 2002), Turnbow saved 42 games with a ERA of 1.74 and became one of the great success stories of 2005. Considering his age (27) and his strong K/9 and BB/9 ratios I’m inclined to believe that he’s for real. However, the Brewers simply must add someone to set him up. Julio Santana certainly can strike em’ out, but his resemblance to Johan fades when you realize he’s a 30 year old journeyman with a career ERA of 5.27. Nor are the Ricky Battilco’s of the world (another journeyman in his mid 30’s) going to get it done. Scott Eyre who recently signed with the Cubs would have been a good fit, but the Brewers still have plenty of time to explore the market. I think the Brewers might be smart to take a look at what the pitching-rich Twins will offer for Lyle Overbay whom the Twins are rumored to be interested in.

3. Patience for the Prince

The 2005 major league season couldn’t have gone off to any sweeter of a start for super-prospect Prince Fielder, who hit a home run in his first day in the big leagues. Prince (or the player formally known as too fat even for Billy Beane) has proven all the skeptics wrong, tearing up triple A in 2005 at a .291/.388/.569 clip. He preformed well in the big leagues as well, hitting .288/.306/.458 in 39 games. There are a lot of concerns about his defense, but the reports I’ve read seem to indicate that while his range is still bad he is improving on whole. Prince has a good chance to be an even better player than his dad, if the Brewers don’t rush him too quickly. I would advise the Brewers to platoon him for a while with an experienced veteran (JT Snow perhaps?) and give him the job full time if he produces.

The Bottom Line:

The Brewers seem to have just the right mix of experienced talent (Carlos Lee, Geoff Jenkins) and young promise (Fielder, Trunbow). The task for the Brewers is to tweak the bullpen just a bit, without giving up players that would upset the chemistry of the team. Overbay looks expendable to me, as long as the Brewers add a veteran to help ease Prince Fielder along. With Carlos Lee continuing to put up excellent numbers, and the second half bounce-back for Geoff Jenkins, the Brewers have some breathing room. If they don’t panic and try to change things too much, the Brewers will challenge for the Wild Card and maybe even the division if the Cards stumble mightily.


Three Pieces: Chicago Cubs

Coming off a year plagued by injuries to key players, and lifted only by the performance of Derrek Lee (and Aramis Rameriz), the Cubs are as rudderless as they were last offseason, and drastic changes are going to be necessary in order to get them back into contention in the NL Central. What do they need to get back to the postseason?

1. Fire Dusty Baker

The man is insane. I admit it, I loved Captain Toothpick in San Fran, but he's got to go. I've commented many times on the inanity of his lineups, and Darin Baker is a lawsuit waiting to happen. In addition to drawing names from a hat (or rolling a pair of dice) to fill out a lineup card, he's got this habit of riding pitchers, especially hard-throwing starters, into the ground. This would be fine, if he had pitchers who had Tommy Johns every season. Unfortunately he does not have a rotation of Frankensteins, but Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano, and oh, right, 39 year-old Greg Maddux, WHO THREW 225 INNINGS! 13th most in the majors. 13TH! Zambrano was 15th on the list.

Furthermore, he has the horrible tendency to 'believe' in certain players. Players like Neifi Perez. Players like Pedro Feliz. Players like Jerome Williams. Noticing a pattern yet? Just send him to replace Torre and then the Yankees on the field will look as crazy as the front office does.

2. Trust in Nomar

Look, we all know that the Cubs, even if they do by some miracle reach the World Series, they'll manage to lose. If they reach the last day of the season, they're going to lose. So why not stick with Nomar. What else could possibly go wrong with his body? There isn't much left. Believe, in the Disney sense of the word.

After rehabing from the most horrific injury I've ever seen (a "ruptured tendon in his left groin", poor bastard), Nomar bounced back from an awful .157/.228/.176 to .318/.347/.531. Rafael Furcal, whom the Cubs are rumored to be courting hit .284/.348/.429 for the year and Nomar, even with his terrible start AND injury ended the season at .283/.320/.452. Worse OBP, but better slugging. Basically a wash between the two. Furcal is five years younger, but Nomar isn't some slugger who is going to break down next year and his .320/.367/.544 (.911 OPS) career line looks much better than Furcal's .284/.348/.409 (.757 OPS). Acquiring Nomar was a good move and the Cubs need to realize that. This guy is the quintessential 'professional hitter.'. This whole 'better fit' nonsense needs to end now as do the Twins trade rumors. Hasn't Nomar gone through enough? And has any other shortstop, even Jeter, saved a life? (A-Rod doesn't count, as he was a third baseman when he saved the Boston youth from stepping into a truck's path.)

On the trade note, the Cubs let Jody Gerut go mid-season in a trade for Lawton. Career line for 33 year-old Lawton: .267/.368/.418; career line for 27 year-old Gerut: .263/.334/.434. I'd take Gerut, personally.

3. Trade Patterson

And replace him with anyone else. Even Bernie Williams. It's gotten that bad. He hit .215 this season. Two Fifteen. He's had one major league season with an average over .270, 2 with an OBP over .285 and 1 season with a SLG over .455. His SB numbers are okay, but they don't justify a lifetime .252/.293/.414 line. The free agent outfield market is not great, but it affords some options. Damon will be damn expensive, Jacque Jones doesn't hit well enough, neither does Preston Wilson. Encarnacion is worth a look, and if the Cubs could afford his poor defense, Rondell White would prove a huge offensive boost. Patterson could be traded too, in a package deal. He's young enough that a team might want to try to develop him.

There's always the chance that Dusty might push to sign Kenny Lofton, another one of his favorite little buddies.

The Bottom Line:

The Cubs aren't going to win the NL Central, I'll bet my student loan payments on that, but if they stay healthy and improve just a bit, this could be a very dangerous team. They just need to overcome incompetent leadership and a curse set into motion by a farm animal. Still, the boys on the northside will, at least, manage to be loveable losers.


NL ROY Runners Up

Before I write anything related to the actual column I want to write, I want to say this. I feel that the NL Rookie Of the Year was incredibly deserving. But I do want to highlight the spectacular play of runners up Willy Taveras and Jeff Francoeur.

I've written about Taveras earlier this year. Here's how he finished for the year

152 592 82 172 13 4 3 29 34 .291 .325 .341
89 351 49 96 13 3 1 26 33 .274 .338 .336
152 599 84 164 22 5 2 44 56 .274 .338 .336

The second line is Ricky Henderson in his rookie year, the third is Ricky projected to a 152 game season. Clearly Rickey hit for more power early on, but with Taveras' speed, he'll be able to create a lot of doubles.

Francouer clearly had more impressive power numbers than Taveras.

70 257 41 77 20 1 14 45 3 .300 .336 .549
151 557 97 161 28 4 49 118 1 .289 .370 .618
70 258 45 75 13 2 23 55 0 .289 .370 .618

The last two lines are for Mark Maguire in his first full season with the A's, and then a line adjusted for the number of games that Francouer played. Now I know that the comparisons I've made here are not perfect analogs and either one of these players might fade into obscurity, but both looked very good this season. I wrote a longer post on Taveras with several other comparisons, and he finished the season as good as he started. Both of these players are going to have an effect on their franchises, and I can't wait to see it.


2005 Cy Young Awards: Tradition Run Amok

I suppose I shouldn't have expected any better out of these guys. This is the same group of nitwits who picked Derek Jeter to win not one, but two gold gloves he did not deserve. I wish I had become as cynical as Aaron Gleeman, but somehow I had expected more. Rivera would have been at least a plausible choice, but Colon really has proven that when it comes to the Cy Young the Win is still reigns supreme. Granted, this was a weak field, with no starters posting an ERA lower than 2.86. Nevertheless, Santana clearly was the best pitcher in the field with the second best ERA in the AL (2.87), leading the league in strikeouts and an opponent average 45 points lower than Colon.

Even when every other available measure of a pitcher's skill pointed to Santana, the voters managed to give him only three first place votes. I'm temporary residing in the UK, where baseball interest is unfortunately not what it should be. However, I could pick out a hundred Britons at random, and if I provided them with American sports section and asked them to vote for the Cy Young I’m positive that they would arrive at a more logical, equitable and sane consensus than this travesty.

Chris Carpenter, the winner of the National League Cy Young is a bit more qualified, but qualified is a relative term. Carpenter finished with an ERA of 2.83, second in the NL in strikeouts and second in the majors in innings pitched. This is an excellent season by any standard. When the field includes a pitcher who finished with an ERA almost a full run lower than Carpenter and held opponents to below the Mendoza Line (a .183 OBA), its difficult for me to justify giving the award out to anyone else. Of course Roger Clemens lost, since the voters couldn't get past the fact he'd only managed to go 13-8.

Of the three man rotation of Confines writers I am probably the most "traditional" baseball thinker of the bunch. Since I follow a team with perhaps the most successful traditionalist general manager in game, (Terry Ryan) it’s hard not to sometimes extol the virtues of small ball and emphasizing traditional defense and athleticism in player development. However, I still have a brain. It may be news to the Cy Young voters but there are multiple methods of evaluating pitching performance. A win-loss record can tell you something about a team a player pitches for and maybe a little about the makeup of a particular pitcher. It doesn't tell you so much that every other statistic should be thrown out in favor of pitchers with clearly inferior seasons. The voters need to get past the win, and start giving out awards for the right reasons, something they've managed to botch for years. At least this time when Randy Johnson lost, it was because he deserved to.


Three Pieces: Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins find themselves in an unfamiliar position this year. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and saw the winner of their division go on to win the World Series. In addition to the threat from a powerful Chicago ballclub, they Twins will have to battle with the Indians for the AL Central crown.

1. A new stadium

The Twins have suffered in what has been at times the worst, second worst or third worst stadium in baseball. The revenue structure at the Metrodome is very favorable for the Vikings, so favorable that the Vikings receive large percentages of concessions sales and luxury box receipts from Twins games. The Twins do not have a large cable network to draw revenue from and the Metrodome is likely the ugliest and least interesting ballpark in the majors. None of these things help generate additional revenue or interest in the franchise, either in the public, or from ownership. In the new golden age of the urban ballpark, the Twins need a new stadium, or risk sinking to the level of the Expos for all those years in Olympic, drawing only a few thousand a night. I don't care how it gets done, but I do feel that a small, county based sales tax raise (about half a cent on the dollar) is an entirely fair price to pay. If we want to live in a great city, we have to be willing to pay for it. Given the fact that there are also large areas of St. Paul to put a park in, the Twins have some opportunities that they need to exploit. The problem is that public support for the stadium is less than overwhelming. The Twins need to get into the community over the next few year and build the kind of relationships that make a community value an asset. I think that would be the best way to influence public support and make sure that the community has a voice in the new stadium.

2. A 'Professional' Hitter (or two, or three)

There's a Twins blog named "Warning Track Power" which is perhaps the most accurately titled thing ever. The Twins need power, and they need leadership in the lineup, period. They ranked 29th in team SLG, 21st in OBP, and 28th in OPS.
The only teams lower in OPS were Seattle and Washington. No team with stats like that can compete. The Twins have lacked a significant presence in their lineup for years. Mauer is good, but it will be years before he becomes the kind of force that can carry a lineup the way a Bonds or a Pujols can, and it may not happen at all. It is much more likely that Mauer will need two good, or one great bat to help him out, and the Twins as they are now aren't cutting it. The revolving-door infield has been a joke. Castro (.257/.279/.386), Bartlett (.241/.316/.335), Punto (.239/.301/.335), Rodriguez (.269/.335/.383) and Tiffee (.207/.245/.293) are glorified minor leaguers that should not have seen even a third of the playing time they did this season. Morneau should be able to improve on his abysmal .239/.304/.437, but he won't be enough to elevate the lineup, and doesn't threaten opposing pitchers. The Twins needed to make a move and trade Jacque Jones and his 5 million salary for a much better hitter this past season, and now they'll lose him to free agency without anything in return. They made a great decision with Stewart, and they need to make another move like that. If the Giant's hadn't inked Winn, I would see him as a good fit. But the point here is that this is a move that must be made this year. I know that the Twins would have been a much better team if Hunter had stayed healthy, but when the performance of your team depends on the health of a man who runs full speed into walls, perhaps you need to find ways to protect your team. This need has existed for years, and it is why the Twins have had minimal success in the playoffs.

3. Time for Liriano

This young man is going to do great things for the Twins (and would have for the Giants, if they hadn't given him away), but like any young pitched, he needs time to develop. He's been knocked around in his first few starts, but his K/9 is over 12 and a half. When he's got his head together and learns how to exploit hitters, instead of just trying to blow them away, he'll be a force, but the organization needs to keep the media heat off him, and needs to make a splashy move that will let him stay out of the limelight and develop at his own pace. If they put too much pressure on his psyche, or his arm, he may turn into a never-was, and that would be a crime of monumental proportions.

The Bottom Line:

This Twins have a lot to do, not much to do it with, and have two teams to climb over to reach the pinnacle of the AL Central. But this is a team that knows how to win, sports a Cy Young winner and a Local-Boy-Done-Good who has been waiting for a chance to really shine. Brooks and Aho might disagree with me (although considering the performance of the '05 Twins, they might be happy just to see the Twins get close), but it's nice to see a three-sided race shaping up. With a smart move or two, like the one that brought Stewart from the Jays in '03, the Twins could be a force in the AL again.


Three Pieces: Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays enter the off-season with the look of a team on the rise. The Jays ownership has pledged to raise payroll from 50 million to 85 million, giving baseball fans North of the Border their first good news since about 1992. How should the Jays use their upcoming cash infusion? Is Canadian baseball really dead? Should Alan Thicke or Michael J Fox take over announcing?

1. Middle-of-the-order Slugger

The Jays offense is competent, but unfortunately for the Jays, competent isn’t going to cut it in the AL East. Vernon Wells has continued to put up some good numbers without anyone noticing, (.269/.320./.463 28 HR 97 RBI) and while Shea Hillenbrand is solid enough as a supporting player in the offense, he is not nearly good enough to protect Wells in the lineup. Alex Rios has shown some promise, but shouldn’t be counted on to carry the club. I’m not going to waste my mind speculating too much about trades, especially since the Jays can’t afford to spare either hitting or pitching (on the Major League level anyway) if they want to compete in the toughest division in baseball. But I think it might worthwhile to take a quick look at some of the bats currently on the market.

Mike Piazza (Mets, C) : He’s old. His skills behind the plate… let’s just say he’s still the Mike Piazza we all know and love. He might be a good short term signing if he’s willing to play DH. However, Jays fans would be well advised to remember that this is not Piazza Circa 1999. He hasn’t hit more than thirty homers since 2002 and his OBP has been on the decline each of the past three years. In summary he’s a good guy to take a flyer on, but only at the right price.

Paul Konerko (White Sox, 1st Base) : After this postseason the word is that Konerko will be commanding up to 15 million a year on the free agent market. He’s a good bat to have, but I suspect that his numbers are bit inflated due to US Cellular Field (considering he slugs almost 100 points better there). Not worth it, unless the Jays have even more money to spend than I think.

Todd Walker (Cubs, 2nd Base) : With indications that the Jays want to move Orlando Hudson Walker might be a good offensive boost to the middle infield, but he’s not the answer the Jays are looking for.

Not a promising bunch. Although this is by no means an exhaustive look at the market, it is a representative one. The rest of the free agent crop either play positions the Jays have locked up or seem to be out of their league in terms of money.

2. A Solid Number 2 Starter

All of the online media outlets are a-buzz with the news that free agent pitcher AJ Burnett had a steak dinner with Roy Halladay and former Marlins (now Blue Jays) pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. The Jays seem very intent in adding another ace quality pitcher to the staff. Although the Toronto Staff certainly looks far better with the addition of Burnett, I would warn Blue Jays fans not to get too optimistic about him. The recent track record of inconsistant NL pitchers with great stuff leaves much to be desired (see Clement, Matt; Wright, Jeret). Still, no one better appears to be on the market right now. The bottom line is Burnett might help, but no one should expect him to be the team's savior. The Jays might be better off either looking at the trade market or signing another solid arm along with Burnett (Jerrod Washburn for example).

3. Saving Canadian Baseball

Back in the early 1990’s the Jays were drawing more than four million fans a year. With a competitive Expos team and a World Champion Blue Jays organization baseball looked to be in excellent shape in Canada. The 1994 strike hit the Expos the hardest, but it devastated the Jays as well. The Blue Jays went from being on pace for another year exceeding four million fans to about 2.8 million in 1995. Without a quality product on the field, interest in baseball waned. The Jays did have a modest increase in attendance last year, but they need a playoff appearance to begin to reignite Canadian passion for baseball. The Jays need to produce, and quickly.

The Bottom Line:

As much as I would like to somebody win the AL East aside from the Yankees or Red Sox, I’m not convinced the Jays have enough talent available either from within or from the free agent market to do it. But hey, I thought the White Sox were going to collapse down the stretch.


Silent Vindication

Banned substances include steroids, steroid precursors, designer steroids, masking agents and diuretics. There will be one unannounced mandatory test of each player during the season. In addition, there will be testing of randomly selected players, with no maximum number. And there will be random testing during the offseason. The penalties for a positive result are, first positive, 10 days; second, 30 days; third, 60 days; fourth, one year, and all without pay.

I've posted this summary of the MLB steroid policy so that no one who read this can mistake the implications it carries. This means:

1) Giambi made his comeback this season with the aid of any banned substances, avoiding an embarrasing (and possibly career ending) demotion to the minors. It was not a spectacular return to form, but it puts him in a good position to improve next year.

2) Barry Bonds was clean this season, which doesn't mean as much since he spent most of it on the DL, but he still performed very well over the last two weeks of the season (.286/.404/.667), and there was no question that he still had his homerun swing and dominating eye (although both were a bit rusty). Many steroids also take months, even up to a year and a half to be totoally out of the body. If you question Bond's skill this season, go back and look at the homerun he hit at RFK. Moreover, his homerun rate projected over 140 games, which may be as much as he's able to play, puts him at 50 for the season. Not too shabby for a man who'll turn 42.

From this point on, I've run out of good things to say about steroids this season. Here's the list, current as of today, of the 12 major league players who've tested positive.

  • 11/2 Matt Lawton, OF Yankees

  • 10/18 Felix Heredia, LHP Mets

  • 10/4 Carlos Almanzar, RHP Rangers

  • 9/7 Michael Morse, SS Mariners

  • 8/2 Ryan Franklin, P Mariners

  • 8/1 Rafael Palmiero, 1B Orioles

  • 6/8 Rafael Betancourt, P Indians

  • 5/2 Juan Rincon, P Twins

  • 4/26 Jamal Strong, OF Mariners

  • 4/20 Agustin Montero, P Rangers

  • 4/11 Jorge Piedra, OF Rockies

  • 4/4 Alex Sanchez, OF Devil Rays

I'll admit that there are a few on the list, Alamnzar, Franklin, and a name or two in April, that I didn't know about until now. But these names make a couple of things very clear:

1) MLB badly needs a list of approved supplements, vitamins, and other treatments that players can use, instead of guessing if their product is on the list. This was the argument Twins pitcher Juan Rincon used (which is entirely believable). Also, this eliminates the supplement argument for a false positive test.

2) Contrary to popular wisdom before the testing regimen was put into place, there are almost as many pitchers on the list as hitters. This has been commented on before, but it is quite possible many of the fireballing relievers we've seen in the last decade were juiced.

3) Baseball's recent retirees and aging sluggers have all been put in an incredibly awkward situation by Rafael Palmiero's hysterics, both before Congress, and after his positive test, which was for Stanozolol, discussed briefly here in a Hardball Times article, and at greater length here. By the way

The only legitimate therapeutic indications for anabolic steroids are:

(a) replacement of male sex steroids in men who have androgen deficiency, for example as a result of loss of both testes

(b) the treatment of certain rare forms of aplastic anaemia which are or may be responsive to anabolic androgens.
(ABPI Data Sheet Compendium, 1993)

(c) the drugs have been used in certain countries to counteract catabolic states, for example after major trauma.

How can anyone who has alligned with Palmiero at any point come out looking as clean as they did before?

4) Did the Devil Rays really need the dubious honor of having the first positive test? This proves that there is no comsmic justice in the baseball universe.

Still, I started this on a positive note, and I'll try to end on one. After all the wonderful stories this year, the Astros and White Sox making it to the World Series, Derrek Lee flirting with .400 and a Tripple Crown, Pujols emergence (from Barry's shadow) at the "best hitter in baseball", the Braves Young Studs, the Nationals making a run at the division their first year in DC (much to the chagrin of Peter Angelos), and, yes Barry returning from injury to see if he could break a few more records, after all these stories, notice that none of them are tainted with steroids, and, for once, we know this to be a certianty.


All that glitters ...

It's bad enough that the Yankees think they need a new stadium so that they can increase luxury box receipts, but this is truly an abomination unto baseball gods.

He could already get any woman (or man) in New York City. He is (for better or worse) the face of baseball. Did Derek Jeter really need another Gold Glove? Or, more to the point, did he deserve another one (because he sure as shooting didn't deserve the first one)? His range is limited, his arm is adequate, and his only real asset as a fielder is making flashy plays. Sure, he's got hustle, but when Orlando Cabrera has a FP 11 points higher, I think we need to re-investigate who we're giving these things to.

All the others, listed here are reasonable. But to give Jeter a second Gold Glove is to be blinded by his reputation, and the mystique of the Yankees. To be totally honest, I think that A-Rod was more deserving than Jeter, given that it's only his second year at a more demanding position.

I'll have to be satisfied that they didn't try to give one to Bernie Williams or Jason Giambi.


The Black and White Sox

Living in Minnesota and developing an affinity has undoubtedly colored my view of baseball and, in particular, of the AL Central. The same is true to an even larger degree of fellow bloggers Aho and Brooks, who have lived here all their lives. Our view, all season, was that the White Sox' record was a fluke, that their obscene record in one run games was a sign of extreme vulnerability, and that the stunningly rapid evolution of their pitching staff had to be an anomaly, and one that would eventually have to reconcile itself with reality as we saw it. We thought that 'smart ball' was a dumb idea, that AJ Pierzynski was clubhouse cancer, and that Ozzie Guillen was completely out of his mind.

I still believe the last one.

However, if I'd been less partial, both to my own prejudices about teams and to the opinions of the media, I might have developed a more complete picture of this team. If you look at the moves made by the White Sox, you couldn't blame me for having a negative view. They traded Carlos Lee, who went .303 / .366 / .525 had 99 RBI and 103 scored runs. This season, the Sox only had two regulars who slugged over .500 (Konerko and Dye), and the man they traded for didn't even slug over .350. No, Podsednik's most impressive stat was his stolen bases, 59. Still, it's important to note that all that added speed on the bases scored significantly fewer runs, 80, and Podsednik only drove in 25 runs (albeit from the leadoff spot). Podsednik is about seven million dollars cheaper, and, yes, seven million dollars can buy quite a lot in the MLB labor market (if spent by anyone other than Brian Cashman).

The Sox spent a bit more wisely than the Yankees. They got Politte for 0.8 million, locked up Garland for another year for 2.5, El Duque for 3.5 and Jermaine Dye for 4 million. While this is a few million more than the difference between Podsednik's and Lee's salary, I think it gives a good idea of what a few million can do for a ballclub. The trade for Garcia left them with a large 8 million dollar a year salary to cover, but the release of Magglio Ordonzez (who had a 2005 salary of 7.2 million, and a 2004 salary of 14 million) made it easier to take that on. In a tight closer market, they signed Dustin Hermanson for 2 million. And who could forget Anthony John Pierzynski, at 2.25.

When you add all of this to what the Sox had, you see a solid rotation, and an offense geared towards contact hitting. The rotation had two distinct types of pitchers.

First, Garcia and Hernandez represented the veterans that other clubs had given up for dead. In the Garcia trade, the Sox gave up a young catcher (Miguel Olivo) who hit below the Mendoza line with Seattle, a minor league outfielder better known for his steroid violations than anything he's done on the field (Michael Morse), and Jeremy Reed a "top prospect" who hasn't done much in his first two years, and would have been crowded out of the outfield in Chicago. So while Garcia actually pitched substantially worse than he did in 2004 with the Mariners, (3.20 vs 4.61 ERA) he came over without too much risk, and there are those (myself included) who feel that a veteran presence can help young players blossom. I think the real reason that the Sox like Garcia is his record, 23 and 12 since he's come over. You see a lot of the same trends with Hernandez and Contreras, who've had their best years with other teams and had good records with the White Sox, although Contreras had his best season in 2005 since his debut with the Yankees. Hernandez had a dismal year, with a 5.12 ERA and .275 BAA, but still was 9 and 9. Both made significant

Garland and Buehrle were the real stars of the rotation, combining for 30 wins and nearly 300 strikeouts. This second type I'll call the young stud. Both of there pitchers improved substantially over their career numbers, which is entirely possible for young players to do.

This team was carefully balanced, and it's important to note that the Red, Athletics, even the lowly Devil Rays scored more runs this season. If you take a look at league BAA by team, you see that the Sox are very close to the top (.249), trailing the Indians (.246), Astros (.247) and Athletics at .241 to lead the league. Just a note to all you White Sox fans, fifth on the list at .250; the Cubs. The same four teams are also the tops in .OPS given up. Now the Pythagorean Win-Loss formula predicts a win total of only 92, so their record in one run games (which most analysts of a Sabermetric bent would call 'luck') really does come into play.

I guess my real point at the end of this article is about the true merits and deficits of the White Sox, the true picture, independent of the prejudices of years past. The truth is, AJ didn't poison the club house. The truth is the Yankee castoffs didn't blow out and revert to 6-plus ERAs. The truth is that they scored just enough runs to win without Magglio and Carlos Lee. The truth is they won the World Series, and they clearly were talented (and lucky, and luck always plays a part in championship runs) enough to do so handily. I can't say that I wish them luck next season, but I don't think I'll be rooting against them quite as hard as I used to, at least not until I have to hear about the 'brilliance' of Ozzie Guillen, which is the only real achilies heel of the team.

It's been a wonderful season, and we at the Confines are going to get back into the habit of regular articles, including a running series profiling the dire needs of every team in the majors. And to the fans of the 31 other teams out there ...

There's always next year.