Thursday, January 31, 2008

Beast of the East

The New York Mets won the Johan Santana sweepstakes with a package of prospects for the former Cy Young award winner. They have until tomorrow to finalize a contract extension that would bring Santana to New York. It's an amazing coup for Omar Minaya the Mets GM and Mets fans, who had to suffer through a historic collapse of their team down the stretch last season. In fact in Vegas, the Mets are now the second betting favorite to win the World Series.

There are many who are saying that the Twins GM overplayed his hand and ended up with less than he could have gotten originally from the Red Sox or Yankees. On the surface that cerainly appears to be true. Both the Red Sox and Yankees were offering players who are major league ready and are projected to have higher ceilings that any of the players that the Twins eventually got from the Mets. Of course we have seen many "can't miss" prospects who have failed to live up to their billing and many others with less than stellar minor league careers become stars on the big league level. For instance both Robinson Cano and Chien Ming Wang were offered to Arizona in the Randy Johnson deal but they passed on both of them. It is almost impossible to predict how a players career will end up based on their minor league careers. The Mets had a trio of young minor league pitchers in the nineties (Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson) that were supposed to be the cornerstone of their franchise for the next decade. However, all three ended up with major injuries to their pitching arms and only one (Jason Isringhauser) has become a good major leaguer albeit in a different role than anticipated and for a different team.

The Yankees and Red Sox eventually both pulled back their best offers after the Twins GM kept on asking for more. In truth, I don't think that the Red Sox were really that interested in acquiring Santana. They were mostly interested in making sure that the Yankees didn't get him or in driving up the price that the Yankeees would have to pay. Once the Yankees pulled their offer, I think the Red Sox lost interest in making a deal. That left the Mets as practically the only game in town. Santana is in the last year of his contract and the team that traded for him would have to be willing to make him an offer in excess of $20 million a year for 6 or 7 years. That limited the number of teams that the Twins could talk to. The Oakland A's got a better package from the Diamondbacks when they traded Dan Haren earlier this offseason mainly because he isn't eligible for free agency for another three years. In the end the Twins management clearly decided that they had to make the deal before spring training to avoid a media circus. The problem was that once they finally came to that decision, the only firm offer left on the table was from the Mets.

With this trade, the Mets now set themselves up as not only the best team in the eastern division, but perhaps the best team in the National League. The Phillies big move in the offseason was to add the mercurial closer Brad Lidge. The Braves added the ancient Tom Glavine to their pitching staff. The Cubs added an unknown quanitity in picking up an outfielder from Japan. The Diamondbacks with the addition of Dan Haren are the only team that can claim to have improved their pitching staff as much as the Mets have. The Mets rotation, which returns two young 15 game winners, a supposedly healed Pedro Martinez and the ageless wonder El Duque can now stake a claim to being the leagues best and deepest rotation. This trade also helps the Mets in their neverending battle with their crosstown rivals for the back pages of the NY tabloids.

On it's face, this trade appears to be a slam dunk win for the Mets and Omar Minaya. It's the kind of bold move that will help the fans forget the dissappointment of blowing a 7 game lead in the final weeks of last season. Like all other fans they can now look toward spring training with a feeling of renewed hope. Unlike the fans of most teams however, they do have more of a reason to think that 2008 will be their year.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Winter Doldrums

I have to apologize to anyone who is a regular reader of this blog. I have been sadly under performing for the past couple of months. Unfortunately we are in the middle of what I not so lovingly refer to as the DEAD ZONE! We have a couple of months before the baseball season starts and the NCAA Tournament doesn't begin until March, the Football season is in their annual two weak hiatus before ending for the year and really does anyone care about the NBA or the NHL until the playoffs begin?

I have been searching for topics to write about, but I haven't really been able to come up with much. I could write about the big off season trades that have taken place, but there really haven't been any with huge pennant race implications. The free agent market was pretty lackluster this year, so I haven't really had much to talk about their either. I almost feel as if I've run out of good topics to write about.

Of course I usually feel this way at this time of year. Thankfully Valentine's Day is only a couple of weeks away. And, no, I'm not feeling particularly romantic this year, but February 14th only means one thing (and I'm not talking about once again letting down your wife or girlfriend with some crappy candy or cheesy flower arrangement); I am, of course referring to that wonderful day that will once again bring a ray of sunshine into our otherwise dull and dreary lives; Pitchers and Catchers will be reporting to spring training! Our thoughts will once again turn to spring and summer days and the endless possibilities of the season ahead. Every team is a contender and every player is a possible all-star. It is perhaps the most hopeful of seasons (I'm referring to Spring Training as a season, which is really funny since it starts in the middle of Winter) when everything is possible and the world looks a little brighter.

I'm certain that my entries will pick up again in February. Until then, keep the faith and just keep saying to yourself, "It just doesn't matter, it just doesn't matter" (by the way, I promise a personal mention in my next blog to the first person to correctly name the movie referred to in the quote. See you soon and keep fighting the good fight.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Long Overdue

In my first post of the year (long overdue), I'm thrilled to be able to do something that I should have been able to do years ago and that is congratulate Rich "Goose" Gossage on his election to the hall of fame (long overdue). In a column last January about the Hall of Fame vote, I mentioned that I hoped that I would be able to write a congratulatory note to Goose this year and thankfully the voters finally got it right.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again, Goose was the best closer that I have ever seen; Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman not withstanding. Gossage now ranks 17th on the all time saves list as the modern closer has been reduced to a one inning pitcher. I would dare say that if Gossage had been used that way, he would be quite a bit higher on the list. He ranks third all time in saves of 2 or more innings. In the famous playoff game against the Red Sox in '78, he came into the game with one out in the seventh inning. Can you imagine a manager today asking his closer to get eight outs to end a game? I was actually watching that game and certainly don't remember thinking that I would have rather that Billy martin bring in the set up guy and save Gossage for the 9th inning. The game was on the line and Billy put in the best pitcher that he had in the bullpen.

Rich Gossage was named on 86% of the ballots this year which was an double digit increase from last year. I always wonder what the voters who just decided that they would vote for him this year were thinking in previous years. Did he somehow get better overnight? Did he go out and pitch a few more games? If he's a Hall of famer this year, then he was a hall of famer last year. There has always been a barrier to relievers getting into the hall, but I believe that now they have corrected one of their greatest injustices. There are now five pitchers who spent the majority of their careers as relievers who have been inducted into the hall of fame, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter and Goose. I'm assuming that Mariano and Hoffman will join them someday in the not too distant future.

So once again, I say congratulations, Goose. You've had to wait far too long. I'll always remember a summer day at the stadium when you came into a game in the 9th inning with the bases loaded and struck out the side on 11 pitches. Pure power pitching at it's best. Thanks for the memories and the saves. I hope you enjoy induction ceremony in Cooperstown this summer, even if is long overdue.