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Jays and Rays Go ‘All In’ for 2013

By Scoresheet_Tom | November 26th, 2012

The Tampa Bay Rays have been contenders in the tough AL East since 2008, thanks to a wealth of young, inexpensive (by MLB standards) talent and a manager that knows how to push all the right buttons. This week they opened their wallets by extending stating third baseman Evan Longoria’s contract through 2023 for $100 million. It was a deal that had to be done if the Rays expect to remain competitive. Several other significant pieces will need a bump in pay in the years to come, but none is more important than Longoria.

The deal doesn’t come without risk, however, as Anthony Castrovince noted in his MLB.com article:

Risk? Oh yes, there’s considerable risk whenever a club with the kind of financial limitations the Rays endure promises this much money to a single player. Especially when so much of that player’s value is tied to his defense. And especially when you remember the player appeared in just 74 games this season and — in a bit of news buried in the press release announcing the signing — just had surgery performed on his hamstring.

Perhaps the recent injury issues made the thought of some added stability and security all the more appealing to Longoria, who has said all along that he’d be foolish to complain about the wealth he’s already accrued. There was a time, remember, when Grady Sizemore played on what was considered the most club-friendly contract in the sport: a six-year, $23.45 million deal he signed after his first full season. By the end of it, the contract was decidedly player-friendly, as Sizemore struggled to take the field due to an array of injuries.

Another AL East team went even further in the commitment department before the annual winter meetings even started.

The Blue Jays aren’t backing down from the challenge of going toe-to-toe with the biggest money spenders in the AL, the Yankees and Red Sox, teams that just happen to be in their own division. Israel Fehr, a blogger for the Fan Fuel website, put it this way:

In the span of a week, (GM Alex) Anthopoulos executed a 12 player blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins, signed outfielder Melky Cabrera to a two-year $16 million deal, and brought back John Gibbons to serve as the manager.

The hype machine for the 2013 season is in full force, but while it’s hard to envision now when revisiting the smoldering remains of the 2012 season, a similar optimism swirled around the Blue Jays entering Opening Day last season.

Of course, had the Blue Jays been watching how the Marlins, Dodgers, Red Sox and a few other teams that backed up the Brinks truck have fared, they may have opted for something closer to the plan Tampa Bay has perfected – be competitive, not crazy.

Keeping up with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox in the money spending department is a very risky proposition. Perhaps studying how the 2012 Orioles did things would have been a wiser approach for the Jays’ brass?

We shall see in 2013…and beyond.

NFL top rookies off to varying starts

By Scoresheet_Tom | October 8th, 2012

If you drafted RB Trent Richardson early in your fantasy draft, you might be a bit frustrated at this point. While he has certainly been far from a flop, the highly touted back is “only” averaging 60 yards per game on the ground. Still, he has found the end zone five times. The problem thus far is more that the Browns, a team with low expectations for this season (and so far they are 0-5), are relying on the pass more than Richardson owners would like. Another rookie, QB Brandon Weeden, is averaging 40 passes per game since the team is often in catch up mode very early. And it isn’t really working – 9 INTs and 5 TDs so far – so why not feed the running back more?

On the flip side, owners of both top QB picks are probably quite happy. The Redskins’ Robert Griffin III has made the Skins competitive and used his legs and arm to put points on the board for fantasy owners. Of course, what many feared did happen in week 5 as Griffin took a hard hit while trying to run outside and suffered a mild concussion. He’s not as big as Cam Newton, last season’s Rookie of the Year, so when RG3 takes a hit, he feels it. Hopefully he’ll make better decisions and avoid those collisions going forward. Right now he’s been solid with 4 TDs on the ground and 4 through the air so hard for any fantasy owner to complain.

Andrew Luck has led the Colts to a 2-2 start, which could very well be 3-1 were it not for a defensive gaffe that allowed the Jags to pull out a last minute win at Indy in week 3. Not bad considering the Colts were 2-14 in 2011. Luck got some payback with a thrilling drive for a TD to defeat the Green Bay Packers in week 5. So far he’s averaging 300 yards passing per game and has thrown 7 TD passes. That may not rate with the elite QBs in fantasy football but he’s certainly on his way to that level.

 

The case for Bob Melvin for Manager of the Year

By Scoresheet_Tom | October 2nd, 2012

No disrespect to Buck Showalter, who has done an amazing job with the playoff-bound Baltimore Orioles, but the A’s Bob Melvin deserves to win AL Manager of the Year honors.

Anyone who witnessed what the A’s were dealt over the last month alone should understand why Melvin is the choice:

  • The loss of 3 starting pitchers (Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy, and Brett Anderson) right when the A’s were heading into the toughest stretch of the season. That meant all five starters were rookies as the A’s embarked on a brutal 10-game road trip against some of the top offenses in baseball – the Tigers, Yankees and Rangers.
  • Coco Crisp, perhaps the key to the A’s offense, missed all but the first few innings of the opening game of that road trip with a bizarre eye infection.
  • Zero days off for the final 16 games of the season. That meant the team’s bullpen – again dominated by rookies – would be severely taxed just a few games into that long road trip.
  • The A’s season was on the brink following a devastating 14-inning loss to the Yankees on September 22nd. After Oakland grabbed a four-run lead in the 13th, the backend of the bullpen was forced into the game to finish things off. Rookie Pedro Figueroa and “veteran” Pat Neshek were not up to the task, giving up the lead and eventually the game when Tyson Ross gave up the game-winner in the 14th. Surely the A’s would not recover from this, right? Nope. They bounced back the next day with a thrilling 5-4 win before heading out to Texas.

Bob Melvin does not let this team stop believing in themselves. It’s as simple as that.

Casey Pratt of Comcast Sports California might have said it best when describing this year’s team:

It’s hard to picture the green and gold legends of yesteryear like Reggie Jackson or Catfish Hunter, or even Rickey Henderson, and Dennis Eckersley doing a synchronized dance in the middle of the clubhouse amid a rain shower of bubbly alcohol. That’s what happened on Monday in Oakland as Bernie Lean blasted from the clubhouse speakers. But these aren’t the A’s of the past. These are a manager pie-ing, Spider-man costume-wearing, walk-off celebrating, group of outcasts that nobody saw coming.

Heading into the 2012 season,  the A’s had been overhauled. Clearly, they were building for the future. All Star pitchers Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez were traded for prospects. Their lone legit power hitter, Josh Willingham, opted for Minnesota via free agency. Closer Andrew Bailey, along with outfielder Ryan Sweeney, were sent to the Red Sox for some rookie named Josh Reddick.

The A’s picked up a couple of value priced bats in Jonny Gomes and Seth Smith in the off season, then went against their normal way of doing business by making a big commitment to Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, signing him to a four-year, $36 million deal. But still, in a division that featured the two-time defending AL champs and Albert Pujols’ arrival in Anaheim, the A’s clearly were not ready to compete.

Or so everybody thought.

More from Casey Pratt to describe the lunacy that is the 2012 A’s:

The A’s are full of incredible stories. Take Jarrod Parker, the winning pitcher on Monday night for example. He has won a career-high four consecutive starts, is 3-0 against the Rangers, and wasn’t even in the opening day starting rotation. His 13th win ties him with fellow rookie pitcher Tommy Milone for the most wins in Oakland history by a rookie.

Sean Doolittle, who pitched the scoreless seventh inning, was a first baseman at this time last year. First baseman Brandon Moss, who drove in the go-ahead run on Monday, was a journeyman outfielder that was called up on June 6.

This is better than Moneyball. These guys were buried under 50 tons of crap on the island of misfit toys that the 2002 squad came from.

The A’s were projected by most publications to lose close to 100 games. Sports Illustrated had them  finishing a distant third, 29 games out of first.

Going into game 161, they are one game behind division leading Texas.

There you have it. Just some of the case for Bob Melvin for AL Manager of the Year.

Here’s pie in your face…

Cards dealt a good hand with closing schedule

By Scoresheet_Tom | September 25th, 2012

In 2011 the St. Louis Cardinals squeezed into the post season by the narrowest of margins, then went on an unprecedented run with clutch performances from numerous players along  the way. The end result was a World Series title in Tony LaRussa’s final season as manager.

In 2012, it should be easier for the Cards to at least make the playoffs. First, this is first season that uses two wild cards in both the AL and NL. As it turns out, that’s the Cards’ only hope. Second, the Cards play 9 of their final 15 games against the woeful Houston Astros and nearly as bad Chicago Cubs. While they close out with division winners in the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, chances are good they will only need to win a game or two of those contests to clinch by that point.

All of this spells doom for the Los Angeles Dodgers. LA committed lavishly to big name players at and shortly after the trading deadline, picking up Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez, among others. The hope was to catch the San Francisco Giants for the NL West title. That proved to be fruitless as the Giants played even better after their own star, Melky Cabrera, was suspended for the remainder of the regular season for taking steroids while the new faces did nothing to boost the Dodgers’ play. Now they find themselves 3 games behind St. Louis in the all important loss column (and currently tied with the Brewers) with only 9 games to go. The Dodgers play three each against San Diego, Colorado and San Francisco to finish the season. A 6-3 mark would seem like just about a best case scenario. That means St. Louis could go 4-5 and still keep the Dodgers out.

It should be interesting to see what transpires. LA manager Don Mattingly has to be feeling the heat from the new ownership group, which no doubt thought they had virtually assured a playoff run given their wheeling and dealing.

If the Dodgers don’t show signs of life and make a serious charge in the closing days of the season, Mattingly could be shown the door before 2013 rolls around.

Pirates fading again – futility streak may continue

By Scoresheet_Tom | September 20th, 2012

Last year the Pirates surprised the baseball world and teased their fans by playing solid baseball through the first 100 games – tied for first in the NL Central with a 53-47 record. But then reality hit, and it hit hard. The Pirates lost 16 of their next 19 and eventually faded to 72-90 to finish their season. That made it 19 consecutive seasons finishing under .500 for the once proud franchise.

Now in 2012 the team has taken the tease even further. The Pirates were a seemingly solid 63-47 after defeating Arizona on August 8th. They were in the thick of the playoff race, qualifying for the second wild card spot at the time. More importantly, it seemed their 19 year run of futility would surely come to an end. After all, just 18 wins in their final 52 games would guarantee at least an 81-81 mark.

But no. These are the Pirates after all.

When the Chicago Cubs, one of baseball’s worst teams, marched into Pittsburgh and swept the Pirates in a three-game series in the first week of September, the collapse was officially on. The Pirates would lose 7 in a row, dropping three in Cincinnati after the Cub debacle and losing the opener in Chicago.

As of this writing the Pirates have dropped 14 of 18, nearly identical to their 3-16 stretch in 2011, and sit at 74-74.

Dreams of a playoff appearance are essentially over. Ending a two decade run of futility buy finishing at least at .500? That remains to be seen. But as any Pirate fan knows, the odds aren’t good.