The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: November 8-14, 2010
What's Not Fitting Like a Gold Glove Who Should Win the MVP, Cy, et al...
Seattle Loses a Local Legend A Trade Deficit For the Florida Marlins

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Holes in the Gold Gloves?
The awarding of the Gold Gloves to the majors’ best defensive players doesn’t generate as much attention and/or controversy as the MVP and Cy Young honors being handed out this week, but this past week’s winners did prompt some eyebrows to rise. Derek Jeter won his fifth Gold Glove among AL shortstops, and although he committed few errors on the year and continued to show tremendous grace at his position, hardcore Sabrmaticians slammed the honor by pointing out that Jeter lacked serious range on fielding plays many of his colleagues would have had no problem with. Over in the NL, the biggest criticism was afforded to Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who copped his first Gold Glove even though pundits wondered aloud as to why. ESPN’s stat blog put it simply: “We can’t find a stat that justifies (Gonzalez’s) selection.”

Among the more positive spin to come out of the Gold Gloves was the rewarding of two Seattle outfielders—Franklin Gutierrez, with his first, and Ichiro Suzuki, with his tenth in ten years—who gave the Mariners something to smile about in the aftermath of a dismal year. And the NL was led by three Cincinnati players (second baseman Brandon Phillips, pitcher Bronson Arroyo and third baseman Scott Rolen, in a comeback effort); outfielder Jay Bruce could have and probably should have been a fourth honoree for the Reds. Of course, the question arises: Where was that stellar Cincinnati defense against Philadelphia in the NLDS?

Jon and Joe Get the Heave-Ho
ESPN will not be bringing back Sunday Night Baseball announcers Jon Miller and Joe Morgan after their contracts expired at the end of the 2010 season. The two have been in the booth for ESPN since the network first began televising MLB games on Sundays back in 1989; they also were paired up for ESPN Radio during the postseason when other networks had TV rights.

Morgan, who recently signed on in an advisory role for the Cincinnati Reds, said he was not surprised by the move, given that ESPN had been tinkering with the broadcast team by adding on a second analyst, former pitcher Orel Hershiser. Miller, who joined the Hall of Fame’s broadcaster wing last year, may continue doing Sunday nights for ESPN on radio, but he still has his day job with the San Francisco Giants.

Death of a Northwest Icon
It was a lousy year for the Seattle Mariners on the field, and it became lousy off it as well with the news this past week that Dave Niehaus, who performed play-by-play duties for the team since its very first game back in 1977, passed away from a heart attack at the age of 75. Niehaus was wildly popular in Seattle—the “one thing the Mariners got right,” according to Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Art Thiel—and when Safeco Field opened up in 1999, the esteemed honor of throwing out the first pitch was handed not to an owner or politician or Ken Griffey Jr., but to Niehaus. He was said to be the man to coin the nickname A-Rod upon Alex Rodriguez (who began his career in Seattle) and was best known for the phrase, “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma, it’s grand salami time!” whenever a Mariner connected for a grand slam. Former Mariner slugger Jay Buhner, who said that Niehaus “could call a sunset,” said he cried when he heard the news.

Nothing For Something, Ultimately
Following the 2007 season, the Florida Marlins traded away their two biggest stars—slugger Miguel Cabrera and ace pitcher Dontrelle Willis—to the Detroit Tigers for five unknowns including two hot prospects: Center fielder Cameron Maybin and pitcher Andrew Miller. It was business as usual for the penny-pinching Marlins: Keep payroll next to nothing by trading players on the brink of big-salary eligibility in exchange for those who couldn’t command more than the minimum wage, hoping they would grow and contribute until they became too pricey to keep as well. Sometimes it works: In 2005, the Marlins netted a then-unknown shortstop named Hanley Ramirez from Boston as part of a six-player deal that sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Red Sox.

But sometimes it doesn’t work. This past week, the Marlins sent away, in separate trades, Maybin and Miller—the two players representing the cornerstone of the deal that sent Cabrera and Willis to Detroit. Maybin showed fleeting moments of flashy play but was horribly inconsistent at the plate (except for an abundance of strikeouts). Miller was an even bigger disappointment, producing just ten wins (against 20 losses) in three years at Florida with a 5.89 ERA; he was especially bad at the end of 2010, losing his final five starts with a 12.74 ERA.

The departures of Maybin and Miller leave the Marlins with only one player left from the Cabrera-Willis blockbuster: Pitcher Burke Badenhop, a serviceable right-handed reliever. As for the Tigers, Cabrera is awaiting a possible AL MVP this week, while Willis’ career has down-spiraled from a sudden inability to control his pitches (he’s currently buried in the San Francisco organization).

Baseball's Busch Move
Anheuser Busch, makers of Budweiser beer, has had a long-lasting partnership with MLB—and practically has been joined at the hip with the St. Louis Cardinals over the last 60 years with ownership over much of that time by the Busch family itself. But the relationship with MLB became strained this past week when Busch filed a lawsuit citing a breach of contract. It seems that the two parties agreed on a deal that would continue Busch’s sponsorship rights in MLB, but after Busch signed a similar deal with the National Football League—we assume, for a bit more money—MLB got jealous and told Busch that the deal had to be renegotiated and demanded “exponentially higher” fees, according to the suit, because of a “change in marketplace dynamics.” A MLB spokesman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that baseball “has a different view of what has been reported.” So if this ever hits Court TV, sit back and have yourself an ice cold Bud.

What's Old is New is Old Again...
Sooner or later, you figured this was going to happen: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the beautiful Baltimore ballpark that sparked the retro movement in 1992 by being constructed to look old, is now officially old. No, the Orioles aren’t threatening to leave town unless a new ballpark is built, but rather the team is performing a moderate upgrade to Camden Yards that include wider seats, newly-added “party suites” and viewing platforms that will allow people to eat, drink and watch from bar stools and bistro tables—all features prominent at newer ballparks. The remodel will eliminate nearly a third of Camden Yards’ luxury boxes (many unused of late) and reduce seating from 48,290 to 45,971—not that this will be a problem, given that the Orioles are struggling to draw even half of that these days.

What's New is New Again...
The Minnesota Twins are also upgrading Target Field, which may seem a bit odd since it just opened a year ago. But the fixes, worth around $5 million, are more related to corrections than makeovers, including a new hi-def scoreboard in right field primarily for those seated in left field who’ll no longer have to turn their heads 180 degrees to get information.

The improvements do not include bringing in the fences, which left Twin slugger Justin Morneau publicly upset as he yapped about the lack of such a move as very disappointing; Target Field yielded the fewest homers in the majors this season—yes, even fewer than San Diego’s Petco Park. Morneau’s beef seems to reflect the notion that hitters have the thinner skin these days—after all, when’s the last time you heard a pitcher bitch to have the fences moved out? (Of course, to do that, you’d probably have to remove seats, which eliminates revenue—and baseball would never, ever allow that to happen…)

...And What's Old May Just Stay Old
Finally, there’s Wrigley Field, the second oldest ballpark in the majors (after Boston’s Fenway Park), where the Chicago Cubs are now asking the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to ante up to $300 million for improvements. It’s understandable that the Cubs are attempting to lean on public financing to fix Wrigley, since it’s protected as a historic landmark and the team can’t exactly do what it pleases even with private money (as we discussed last week with the Cubs’ effort to finally erect a large video scoreboard). But even as the Cubs claim that their request will not lead to higher taxes or stress a state budget already $15 billion in the hole, you just can’t produce $300 million out of thin air; somebody and/or something will feel a loss elsewhere.

Curiously, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority is run by former state governor Jim Thompson, who notoriously helped the White Sox get public approval for New Comiskey Park (now U.S. Cellular Field) in 1988 when he literally stopped the clock in the state legislature and allowed the ballpark to be approved short of a midnight deadline—although it really was past midnight. Who knows; if the Illinois politicos can stop time, maybe they can produce $300 million out of thin air after all….

Tell the Band to Stop Playing On
World Series MVP Edgar Renteria, recently released by the San Francisco Giants, declined an invitation to be fêted in his Columbia hometown, requesting instead that money for the ceremony be used instead towards relief of those impacted by recent floods that have ravaged the region.

Auction of the Week
As Kirk Gibson’s bat used for his famed 1988 World Series home run fetched $575,912 in an online auction that ended on Saturday, news came out of Pittsburgh that 12 silver goblets given to Harvey Haddix shortly after the Pirate pitcher threw 12 perfect innings in a 1959 game would be auctioned online as well. Each goblet has a play-by-play of each of those 12 innings inscribed on it; there is, however, no goblet for Haddix’ unlucky 13th frame from that night against the Milwaukee Braves; Felix Mantilla ended the perfecto by reaching on a Dick Hoak error, Eddie Mathews sacrificed him to second, and Joe Adcock—after an intentional walk to Hank Aaron—homered to win the game, except that he passed Aaron between first and second and was declared out. Still, Mantilla’s run counted and what should have been baseball’s greatest pitching performance came to a bitter and bizarre end for Haddix.

Granite Slam
A Wrigley Field worker operating an equipment vehicle accidentally ran into the bronze sculpture of late broadcaster Harry Caray outside the ballpark’s gates and left a large crack in its base; you can almost hear the bronzed Caray shouting out, “Hey!” upon impact. The Cubs plan to patch it all up with new granite over the next month.

Shrine Fatigue
Detroit manager Jim Leyland was inducted into the Florida State League Hall of Fame this past week for his time piloting the Lakeland Tigers during the late 1970s. Your thought is probably the same as ours: The Florida State League Hall of Fame?

Now Playing at TGG
Check out the latest installment of They Were There, with TGG's Ed Attanasio chatting with former speed burner Maury Wills.

If TGG Picked the Postseason Awards
Baseball began the postseason awards process this past week by naming the Gold Glove awards for 2010, and continues this week with the more heavyweight honors such as MVP, Cy Young Award and the best rookies and managers. As always, TGG’s Ed Attanasio and Eric Gouldsberry reveal their choices below for who best deserves these honors from each league.

NL Most Valuable Player
Ed’s pick: Albert Pujols, St. Louis
Eric’s pick: Albert Pujols, St. Louis
This could end up being the tightest MVP vote we’ve seen in ages, with three players essentially neck-to-neck-to-neck. Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez had the best overall numbers, but his chances are bound to hurt because of the typical Rockie abyss between his numbers at hitter-friendly Coors Field (.380-26-76) and those on the road (.289-8-41). Cincinnati’s Joey Votto will also get worthy attention because he’s the only one of the three contenders to take his team to the playoffs. That leaves us with Pujols, who in our opinion remains the NL’s best, if even by a hair; his numbers (.312-42-118) likely would have been much better had he’d not been intentionally walked a league-high 38 times.

AL Most Valuable Player
Ed’s pick: Josh Hamilton, Texas
Eric’s pick: Josh Hamilton, Texas
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera was the league’s best pure hitter, but Hamilton meant more to the Rangers in terms of reaching the postseason. Hamilton is the first American Leaguer since Manny Ramirez in 2000 to hit over .350 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs.

NL Cy Young Award
Ed’s pick: Brian Wilson, San Francisco
Eric’s pick: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis
One thing agreed on: This award shouldn’t go to the guy likely to win it, Roy Halladay, who led the NL with 21 wins and authored a perfect game. What’s not agreed is who should win it instead. Ed feels so strongly about Wilson, the fiery, stunningly confident Giant closer, that he nearly pegged him for the NL MVP as well. Eric sides with the Cardinals’ Wainwright, who put up numbers comparable to Halladay, with one glaring stat not often publicized: The Cardinals averaged just 1.46 runs every time Wainwright started and did not win.

AL Cy Young Award
Ed’s pick: CC Sabathia, New York
Eric’s pick: Felix Hernandez, Seattle
Ed likes Sabathia, the 300-pound ace who ate up innings (among other things) and led the AL in wins. Eric’s bleeding-heart argument for Hernandez is that if you put him in pinstriped place of Sabathia, he wins more games with an ERA nearly a full run lower.

NL Rookie of the Year
Ed’s pick: Buster Posey, San Francisco
Eric’s pick: Buster Posey, San Francisco
Since the actual voting took place before the postseason, it’s a misnomer that Posey gets votes based on his October prominence. But while the early word was given to players like Atlanta’s Jason Heyward and Washington’s Stephen Strasburg, it became apparent by late summer that Posey was the most impressive guy out of a terrific NL rookie crop, hitting .300 with sound power while handling a sensational pitching staff behind the plate with ease. It’ll be curious to hear how many East coast voters admit to kicking themselves for not picking Posey.

AL Rookie of the Year
Ed’s pick: Austin Jackson, Detroit
Eric’s pick: Austin Jackson, Detroit
Texas closer Neftali Feliz may be the favorite, but he got a two-month headstart (late in 2009) on Jackson, a true rookie who shined from Opening Day after being sent to Detroit in what Ed calls one of the stupidest trades ever committed by the New York Yankees. Jackson hit .293, scored 103 runs, knocked out 34 doubles and ten triples, and stole 27 bases.

NL Manager of the Year
Ed’s pick: Bruce Bochy, San Francisco
Eric’s pick: Bruce Bochy, San Francisco
A rather easy choice, made easier given Bochy’s golden touch during the postseason, but we had said late in the regular season that whichever team won the NL West would rightly see its manager bestowed with this honor.

AL Manager of the Year
Ed’s pick: Ron Washington, Texas
Eric’s pick: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay
Washington will likely earn this honor based on the fact that his team came out of nowhere to win the AL West (and, eventually, the AL flag). So as Ed likes Wash, Eric spins toward Maddon—who led the Rays in a very tough AL East to produce the league’s best record and second divisional title in three years.

The TGG All-Free Agent Team For 2011, Part II
The end of play on the ballfield has segued to the beginning of play in the front offices and hotel lobbies as over 150 major leaguers are now free agents. The list of players is full of aging (read: 35 and over) veterans who would rather not be free agents, because it’s unlikely they’ll be signed (if at all) for a lower wage than before. But there are some diamonds in the rough that will have multiple teams salivating, and so below we give our annual choices (slightly updated from last week to account for belated movement) for the best players available at each position, with second choices in italics.

Catcher: Victor Martinez (John Buck)
While Martinez may not be the best defensive option among backstops, there’s no doubting his hitting talent. Buck, who nailed 20 homers for the Blue Jays this season, is a dark horse pick who could make for a nice bargain.

First Base: Adam Dunn (Paul Konerko)
If you’re a major league general manager hurting for a first baseman, you’re in luck. There’s much talent to choose from, with the two selected above as well as Aubrey Huff, Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee, Adam LaRoche and Carlos Pena. Dunn lacks a solid glove but makes up with a prodigious bat; Konerko is coming off his best year but his age (35 in 2011) might shy teams away from a long-term pact.

Second Base: Orlando Hudson (Ty Wigginton)
Compared to the list of first basemen, the quality level for free agent second basemen makes for slim pickings. The much-traveled Hudson emerges as the de facto best option; Wigginton brings more offense and can play most anywhere in the infield.

Shortstop: Orlando Cabrera
Yes, we know about Derek Jeter, but it’s hard to fathom him signing with anyone other than the Yankees, so he’s really not a serious option for the other 29 teams. That leaves the shortstop parade fairly scant, and it got even scanter after our top pick last week, Jhonny Peralta, immediately resigned with Detroit. That Cabrera, experienced and steady (but also entering his late 30s) is the next best guy really shows just how bad the talent level is at this spot. So bad, we can’t even bring ourselves to place a secondary choice in italics.

Third Base: Adrian Beltre (Juan Uribe)
As he often and curiously seems to do, Beltre enters free agency on the heels of a terrific campaign; bidders will have to be wary of what a post-free agency Beltre delivers (and wary of the salary demands of his agent, one Scott Boras). Uribe brings a strong arm to the position and a strong bat to the plate, and there’s a feeling that he may not be willing to return to San Francisco simply out of sentimentality.

Outfield: Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Melky Cabrera (Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, Jeff Francoeur)
Crawford and Werth are head and shoulders over the other available outfielders, and they’ll doubtlessly attract interest from numerous teams. A viable third choice could be Cabrera, who’ll be 26 next year and offers growth potential. Damon and Ordonez represent the bulk of what’s left: Aging, over-the-hill veterans who may appeal more to AL teams willing to leverage their presence for occasional DH duty. Francoeur can be a bargain if he can shift his career momentum out of reverse.

Designated Hitter: Manny Ramirez (Vladimir Guerrero)
Baggage, warts and all, Ramirez remains the primary bet for AL teams simply seeking a bat and nothing else; turning 39 next year could be the real scary part for those seeking his services. Guerrero’s late fade this past season could also give pause to GMs, but he’s bound to get a slot somewhere—so long as he leaves his glove at home. Lest we forget, Hideki Matsui and Jim Thome are available as well.

Starting Pitchers: Cliff Lee, Carl Pavano, Jon Garland, Jorge De La Rosa, Andy Pettitte
Lee is the only true A-lister among this group, and the only team with A-bucks to pay him may be the Yankees. For the rest, there’s Pavano, who had a strong comeback campaign in Minnesota; Garland, who’s always loaded with quality starts; the unshakeable Pettitte, who the Yankees may turn their backs on if they get Lee (and if he decides not to retire, as he said he might do this past week); and the potential bargain in De La Rosa, who held his own during his tenure at Colorado. Reclamation projects also abound with Erik Bedard, Brandon Webb and Justin Duchscherer.

Closer: Rafael Soriano (Brian Fuentes)
As with Jeter above, Mariano Rivera is not included here because it’s all but certain he’ll resign with the Yankees. A worthy competitor in this market exists with Soriano, who could command big money (and, yes, he’s a Boras client); Fuentes is not overpowering but a good choice for teams in desperate need of a closer.

Twice the Action—But Twice the Gate?
The Oakland A’s announced that they’re scheduling a real doubleheader, the first seen in MLB in quite some time, next July 16 against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This is not a day-night deal where teams play one game, clear the ballpark, and make people pay again to see the evening affair; nor is it the accidental doubleheader prompted by a rainout from the following day. This is the rarest of rare baseball events, a scheduled twinbill where fans can see two games for the price of one.

There will be no stress on the A’s financially, because they usually don’t fill up the Coliseum these days anyway, nor will it be a stress on the two teams; they’ll be well rested from the All-Star break that takes place earlier in the week. The only question is, why not play the double-dip on that Sunday, the eve of an off-day for both teams?

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