Archive for August, 2007

…. Reality check

The Slate has an interesting piece by Daniel Engber, wondering what would happen if sports stopped trying to stop athletes from using PED’s.

…. What would the sports world look like if every athlete could inject himself with God knows what?

The premise isn’t new. After the Olympic doping scandals of the late 1990s, International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch tested the waters of drug legalization in an interview with a Spanish newspaper. “Doping now is everything that, firstly, is harmful to an athlete’s health and, secondly, artificially augments his performance,” he said. “If it’s just the second case, for me that’s not doping.” But his proposal (if that’s what it was) went over like a lead balloon. Sports officials sputtered about the spirit of competition, and doctors argued that legal doping would never be safe for the athletes. Within a few days, Samaranch backed off.

Of course, the doctors are wrong, as athletes have used artificial means to improve their performance for decades, and the vast majority of them have suffered as much or as little physical problems as those who have chosen not to do so. I think that it’s inevitable, and that it won’t be nearly as bad as everyone seems to think it will, but today’s moralist posturing makes it seem like it’ll take a long time.

Engber holds that PED’s will cause all kinds of health problems, and that they would also cause the different sports to constantly be subject to raids from the law; all things that may or may not come to pass. It’s having to be underground that puts the athletes health at risk today. If the athletes could enhance their performance under the supervision of the team doctors and trainers, who administered the PED’s and monitored the athletes closely, the health problems would be close to zero.

Getting prescriptions wouldn’t be too difficult, either. Doctors are already performing elective surgeries for both athletes and non-athletes; the boundaries are washing away as we speak. The day is coming. In the meantime, Engber’s article is worth a read.

UPDATE: Will Carroll has an interesting read about Bonds that might as well go with this piece. You’ll be surprised.

…. No, no, no

No new home run record, no youth movement, not run support for Lincecum, no nothing.

What a drag of a team. I’m amazed to hear how Rajai Davis is supposed to warrant a long look while Fred Lewis is sent back to Triple AAA. Lewis, outperforming Davis in every way imaginable, is perhaps the most interesting prospect we’ve seen come out of the Giants farm system in a decade. If ever there was an opportunity to let a guy play every day and see if he can adapt to the bigs, this Giants team –out of contention, desperate for a spark, and already promising to play the youngsters– should be it.

John Sickels has Davis rated as the 20th best prospect in the Pittsburgh minor league system. Lewis, on the other hand, is perhaps our best hitting prospect, at least in terms of being ready for the bigs. But, instead of giving Lewis the long look he needs and deserves, the Giants trade for a guy who is essentially the exact same player, put the new guy in the leadoff slot, and send Lewis back to the minors.

And fans wonder why they haven’t developed a hitter in 20 years.

…. History lesson

Grant found this little tidbit in an Chron piece:

…. Sabean also offered more details on the Giants’ reconstruction plan. For the first time, he acknowledged he might have to trade some of the young pitching the organization holds dear to acquire talented young position players who can complement the team’s aging veterans as the Giants transit to a new era.

“We’re going to be in a position where we have an opportunity to study and identify which positions we need to focus on, and we may have to cross that bridge in the winter,” he said.

And therein lies the rub, as it were. Since Sabean clearly values Shea Hillebrand over, say, Bobby Abreau; if he does trade Lowry or Cain or Sanchez, it’s gonna be for the same kind of crappy hitter we have now. Think Double Play AJ, not Miguel Cabrera. And now he’s talking about trading the one thing we have that’s actually worth something, good, young pitchers with loads of upside.

Look at the team we’re running out there right now. Sabean chose these guys, he picked them, he scouted them, he signed them. This is the team he built. What do all of these guys have in common? They are veterans, they are classy, good guys, they are low-OBP, medium batting average, no power, essentially valueless, completely replacable bench players; and he picked them all!!!

Now he’s suddenly gonna change his entire value system, and start acquiring high-OBP, young hitters with upside? Why should I believe that? What has he said or done to make that seem likely?

…. Talkin’ turkey

I’m gonna stay on top of the Sabean rant, because the team itself is unwatchable. Another blown lead for one of our young pitchers? Unreal.

Sabean’s eye for talent is a lot like Jim Bowden, who is running his team –the Washington Nationals– into the ground with equal regularity. Here’s what the great Joe Sheehan has to say about Bowden:

…. A year ago, Jim Bowden’s inability to trade Alfonso Soriano, also in the middle of a career year and also on the brink of free agency, was a blow to the Nats’ development as a franchise. For all the talk about “two draft picks,” picking up a sandwich pick and a second-rounder—teams in the top 15 of the draft don’t surrender their #1 pick by signing free agents—isn’t a good haul, not when we know that the top of the draft is a place where the value of a pick slips precipitously after the top few slots. Whatever you believe about the offers that came in, Soriano would likely have returned two major league-ready players with middling upsides who would be under cost control for five to six years. You build championship teams with players like that.

…. Re-signing Dmitri Young is just inexplicable, the kind of commitment to service time, perceived attitude, and short-term performance fluctuation that you’d think would be hard to find in the post-Moneyball era.

Here’s Bowden, from the AP article linked above:

[Young’s] infectious love for the game, and playing it the right way, has had a positive influence on this ballclub, both in the clubhouse and on the field.

Not even one full year ago, Young was so unwanted by Jim Leyland that the Tigers released him on September 6, choosing to not have him at all rather than keep him around during the period of roster expansion, when the cost of having a player is virtually nil. That’s a devastating statement as to who Young was a year ago, and if all signs point to that person—someone who was charged with assault and who underwent treatment for alcohol abuse—being changed, it’s still a bit hard to swallow the notion that non-baseball reasons are driving this decision. After all, Young’s positive influence has “led” the Nationals to last place. Again.

Young has had a career half-season for the Nationals, batting .330 in 330 at-bats, inheriting the first-base job when Nick Johnson’s rehab of a broken leg extended into the season. He was the Nationals’ All-Star, and not an undeserving one given that he made the squad for being the best player on a team with no other candidates. He’s roped 37 extra-base hits and drawn enough walks to give him a .382 OBP. It’s not an empty batting average.

The problem isn’t Young’s 2007 line. It’s his 2006 line (.250/.293/.407; released), his 2005 line (.271/.325/.471), and his 2004 (.272/.336/.481). The 1000 at-bats prior to this half-season all sent the same message: Dmitri Young peaked at 29, and as a player with absolutely no defensive value who bats at five to ten runs above the league-average line, he’s barely worth a roster spot, much less a starting job.

Even if you wanted to retain Young’s services, why sign him when his perceived value is at its highest?

Sabean did the same thing with Winn, signing him to an extension –one that inexplicably included a no-trade clause– after Winn became the first Giant with 50 hits in a month since Willie Mays. He did the same thing with JT Snow, and adding insult to injury, added a fourth year for a guy who was looking at three-year deals from all sides. I could go on and on, the two player option years he gave Nenn, the extension he gave Woody when he wasn’t even up for an extension.

Keeping Sabean was a mistake. He clearly values “veterans” over upside, service time over ability, consistency over potential, age over beauty. He likes the same kind of shitty player Bowden does, and all Bowden’s done is destroy franchises for most of the last two decades. I’ll say it again, without Bonds, Sabean would’ve been pumping gas at least five years ago. He is not the man to turn this thing around, he is the man who has led us astray.

…. Yes

It was too little, too late.

A quick look through John Sickels’ Minor League Report shows that Rajai Davis is another version of what we already have, a backup outfielder at best:

19) Rajai Davis, OF, C

Hitting .259/.330/.320 with 23 steals for Indianapolis. Good speed but lack of power and mediocre on-base production will limit him to bench work.

Wow. This is what I wrote ten days ago, when Sabean’s extension was announced:

He is more likely to trade Morris for some journeyman outfielder than he is to find a gem in someone else’s organization.

Ummm…. yeah. Davis grades out as a C-rated prospect, at 26-years old (which is another way of saying that he’s about a year away from working at your local 7-11), so, I would like to bring it to everyone’s attention that Sabean did exactly what I was worried about. And that’s exactly the kind of thing I’ve been criticizing him for.

There’s more involved than just looking at the players involved in the trades that are made. Consideration needs to be made regards the timing of the trades that are made as well, in that the when is just as important as the who.

Sabean traded Benitez right after he had proven himself to be worthless, even though he could have –should have– pushed for a trade when Benitez was out-performing his true abilities early on this season. The same thing happened here with Morris. There was a time this season when Morris was superficially dominating. The Giants needed a bat, and they were already showing signs of being a pretender. Instead of making a strong, proactive move to try and take advantage of the illusion, Sabean waited until Morris came back to earth, and ended up just getting rid of him for a body.

Two times, this season, he moved pitchers who looked great for a month or two, right after they stopped looking great. That does not bode well for the next two seasons.

UPDATE: Grant, over at McCovey Chronicles, doesn’t agree with me at all:

The prevailing wisdom now is that Sabean waited too long to trade Morris. It’s a common refrain here, and Tim Kawakami drops an I-told-you-so in his column. I disagree with this theory. In June, Sabean decided to hold on to Morris until closer to the deadline for better leverage. The three possible outcomes:

~ Morris continues to pitch like an All-Star, and there is an absolute frenzy for him at the deadline.

~ Morris pitches like the typical Matt Morris — a 4.00/5.00 ERA guy — for a month, but his early success still keeps his ERA down and his price tag up.

~ Morris completely wets the bed. Like, completely. He has a string of starts as bad as any in recent Giants’ history. His contract goes from reasonable to pair of cement shoes in 40 days.

The first one wasn’t likely, but the third one really wasn’t likely. The middle one was the smart bet, and the Giants probably would have had more leverage in that scenario than if they had traded him in mid-June. In the middle of June, teams are still trying to figure things out. Is Jeff Weaver back on track? Is Bartolo Colon really done? Nah, he’ll bounce back, right? If you want to trade Johan Santana in June…leverage schmeverage, you’re going to get the proper value. But there were obvious questions hanging over Morris. Is he really a 2.50 ERA pitcher? Even the worst GMs in baseball wouldn’t have bought that. And since they had another month to see if Morris really was that good, why would they dump crazy value on the Giants in mid-June? So expect the second scenario, and hope you win the lottery with the first.

The likely outcome was the outcome we ended up with, which I predicted. Morris’ 2.56 ERA was a fluke, he was allowing plenty of hits and plenty of baserunners, and he also happened to take the mound for a couple of the games when every player in the lineup got a hit. He was a .500 pitcher at best, and the fact that it only took 5 weeks for him to get back to there is the only thing that was a fluke. If he’d run out a 2-5, 4.88 ERA run, he would have been just as valueless as he ended up being.

Strike when the iron is hot. Davis isn’t even as likely to be productive as Fred Lewis is. We got nothing for Morris. We just got rid of his contract. The new era of talent evaluation is upon us. Teams won’t trade away top prospects anymore, in large part because of the fleecing Sabean’s been taking the last three or four years.

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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
None of the opinions expressed should be construed as being endorsed by the
San Francisco Giants, Major League Baseball, or any other organization mentioned herein.

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