View Full Version : Cooperstown Confidential--November 14, 2005 (Part 1)
11-14-2005, 09:09 PM
Creativity Required In The Bronx
The Yankees are pretty good at the obvious move: trading for Randy Johnson last winter, signing Hideki Matsui three years ago, and keeping Mariano Rivera as far away from free agency as is humanly possible.
Things are different this winter. The Yankees’ most obvious need, other than stocking the bullpen and finding someone to ease Jorge Posada’s burden (or completely replace him) behind the plate, remains the valley-sized hole in center field. Unfortunately, there are no obvious answers on the free agent front. At one time, Johnny Damon would have been perfect as the heir apparent to Bernie Williams, but Damon doesn’t throw much better than Williams these days and his range has diminished to the point that he figures to be a detriment by the end of any four or five-year contract that he inevitably signs. After Damon, the best proven center fielder on the free agent market is Preston Wilson, but he’s also on the wrong side of 30, has had knee problems, ranks only average defensively, and makes contact about as often as Rob Deer. He also bats right-handed, which can be a problem for a free swinger of his type at Yankee Stadium. Given the lack of obvious solutions, the Yankees may have to be creative in finding their next center fielder.
So what are the Yankees to do? With the lack of available help on the free market, the Yankees have given some early indications that they might give Bubba Crosby a long look in spring training. Well, that is not very creative, and that is certainly not the answer to the problem. Crosby is fine as a fourth or fifth outfielder, but stretched to the point of futility as an everyday player. Crosby has looked overmatched in many of his major league at-bats, especially against left-handers with above-average stuff. In the field, he’s an above-average center fielder and a big upgrade over the Williams of recent vintage, but he’s not a defensive standout, which is what you want from a player who hits as weakly (few walks, no power) as he has in the major leagues. When I think of Crosby as the Yankees’ regular center fielder, I start recalling what it was like to watch Enrique Wilson as the everyday second baseman. And that’s not what the Yankees need.
Once again, creativity is needed. Here’s an idea. The Yankees should target the best all-around player on the free agent market, the player who would bring the team some much-needed range, athleticism, and youth. He’s not a center fielder, but he would still make the team better, and would allow the Yankees to shift another player to the outfield. The free agent is 27-year-old Rafael Furcal, who has the kind of physical attributes (good hands, low base, strong lower body) to make an easy transition to second base. By signing Furcal, the Yankees could then move Robinson Cano to center field, giving the athletic, strong-armed 23-year-old the chance to be the next standout center fielder in a long line of Yankee notables. Besides, the Yankees considered making Cano an outfielder in the minor leagues, and there are those in the organization who still think he will outgrow second base and will need to move to another position eventually.
Now, the move is not failsafe. Prone to mental lapses, Cano might not be able to make the transition to center field; he doesn’t have great speed and his arm, while powerful, could suffer in moving from the infield to the outfield. Still, there are other potential landing places for Cano. He could be moved to left field, which is less demanding than center field, at least away from the cavernous dimensions at Yankee Stadium. Or Cano could be moved to first base, a position that he should be able to handle with ease. While Cano might not currently seem capable of producing the big numbers a team wants at first base, he does have 25-home run potential and figures to be a lot more productive than someone like Ruben Sierra, who was mysteriously treated like an everyday player during the tail-end of the 2005 season.
In a worst-case scenario, Cano would flop in making the transition to the outfield, thereby hurting his development, but the Yankees would at least have the services of Furcal. The multitalented Furcal would give the Yankees better range in the middle infield, an intimidating baserunner capable of stealing 50 bases, and an acceptable leadoff batter, which would in turn allow Derek Jeter to return to the second spot in the order and Alex Rodriguez to bat third or fourth, where they belong.
Signing Furcal would take some work. He will have to be convinced to give up shortstop for second base and will probably want a five-year deal from the Yankees, who will then have to cross their fingers that Cano can switch positions.
It’s a gamble, it’s a move that will be questioned by the New York media, and it’s not the obvious solution to the Yankees’ biggest problem. But it’s the right move to make, if only the Yankees will show some creativity.
11-14-2005, 09:10 PM
The Rumor Mill
The Blue Jays have emerged as odds-on favorites to sign A.J. Burnett, the most talented starter among this year’s skeletally-thin free agent market. In need of two quality starters (especially if they give up on Ted Lilly), the Jays are willing to overlook Burnett’s brutal finish to the regular season—a winless skid of seven starts that was pockmarked by an ERA of near 6.00—and his insolent attitude, which had him pointing fingers at everyone from Jack McKeon to the team secretaries. (Actually, I’m kidding about the latter, but Burnett’s all-encompassing blame game was borderline disgraceful.)… Signing with the Blue Jays would allow Burnett to rejoin Brad Arnsberg, his former pitching coach with the Marlins and a man with whom the right-hander has enjoyed a healthy relationship. Burnett also wouldn’t have to deal with the pressure of being a No. 1 starter, assuming that Roy “Doc” Halladay is able to return to good health… At one point, the Orioles seemed like the favorites to sign Burnett, but Baltimore vice president Mike Flanagan has told some writers that Burnett’s late-season blowup, which forced the Marlins to send him home early, has soured him on the onetime Oriole trade target. With the Orioles out of the picture, the Red Sox and Tigers figure to provide the Blue Jays with the stiffest competition for Burnett. The Red Sox feel that their highly regarded pitching coach, Dave Wallace, coupled with the calming presence of Terry Francona, can help Burnett thrive in Beantown. As for the Tigers, they figure to spend boatloads of money this winter as part of an effort to move up in the improving American League Central…
The Orioles not only won’t sign Burnett, but they also figure to lose closer B.J. Ryan—and quite possibly to one of their American League East rivals. The Yankees are currently the favorites to land the 29-year-old Ryan, who is much younger than the two other elite closers on the market (34-year-old Billy Wagner and 38-year-old Trevor Hoffman). It appears the Yankees are willing to offer end-of-the-game money to Ryan to fill the duel roles of set-up man and late-inning, left-handed hammer. Given his relative youth, proven ability in the American League, and experience in a variety of bullpen roles, the Yankees view Ryan as a perfect fit for their razor-thin relief corps. A four-year contract in the neighborhood of $30 to $35 million could get the deal done, with Ryan becoming the bridge to Mariano Rivera before eventually taking over the closer’s role—whenever Rivera starts to show the decline that he amazingly continues to avoid… Some conspiracy theorists might be tempted to suggest that the Yankees’ hiring of four ex-managers for their coaching staff gives George Steinbrenner plenty of in-house candidates to replace Joe Torre in the case of an early-season collapse. In Oliver Stone’s world, that theory might fly, but not in reality, given the fact that Torre wanted Larry Bowa, Joe Kerrigan, Lee Mazzilli, and Tony Pena all to be added to his revamped staff. Besides, all four have had failed managerial stints, which makes them less desirable in The Boss’s eyes. Steinbrenner also prefers big names and New York connections in his future managers, and of the four listed above, only Maz has ties to New York (both as a coach and as an extremely popular player with the cross-town Mets). Even then, Mazzilli would rank no better than the third choice to replace Torre—well behind Steinbrenner’s top two candidates, Lou Piniella (1) and Don Mattingly (1-A). Mazzilli might even be the fourth choice, behind former Mets skipper Davey Johnson, who continues to be ignored by most major league franchises…
For awhile now, it’s been assumed that Mike Piazza would sign a free agent contract with the Angels to serve as a part-time DH and occasional catcher, but that may not happen. The Angels first want to explore all of their options with Paul Konerko, the best power hitter on the market, a terrific clubhouse guy, and a player that manager Mike Scioscia is fond of from their days in the Dodgers’ organization. If the Angels can’t convince Konerko to come to southern California or can’t make a trade for Manny Ramirez, then they’ll turn to Piazza… In the meantime, the White Sox may swoop in on Piazza, whom they consider a good fit as a DH replacement for Carl Everett (the Sox don’t want him back at all), and as a backup catcher to A.J. Pierzynski. Piazza would DH most days, but could also spot Pierzynski behind the plate against tough left-handed pitchers. Signing with Chicago would also enable Piazza to continue playing in a major market, something he’s done for most of his career with the Mets and Dodgers…
While the Royals’ free agent pursuit of Rafael Furcal remains a pipe dream, the team has engaged itself in some more realistic Hot Stove endeavors. The Royals are very much interested in Rangers slugger Kevin Mench, who is certainly available in return for the right pitcher(s). Other than Zach Greinke, Denny Bautista, and Andy “The Kid” Sisco, the Royals would be willing to deal one or two of their young pitchers for Mench, who won’t turn 28 until January…
In the National League, the Cubs may have become the favorites to sign Rafael Furcal, the best all-around player in this year’s free agent class (sorry, Johnny Damon, Brian Giles, and Paul Konerko). Furcal would be a perfect fit for the Cubs, who need a shortstop and a leadoff man in the worst way and could solve both problems with one fell swoop of a signing. After the Cubs, the Mets and the Braves also figure to be strong contenders for the services of the switch-hitting Furcal. The Braves want to keep him, primarily because they doubt whether Wilson Betemit can play shortstop every day and have concerns over whether Tony Pena Jr. is ready to hit big league pitching. The Mets would love to add Furcal, even though they would have to convince him to move to the right on the infield diamond and play second base. That might be a tough selling job, but Mets GM Omar Minaya has already proved his prowess in luring Latino players to Queens. And with Piazza’s contract coming off the books, the Mets can offer Furcal a deal that falls into the “money-is-no-object” category… If the Mets fail to sign Furcal, they’ll once again resuscitate trade talks with the Rangers about Alfonso Soriano. The Mets will have to offer pitching as part of any deal—Steve Trachsel and Aaron Heilman are possibilities—and might have to include young infield prospect Anderson Hernandez. As always, the problem with Soriano is his position. He plays second base like John Lowenstein, but remains reluctant to move to the outfield, where his skills are a better fit… Along with Furcal/Soriano, the Mets have also made Billy Wagner a high priority among offseason recruits. There are some concerns about the 34-year-old Wagner; he’s a self-proclaimed “country boy” who might not like the Big City and has a tendency to put his foot in his mouth with reporters, of whom there are many covering the Mets. Still, he survived Philadelphia’s mass media in recent years and has such a power arm that he could lose three to four miles off his fastball and still throw in the mid-nineties. With Wagner and Heilman potentially covering the last three innings of games, the Mets would have one of the best lefty-righty relief tandems in the National League… Given Omar Minaya’s admiration for his talents and his desire for a true cleanup hitter, the Mets will make a big play for Manny Ramirez. They understand that the Red Sox are not interested in a salary dump, but instead want some legitimate talent to come back their way. Any Mets package for Ramirez will have to start with the trio of Mike Cameron, Aaron Heilman, and either one of two top prospects, pitcher Yusmeiro Petit or outfielder Lastings Milledge, who has been called a young Roberto Clemente in some quarters. Even then, the Red Sox might want another player for Ramirez, who’s arguably one of the 15 greatest hitters of all-time… Pity the next general manager in Boston who will have to try justifying the trade of the popular Ramirez to Boston’s rabid and ever-growing fan base…
While most of the free agent talk surrounding catchers involves Benjie Molina and Ramon Hernandez, a third receiver could receive considerable interest. Japanese League standout Kenji Jojima is also a free agent, eligible to talk to major league teams beginning on November 10. With so many teams looking for catching help (the Mariners, Yankees, Astros, and Mets, among others), Jojima could be looking at a decent three-year deal from the teams that lose out on Molina and Hernandez or are simply hoping for a less expensive alternative behind the plate. There have been some concerns about Jojima’s ability to communicate with English-speaking pitchers, but he reportedly had no problems handling American-born pitchers in recent seasons in Japan.
11-14-2005, 09:12 PM
Al Lopez (Died on October 30 in Miami, Florida; age 97; effects of a heart attack): The oldest living Hall of Fame member, the gentlemanly Lopez was considered a fair-minded, thinking man’s field manager who defied the stereotype of managers as unfriendly and dictatorial. Under his leadership, the Cleveland Indians won a then-American League record 111 games in 1954 before losing to the New York Giants in the World Series. Five years later, Lopez guided the Chicago White Sox to the American League pennant, the franchise’s first since 1919, before again falling in the World Series. Lopez’ pennant-winning seasons of 1954 and 1959 broke up an incredible run for the New York Yankees, who managed to win all other AL pennants from 1949 to 1964. With his own teams perennially in contention, Lopez finished second to the Yankees in all remaining seasons of the 1950s. Lopez would complete his managerial career with a .581 winning percentage and over 1400 career wins, helping him gain election to the Hall of Fame in 1977.
Prior to his managing career, Lopez established himself as one of the game’s best and most durable catchers. During a 19-year career behind the plate, Lopez caught 1,918 games, a major league record that was eventually broken by Bob Boone and then Carlton Fisk. A two-time All-Star, Lopez caught several of the game’s greatest pitchers, including fellow Hall of Famers Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller, and Dazzy Vance. Yet, his most memorable experience as a catcher may have occurred in 1925, when Lopez was just 15 years old and still an amateur player. During spring training in 1925, the Washington Senators hired the 15-year-old Lopez to catch batting practice for $45 a week. The spring training job gave Lopez the chance to catch Hall of Fame great Walter Johnson, who was approaching the end of his legendary career.
COMMENTARY: Among his many outstanding qualities as a manager (including patience and an ability to communicate with players), Lopez also introduced two strategic tendencies during the 1950s. With the Indians, he devised a set-up of two late-inning relievers, right-hander Ray Narleski and left-hander Don “The Sphinx” Mossi, using percentages to match the pitchers up against hitters they figured to handle. More often that not, Lopez turned to Narleski to close out games, but Mossi also received his share of save opportunities. The time-sharing arrangement worked brilliantly. And then in 1957, Lopez moved on to the White Sox, a team that didn’t have the power and hitting prowess of the Indians. Realizing that his new team lacked punch while also playing in the spacious confines of Comiskey Park, Lopez wisely decided to employ a running game. In 1957, Lopez’ first season in Chicago, the White Sox became the first American League team since the 1945 New York Yankees to steal as many as 100 bases in a season. Two years later, the strategy stamped Chicago as the “Go-Go Sox” and helped the franchise win its first American League pennant since 1919.
Bob Broeg (Died on October 28 in St. Louis, Missouri; age 87; a variety of infirmities): Considered one of the deans of baseball writing, Broeg served as a long-time sports editor and columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which he joined in 1945. After beginning his Post-Dispatch career as beat writer for the St. Louis Browns, he switched to the Cardinals’ beat in 1946, remaining in that position for the next dozen seasons. During his days covering the Cardinals, Broeg coined the nickname “Stan The Man” for the team’s franchise player, Stan Musial. In 1958, Broeg was promoted to sports editor of the Post-Dispatch, a position that he held until 1978. The following year, Broeg earned one of sportswriting’s most prestigious honors when he was named recipient of the Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award for outstanding contributions to baseball writing. Broeg also became an important contributor to the Hall of Fame as a longtime member of the old Veterans Committee, a panel of media members, executives, and retired players entrusted with voting old-time players, managers, and off-the-field personnel into the Hall of Fame.
In 1985, Broeg underwent bypass surgery, which forced him into an unofficial retirement. Yet, Broeg continued to write for the newspaper and remained active until recent years, when his health deteriorated. Known for his trademark bowties and his booming laugh, Broeg also wrote 20 books during his career, all of them about sports and many centered on his experiences as a reporter in the city of St. Louis.
Bob Carpenter (Died on October 19 in Evergreen Park, Illinois, age 87): A pitcher who spent much of his time toiling during a wartime era, Carpenter saw his career interrupted by World War II. The right-hander made his major league debut in 1940 with the New York Giants and then won 11 games apiece in each of the next two seasons. In 1942, Carpenter began a three-year stint in the military. He returned to pitch for the Giants in 1946, before moving on to the Chicago Cubs in the middle of the 1947 season. Carpenter retired with a record of 25-20 and an ERA of 3.60 in nearly 400 National League innings.
Don Rowe (Died on October 15 in Newport Beach, California; age 70; Parkinson’s disease): A onetime member of the New York Mets, Rowe pitched only briefly in the major leagues but enjoyed more long-term success as a pitching coach at both the minor and major league levels. He made 26 appearances without a decision in 1963, his only major league season. A veteran of 14 minor league seasons as a coach with the California Angels, San Francisco Giants, and Milwaukee Brewers organizations, Rowe became pitching coach for the Chicago White Sox in 1988. Two years later, he joined the Brewers as their pitching coach. Rowe also worked as a coach at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, California.
William “Bud” Black (Died on October 2 in St. Louis, Missouri; age 73): In 1952, Black made his major league debut at the age of 19 with the Detroit Tigers. He pitched sporadically for the team in the mid-1950s, winning two games, losing three, and posting a 4.22 ERA in only 32 innings. Originally signed by the St. Louis Browns, Black joined the Tigers’ organization in a trade that also sent outfielder Jim Delsing and pitcher Ned Garver to Detroit for a package headlined by outfielder Vic Wertz and pitcher Dick Littlefield.
Kent Hadley (Died on March 20 in Pocatello, Idaho; age 70): Best known for being included in the trade that sent Roger Maris from the Kansas City A’s to the New York Yankees, Hadley originally signed with the Detroit Tigers’ organization in 1956. The left-handed hitting first baseman never played for the Tigers, who instead traded him to the A’s, where he made his debut in 1958. Hadley’s best season came in 1959, when he hit 10 of his 14 career home runs and compiled 39 RBI in 288 at-bats. After the season, he was traded by the A’s along with Maris and infielder Joe DeMaestri to the Yankees for a package of first baseman Marv Throneberry, outfielders Hank Bauer and Norm Siebern, and pitcher Don Larsen. After his major league days came to an end, Hadley finished out his playing career in Osaka, Japan. During his collegiate career, Hadley was named to the 1956 All-America first team as a member of the USC Trojans.
A freelance writer and broadcaster, Bruce Markusen serves as an advisor and consultant to museums that feature exhibits about baseball and other sports. To contact him about exhibit consultation, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Markusen can also be heard every Wednesday morning at 11:00 am on WHAM Radio (1180 AM) in Rochester, New York, to talk about the latest issues in baseball.
vBulletin v3.5.4, Copyright ©2000-2013, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.