Crash Bag, Vol. 30: Getting Dinged for Pills

Earlier this week, I posted a column on this site about how we deal with mental illness in sports and society. The reception was overwhelmingly positive, which I appreciated. Later on Tuesday, I was told that someone (I assume Bill) posted it to Reddit’s baseball section, where it was trending (or whatever the hell things do on Reddit. I’m rapidly becoming, particularly by the standards of the hipsterish Virtual World-dwelling internet community in which I find myself, an old fart) and the discussion, I was happy to see, was measured, friendly and, by and large, intelligent. I love it when that happens. Anyway, I was reading through the Reddit conversation/AIM/Gchat/whatever nonsense, because I am a vain person and enjoy it when people agree with things I write on The Internet. I came across a comment that ran something along the lines of: “Great post, but it needs an Oxford comma in the title.”

I want to get a couple things straight: 1) It most certainly does not need an Oxford comma in the title. The decision to use the serial comma, or not to use the serial comma, is up to the management of the particular publication. Bill doesn’t give us a style guide, so I choose to go along with the AP stylebook, the Leviticus of serious journalism, and eschew the serial comma. And generally to do whatever the hell I damn well please.

But most importantly: 2) If You Are The Kind Of Person Who Gets In People’s Faces About Using The Oxford Comma, Then I Think You Are A Pretentious, Effete Waste Of Human Life Who Deserves To Be Suspended In Concentrated Sodium Hydroxide Solution Until Your Flesh Turns Into Soap.

I don’t know when it became in vogue to be strongly pro-serial comma, but I think it happened sometime in 2010, around the time when the internet stopped having, you know, interesting or consequential things to take sides on arbitrarily and yell at each other about. And also about the same time this song came out.

You want to know what it says about you if you’re militantly pro-Oxford comma? Well, first and foremost, that you take the time to develop strong opinions about arbitrary style guidelines, which…I don’t even. But second, that you base those strong opinions on songs by twee Ivy League faux-indie bands whose membership consists of guys who look, sound and write (NOTICE THE LACK OF THE UNNECESSARY SERIAL COMMA) like the kids that everyone pretended to be friends with in middle school because their parents bought them cool stuff in lieu of actually loving them. And failing that, the word “Oxford.”

Yes, I realize that taking up an entire line on your CV to say “I am a thoughtless pedant who, like a simpleton who lives life with finger planted firmly two knuckles deep in his own nostril, is still seduced by the veneer of Old World pretentiousness brought on by the word ‘Oxford.’ And that by suckling at the teat of the dying embers of British imperialism, I am forever condemned to festoon my written prose with unnecessary punctuation marks. And furthermore, rather than being ashamed of my childish fixation on the traditions of days past and working to better myself, I take pride in my ignorance and pedantry.”

I realize that’s a mouthful, and calling people out for not using the serial comma is probably an easier way of communicating clearly that you’re a boring, stuffy tight-ass with a surfeit of free time.

But seriously, why do people conflate Oxbridge with sophistication and intelligence? It’s like you looked at the Ivy League and decided it wasn’t insular, haughty and conservative enough for you. No, I prefer my out-of-touch stodgy old money elitism with a sprig of fatuous post-Imperial delusion. How droll. And to demonstrate that, I’m going to spend my free time, time that could be spent doing something more constructive for society, like selling nuclear secrets to Iran, demanding that complete strangers insert superfluous punctuation into their writing. On the Internet.

I’m starting a new job in a couple weeks, and while it makes me a little queasy that the in-house style guide where I’m going mandates the use of the serial comma, I kept that to myself, because if it’s your publication, you can put commas (or choose not to put commas) wherever suits you. So in short, the serial comma Gestapo can go screw itself.

Message from Starfleet, Captain.

@MichaelJBlock: “So it’s possible that Chooch was simply too ADHD to effectively hit before, right?”

I dunno, he was hitting just fine since 2010 or so. Unless you’re talking about before then, when he was a tank trap in the way of the Phillies offense’s D-Day invasion. I don’t know. I really am so beyond giving a crap about drugs. In sports, at least. That whole cocaine and heroin thing is very much a menace to society. I mean, yeah, Steve Bechler and yeah, What About The Children? But are we really not over this? I have no idea if adderall makes you a better baseball player or not, and neither do you. And really, I’m not sure MLB does either. And even if it did, it’s a prescription drug that I could take, if my doctor said so, to improve my performance in another field.

This isn’t just about someone whose jersey I own getting dinged for pills. I had the same apathy when Melky Cabrera got suspended this summer, and I’ll have the same apathy the next time Guillermo Mota gets busted for carrying around pocketfuls of Interleukin-2 in the clubhouse. We’ve made a show about protecting public health, and we’ve gotten it so that baseball isn’t wholly populated by guys who look like the cast of The Expendables. So let’s stop giving the yapping masses of mainstream baseball columnists something else to salivate over.

Do I care that a player I like had his teddy bear reputation sullied? Yes. Or that my favorite team will be without one of its top position players for 25 games? Yes. Both of those things make me sad. Do I think that, outside violating the letter of the law, Carlos Ruiz did something morally reprehensible? No. But most of all, I’m just sick of talking about it.

@JFSportsFan: “Between Alabama, Georgia, and Notre Dame, who are you rooting for to win the BCS National Championship?”

Alabama. If Georgia or Notre Dame wins, I’m carpet-bombing football. But more on that later.

@MikeFerrinSXM: “Why do they call it football when the Eagles only pass? I’ll hang up & listen.”

You know what? It’s been a while since we’ve had a guest expert on the Crash Bag, apart from Longenhagen on prospects. So let’s do that. It’s time for a…

FOOTBALL LIGHTNING ROUND

And our guest expert is Ty Hildenbrandt, a proud Pennsylvanian and co-host (with Dan Rubenstein) of the excellent Solid Verbal college football podcast. That show, for you Eagles fans, is the genesis of Nick Foles’ nickname: “In a Losing Effort,” a moniker that’s proven eerily prescient in the early days of Foles’ NFL career. Ty’s words are in italics. In case there was any confusion.

@JakePavorsky: “who will be a worse pro: Geno Smith or Matt Barkley?”

“Great question.  Am I allowed to answer “Landry Jones,” or is that against the rules?

Gun to my head, I probably say Smith, if only because I’m not completely sold on Barkley being as average as he looked this season.  Barkley’s numbers weren’t great — he threw more interceptions this season than in any of his previous three years as a starter — but it’s worth mentioning that his offensive line was wildly inconsistent with depth issues, injury concerns, and, most of all, without left tackle Matt Kalil who was picked fourth overall by the Vikings.  Barkley’s a lot better than what we saw this season; you don’t go from Heisman frontrunner to irrelevance unless there are contributing factors.  On that note, Lane Kiffin sucks.

As a whole, the 2013 draft is looking like it might have the worst quarterback class in recent memory unless a few underclassmen decide to declare.”

@gberry523: “why do the eagles love making me so miserable?”

“In all honesty, it’s probably because you’re a terrible person.  I don’t know how to phrase it any other way.  We all know you hate churches and children. If you’d stop trying to hide it, maybe the pain would stop.

Kidding aside, I have no idea what to tell you.  The Eagles are a complete tire fire right now with zero leadership and a ton of injuries.  But here’s the good news: The 2013 draft will feature some of the deepest offensive line and linebacker classes we’ve seen in years.  If the Birds could somehow land Manti Te’o from Notre Dame, it’d be an absolute coup for the Philadelphia defense.  

Also, after watching a lot of Nick Foles at Arizona, I am confident that he’ll be a successful NFL quarterback at some point.  So, there’s that.”

It is with great humility that I acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers.  For the first time in the history of the Crash Bag, I myself seek counsel, as a great tragedy has befallen me and I’m in need of advice.

@MJ_Baumann: “I’m watching the national ch–excuse me, the SEC Championship game this weekend with my in-laws, who are all rabid Georgia fans. I hate UGA with the fury of Hell itself. Convince me that there’s no realistic way Alabama blows it or, failing that, how do I extricate myself from what will surely be an insufferable celebration of an undeserved title only contested by geographic and scheduling vagaries? Suicide is an option.”

“We’ll start with the bad news: Georgia is going to keep this game close.  Last week’s 42-10 victory over Georgia Tech was a statement win in a series that has historically been very close.  Georgia’s played some of the country’s best football since losing to South Carolina earlier this season, and I don’t think Alabama is nearly as indestructible as we once thought.  Keep in mind that this Tide team has only played two teams that are still ranked, and struggled mightily both times.  In reality, this team could easily have two losses, and Georgia COULD win this game.  Sorry.

Georgia hasn’t won an SEC championship since 2005 and lost by 32 in this game last year, so if it wins here, your best bet for extrication is an actual divorce.  The problem with SEC celebrations is that they never stop; they’re still celebrating Florida’s crown from 2007.  The upside, though, is that southern folks know how to cook, and a win would likely mean a wonderful feast for all.  There’s nothing wrong with rooting for this, and at the end of the day, you’re probably a worse person for rooting for Alabama anyway.

Now, the good news: Alabama’s going to win a close one.  If you’re looking for a game that inflicts maximum emotional pain, this is the best possible scenario.  Coupled with the fact that Georgia has long been on the precipice of being a national contender, a close loss here would be a huge letdown and a big reason why the Dawgs wouldn’t cover the point spread in their eventual bowl game.  Alabama is just too well-rounded and will take advantage of Georgia’s sketchy run defense.  I’ll predict a 28-24 Alabama win.”

Well that doesn’t make me feel any better. But thanks for taking the time to make a guest appearance. You can follow Ty on Twitter here, and if you’re into college football, you should give The Solid Verbal a listen. And if you’re not into college football, just be aware that the University of Georgia football team is a force of evil whose road to success is contingent on their not actually playing any of the good SEC West teams. And they’ve inbred their mascot so badly they can’t keep him alive. Roll Tide.

God, I can’t believe I said that. I feel so dirty.

@Living4Laughs: “What are your 5 favorite songs about war and/or veterans?”

I’m racking my brain on this one, because I usually don’t pay a ton of attention to song lyrics unless they’re conspicuously clever or conspicuously bad. So I’m probably going to spend this entire answer trying like crazy not to go to “The General” by Dispatch, then go straight to “The General” by Dispatch because it’s literally the only song about war that I can think of right now. I’ll be kind of liberal with the definition of “war” here, just to get a bigger pool of potential songs and avoid that aforementioned Dispatch tune. And before I get crucified in the comments for not including any Springsteen or CCR, remember that I’m only 25 and have absolutely no visceral reaction whatsoever to the Vietnam War. And I would have included a couple anti-Iraq War Bright Eyes songs, but I really don’t want to give the impression that I think Connor Oberst has anything useful to say about politics or society. No matter how much I might have enjoyed I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. 

  •  “Alive With the Glory of Love” by Say Anything. On first glance, it’s a peppy, foot-tapping power pop ditty. Then if you listen to the lyrics, you quickly realize it’s a ballad about two young lovers trying and failing to elude the Nazis during the Holocaust. It’s a really clever and totally heartbreaking song that has made me skank around my empty apartment when I was happy and made me weep openly when I was feeling lonely.
  • Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits. This is a proxy for all those wistful, “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier”-type ballads. I just always considered Mark Knopfler and his merry men to have a particular gift for the elegiac, and this song is no exception.
  • Battle Hymn of the Republic” by William Steffe and Julia Ward Howe. Most songs about war nowadays are anti-war, which you’d expect, because writers and musicians tend to be artsy types who aren’t particularly eager to pick up a weapon and stand a post, myself included. But when there was actually a war worth fighting, we had music to match. Plus I imagine this song was sung at some point during Sherman’s March to the Sea, which warms the cockles of my heart a little.
  • Sleep Now in the Fire” by Rage Against the Machine. I personally find RATM’s brand of anti-everything anarchism to be…well, childish, if I’m honest, and “Sleep Now in the Fire” is anti-war only because war is a facet of Western liberal democratic culture. In other words, the machine. Against which they want to rage. But for as much indiscriminate and random anger as gets thrown around in this song…it’s not like they’re wrong, even if their four-minute Michael Moore-directed screed against greed and capitalism is prefaced on YouTube by a one-minute commercial. And damn, this is a fun song.
  • Violet Hill” by Coldplay. Yes, a Coldplay song. Screw you. I really like it. And while it’s ostensibly a belated Gulf War protest song, I really don’t care too much about the lyrics.

Okay, I had to use Say Anything and Coldplay, but at least I avoided Dispatch.

@Billy_Yeager: “Please pen a rule on buds challenging for items being thrown/shot into stands. I feel bad for Larry Fitzing you.”

So here’s the backstory on this question. Bill (the Bill who asked the question, not Bill Baer, who is a computer and can’t go to basketball games) and I went to the Sixers game on Tuesday, where we witnessed in person the impressive arsenal of t-shirt artillery currently employed by the Philadelphia Professional Basketball Club. Twice we found ourselves in the line of fire, and this is what happened.

The first time, Bill stood at the start of the t-shirt cannon barrage, while I remained seated, because I’m not a loser. But it became clear that one shirt in particular was headed in a perfect parabolic arc for my seat. So I went to stand and make a play on the shirt, but Bill had already made his move, resting his forearm on my shoulder and vaulting himself skyward to make a very nice grab, all the while preventing me from even standing, much less jumping.

The next time, I stood before the cannon came around, intending to box him out. I figured I’ve got about three inches and probably close to 40 pounds on the guy, so I can get in good position before the shot comes and get to the shirt, if it comes, while fending Bill off with my butt. Just like Kevin Love does. It doesn’t work. Another shirt comes in our direction, this one about to land over my shoulder in the row behind us, and while I half-jokingly box out, Bill comes climbing over my back, nearly knocking me over onto the five-year-old child sitting next to me.

Now, I’m not suggesting that t-shirt frenzy should be a totally non-contact sport, but there’s a happy medium between everyone sitting down and using your friends to crush children. I suggest maybe something like a pass interference rule between buddies, like when the ball is in the air, only incidental contact, no shoving, tripping, biting, kneecapping, etc. If that’s too strict, then maybe a basketball rebounding rule. You can jostle for position, but no out-and-out shoving, and the rebounder, if he has his feet set, is entitled to his own position. I think I like that one better.

That’s among friends. Strangers you can stab in the back, for all I care.

@Phisportsfan11: “Where do the Phillies go with Upton gone? Is Hamilton back in?”

I hope not. Denard Span and B.J. Upton have both gone to division rivals on a trade and a free agent deal, respectively, that weren’t steals, but neither were they unreasonable. I think five years at $15 million per is a perfectly fair price for Upton, and while some are higher on Alex Meyer, the big prospect of the Span-to-Washington trade, than I am, I wouldn’t bet on his health and his mechanics holding together long enough to be a big-league starter. And even if they did, it’s not like the Nationals, with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann already in the big-league rotation and Lucas Giolito and Matt Purke convalescing in the minor leagues, aren’t exactly hurting for high-upside starting pitching prospects.

But the problem is that with those two, and Melky Cabrera as well, off the market, we’re running out of options. As a fan, I love Dexter Fowler. He’s one of my favorite players to watch, but the Rockies, in a trade, seem to value him like he’s the player Coors Field makes him appear to be, which he’s not. Peter Bourjos is a spectacular defensive center fielder, like Mike Trout or Michael Bourn good, but I remain unconvinced that he’s ever going to contribute anything of substance with the bat. Plus it doesn’t look like Los Angeles of Anaheim is particularly eager to jettison him anyway.

That leaves Michael Bourn and Josh Hamilton, both of whom are going to make more money then they’re worth for longer than they’ll be useful, plus Angel Pagan and a partridge in a pear tree. I’m not all that high on Pagan, and after the postseason he had, he might not be the bargain we had once thought him to be.

So my first instinct is to say “screw it, just cobble together a cheap platoon or something and hope that Tyson Gillies turns into Tris Speaker in the offseason.” But that’s kind of what I’d do with third base as well, and while you can punt one position and still contend, you can’t really punt two. So there’s probably a creative and subtle center field solution that I’m not thinking of because there’s no easier way to make yourself look like moron than to make up fake trades. Which is comforting, given Ruben Amaro‘s longstanding reputation for being subtle and creative as a GM.

@pinvert: “chances RAJ makes a big splash at the winter meetings this week? seems to be his ‘deal’.”

The genius of Ruben Amaro is that you never know when he’s going to make a big splash. I don’t know that it’s a solid lock that he’ll make a splash at the winter meetings, because at this point, “splash” probably means “Hamilton,” and that ends with me swallowing a couple dozen doses of ketamine and welcoming the warm, sweet embrace of death. I dunno, I’m going to be out of town next week, and I’m half expecting to come home to find out that Domonic Brown and Adam Morgan have been traded to the Jordanian navy for a decommissioned Soviet submarine or something.

@kalinkadink: “If you can only have three jerseys/shirseys to wear for the rest of your life, whose would they be?”

I’ve never owned an actual baseball jersey, only shirseys, and I’ve got no real urge to buck that trend. Shirseys are more versatile, cheaper and generally more colorful. As for which three I’d wear for the rest of my life, well, I’d have to get at least one of Michael Roth and Jackie Bradley, but both have issues–Bradley will almost certainly make it to the majors, but I don’t know what number he’d wear, and in any event, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Red Sox jersey. And Roth, whose Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are far less objectionable, may never make it to the majors at all. Hang on, there’s more.

“And no minor-league players.”

DAMMIT.

Right now, I’ve got three shirseys: Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and Steve Carlton. I’d probably keep the Rollins one, and I’d like to have a throwback Phillies shirsey as well. Though if I had it to do over again, I’d take a Richie Ashburn over a Carlton, but Carlton shirseys are easier to find–literally the only place I’ve seen a Richie Ashburn shirsey is in the Hall of Fame gift shop. The one I saw there was white with red print, and while I’m a bigger fan historically of Ashburn than Carlton, the baby blue with maroon print looks cooler, now that I think of it. Either one of those would be fine.  So that’s two.

And as much as I’m a Phillies fan, I’m very much a fan of baseball in general. So for my third shirsey, I’d have one from a different team. Now, as much as I might respect players like Derek Jeter and Hank Aaron, there is no way I’m wearing Yankees or Braves gear. So I’d have to eliminate any teams that make my stomach turn. So no Braves, Pirates, Mets, Marlins, Yankees, Red Sox, Giants or Cardinals. And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of those teams that don’t really inspire strong feelings one way or another. So no Padres, A’s, Diamondbacks, Tigers, Rockies, Cubs, White Sox, Astros, Brewers, Twins and Indians.

So that leaves 10 teams that I either legitimately like or have kind of up-and-down feelings: the Blue Jays, Orioles, Nationals, Royals, Reds, Dodgers, Rangers, Angels, Rays and Mariners. And of those, who has a cool color scheme, or at least one that’s different enough from the Phillies’ to make it worth buying the shirt? Too bad for the red, white and blue of the Nationals, Dodgers and Rangers, and the primary bright red of the Angels and Reds. So of those five teams, who has a player, past or present, whose name and number I’d like to wear. The Orioles are full of possibilities: a Brooks or Frank Robinson throwback could be cool, and Brian Roberts allows the possibility to represent the South Carolina Gamecocks. Or an Earl Weaver shirsey. Which would just be devastatingly cool.

How about the Dodgers? Does Carlton make Sandy Koufax redundant? Is Jackie Robinson a cliche, and does wearing “Brooklyn” on your shirt automatically make you an asshole? Yeah, the Dodgers are out. Blue Jays? I love their colors, but I don’t really feel anything for any of their current or former players, except maybe John Olerud, and that just reminds me of 1993, which reminds me of Joe Carter, which makes me want to cry. The Royals are on the same page. Maybe a Zack Greinke or George Brett.

On to the Rays. Evan Longoria would be cool. Maybe not rest-of-your-life cool, but cool nonetheless. Which leads us to the Mariners, who have cool colors and a really good history of cool players. Edgar Martinez, Felix Hernandez, Ichiro and…

Oh yeah, Griffey. Ken Griffey, Jr., Mariners. That’d be my third.

@SoMuchForPathos: “If a U.S. soldier impregnates another soldier and is forced to marry her by her father, is it a shotgun wedding or an M16 wedding?”

I think that’s a sign that we’ve had enough for this week.

One public service announcement note before the end–there is political unrest over at The Good Phight! Friend of the blog Peter Lyons is stepping down as blogmaster and will be replaced by friend of the blog Liz Roscher. Congratulations to Peter for a long run of great blogging, and congratulations to Liz for embarking on what we can only presume will be more of the same.

 

B.J. Upton Signs With Braves

A major free agent domino has fallen, sportsfans, as former Tampa Bay Rays center fielder B.J. Upton has agreed to terms with the Native American Warriors of Atlanta on a five-year, $75.25 million contract, the richest free-agent deal in franchise history. Upton was my dream choice for the Phillies if they went the free agent route with a center fielder, and while the 28-year-old is hardly a bargain at $15 million a year, there’s great potential for him to be worth that and more.

Upton, as you all probably know now, has great speed and is a good defender, with power that comes and goes. He should easily be an offensive upgrade over Michael Bourn (who we can probably assume is on his way out now), while losing a little bit with the glove and one bases. But that’s only because Bourn is one of the best defenders and baserunners in the game. With Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons in the fold, Upton should continue to keep the Braves’ team defense on a “sick nasty” level. And given the way Braves fans treated Heyward, an extremely talented player who underachieved due to nothing more than injury, I’m sure that Upton’s reputation for not exhibiting Brett Lawrie-esque levels of insane, self-destructive on-field intensity and showy effort will go over EXTREMELY WELL in Atlanta.

But anyway, while Bourn to Upton is something of a lateral move for Atlanta, most interesting is its effect on the rest of the market. Not only are the Phillies in need of an upgrade over John Mayberry, but the Nationals acknowledge that while Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth are good athletes and very good defensive corner outfielders, neither is the long-term answer in center field.

Not that the market lacks for options. Angel Pagan is still out there as a free agent, as are younger players like Denard Span and Dexter Fowler (potentially) via trade, but then there’s this:

To which I say:

First of all, I don’t think I have to tell you why signing Hamilton is a bad idea, but in case you’ve been asleep, here’s a primer: he’s a very good player, but he’s going to earn a lot of money going forward, and his skills and physical history suggest that the sands of time will erode him in a particularly dramatic way. Phillies fans, of all people, should know better than to want Hamilton after watching Ryan Howard crumble like Lot’s wife escaping from Sodom and Gomorrah. But these are the same folks who lived through the Hunter Pence trade and still think it’s a good idea for the Phillies to mortgage Boardwalk and Park Place to trade for Chase Headley. Like the Lotus-eaters, we trundle through life just kind of sleepily ignorant of all the turmoil that surrounds us.

There’s a possibility that all 30 major league teams will feel this way, realize that Hamilton can’t stay healthy, has terrible plate discipline and most likely will not be able to play center field much longer, and the market will evaporate, leaving him in much the same situation Edwin Jackson and Ryan Madson found themselves in last year. So if January rolls around and Hamilton can be had for, say, three years at $20-ish million per, then maybe we talk. But this:


That’s the kind of out-of-touch, glib disregard for financial prudence that one could only expect from someone who managed to get himself elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. An answer so cravenly, Harrison Bergeron-y populist that it makes clear, as if one wore a sign of neon lights on one’s head, and did a dance, smiling broadly and clicking your castanets, like some sort of sick, dystopian Carmen Miranda-in-Tron, that you pay only cursory attention to the state of the world as it is. A combination of ignorance and delusion that makes me wonder how in the hell this guy only lasted one term, because voters usually eat that kind of thing up.

Anyway, that’s the kind of contract that I’d like Josh Hamilton to get from another team.

As far as the impact of Upton’s signing on the rest of the market, I can’t say, because I don’t have any information. Which doesn’t stop some people from flinging around unsourced rumors like confetti. Because a scout and an agent think Hamilton ends up in Philly? Well, that and 17,000 credits will get you from Tatooine to Alderaan without any Imperial entanglements. Which, if I recall correctly, is the real trick, isn’t it?

A scout and an agent, presumably not Hamilton’s agent…so that’s two people who know a lot about baseball but have zero input in any process that would bring the Phillies and Hamilton together. That might as well be James Bond and the main character from To Kill a Mockingbird for all the good that does. If Bill and I say Josh Hamilton is going to Baltimore, or to Panera Bread for breakfast tomorrow, or to Mallorca for a nice offseason getaway with his wife, what then? We’re two guys who know a lot about baseball and have zero input in Hamilton’s professional future, would you believe us?

The point is not that what Crasnick said isn’t true, or that he’s even necessarily being irresponsible for reporting it. I’m just saying that it’s nothing more than what all of us are doing–speculating. So don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Phillies Close to Aquiring Reliever Wilton Lopez from Astros

Update: The deal has not been finalized yet, despite reports.

twitter.com/JonHeymanCBS/status/273820997558366210

twitter.com/JonHeymanCBS/status/273821328354717696

Lopez was one of those mentioned in my “Guys Hardly Anyone Talks About” column from September. The right-hander turns 29 in April and is arbitration-eligible through 2015, meaning that the Phillies will have a quality reliever for at least three seasons. He earned just over $515,000 last season.

In 66.1 innings last year Lopez struck out 54 and walked only eight, good for a (K-BB)/PA of 18 percent. Among free agent relievers, only two have a better mark than Lopez in that regard: Jason Grilli at 28 percent and Sean Burnett at 19 percent. Aside from his incredible control, Lopez induces a lot of ground balls. His 55 percent ground ball rate ranked 16th-highest out of 88 relievers who threw at least 60 innings in 2012. The league average for relievers is 45 percent.

In three full seasons, Lopez has shown durability and reliability, accruing at least 66 innings and a sub-3.00 ERA in each year. His SIERA ranged from 2.53 (last year) to 3.03 (2011) indicating that Lopez’s success has not been fluky and that he certainly belongs in the conversation among baseball’s elite relievers.

Lopez will set up for Jonathan Papelbon and could easily slot in the closer’s role in the event of an injury or just the odd day off. Having been previously linked to Texas Rangers reliever Koji Uehara, the Phillies address their desire for a quality set-up arm and can now focus on getting a center fielder. Behind Papelbon and Lopez, the Phillies will likely rely on many of the young arms that we saw so often last season.

Carlos Ruiz Suspended 25 Games for Using Banned Substance

Via Todd Zolecki on Phillies.com:

Major League Baseball announced Tuesday that Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz has been suspended 25 games for using an amphetamine. The suspension begins at the beginning of the 2013 season, which means Ruiz is unable to play until April 28 against the Mets at Citi Field.

The amphetamine in question is Adderall, a drug commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Amphetamines affect athletes differently than drugs such as steroids and growth hormone: instead of promoting muscle gain, amphetamines provide a burst of energy. Its effect varies from person to person, but Ruiz is one of many baseball players — including Willie MaysMike Schmidt, and Barry Bonds — to have used them. Amphetamines were officially banned in Major League Baseball in 2006.

As a result of Ruiz’s 25-game suspension, the Phillies will be without their star catcher until April 28. GM Ruben Amaro said to reporters that the initial thought is to replace Ruiz internally, much like they did during the 2012 season when Ruiz missed time due to plantar fasciitis. This likely means Erik Kratz, the presumptive back-up to Ruiz, opens up the season as the starting catcher. Humberto Quintero, a veteran catcher recently signed to a Minor League deal, is the favorite for the back-up role but the Phillies will no doubt leave that open for competition.

For many, Ruiz’s failed drug test puts into question not only his great 2012 season in which he set many career highs (H, R, 2B, HR, RBI, AVG, SLG, OPS), but the entire progression of his career, from a light-hitting game-caller in 2007-08 to the backbone of the Phillies’ offense between 2010-12.  In 114 games, Ruiz was the third-most valuable catcher in baseball in 2012 according to both FanGraphs WAR (5.5) and Baseball Reference WAR (4.4).

The news of Ruiz’s suspension comes at an unfortunate time in Philadelphia sports where none of the four major teams are providing much in the way of optimism. Fortunately, Ruiz will only be gone 25 games rather than the typical 50 games for players caught using steroids for the first time. Additionally, the Phillies will have four months to decide how to approach the beginning of the season without their backstop. In the grand scheme of things, this could have been worse and the Phillies should be able to get by without him in the first month of the season.

The Future is Unwritten: Cody Asche

I just looked up Phillies third basemen on Baseball Reference to see when they last had one who performed at an above average offensive clip. I had to go back to my freshman year of high school, to David Bell’s 107 OPS+ in 2004, before I was comfortable anointing him. If you visit this site regularly you’ve been saturated with recent discussion regarding the Phillies situation at the hot corner. Offensive futility has reigned supreme at third base for nearly a decade now. While it was certainly fun watching Pedro Feliz play gorgeous defense there for a few years and Placido Polanco has been likeable, if demure, in various facets of seamdom, we justifiably want more from that position.

We’ve examined external options via trade and free agency but only in passing/comments have we mentioned what some may now feel is an internal option at third base, if not now, in the near future. That option is Cody Asche. I saw plenty of Asche in Reading during the second half of this year but waited on writing up a formal report on him when I heard he had been assigned to the Arizona Fall League. I wanted to see if any notable development would occur after new instructors from other teams got a hold of him for a month.  After another handful of my own evaluations and some talks with people who get paid to have an opinion on baseball players, I can present to you an ironclad assessment of what Cody Asche is and what he might be.

The first thing I look at when evaluating a player is his physical composition. What does the body look like now and what will it look like in three, six and nine years from now? Asche has an average body with no notable physical limitations (he’s not fat or hurt) and no exceptionalities (he’s not built like Yeonis Cespedes, either). He has skinny forearms which contribute to a lack of raw power (which we’ll talk about later). He has little to no physical projection remaining, unless he decides to eat his way out of baseball. A rather uninteresting physique.

Asche’s bat, on the other hand, is quite interesting. He’s limited by below average power, but he should make plenty of contact. It all comes from incredibly sound hitting mechanics. Asche displays quiet feet, quick hands that explode forward from a good hitting position and a bat path conducive of contact. He’ll spray balls all over the field and should gap quite a few doubles. My ESPN colleague, Keith Law, has stated that Asche is loading his hands deeper than he was in college which opened up the possibility for Asche to hit for more pop, even if it’s modest pop. It all boils down to a slightly above average hit tool and below average power. The below average power could harm his on-base skills in the majors as pitchers challenge him, unafraid of Asche doing any real damage on his own.

Asche’s defense at third base was the main hang up for me whilst watching him this season. He looked so terrible at times that I thought working him in both outfield corners and at first base for the next two years was the best course of action, hoping he could become a useful, four corners bench bat. He showed marked improvements in Arizona. Asche will now comfortably make routine plays and exhibits confidence attacking softly hit balls in on the grass. He wasn’t doing these things during the summer. He has a fringy arm, at best, and his hands aren’t soft enough to cleanly field well struck balls, even when they’re hit right at him. He’s still not good over there, but he’s now passable. Asche is also a below average runner, timed between 4.34 and 4.27 from home to first.

To recap, the tools look like this:

Hit: 55

Power: 40

Run: 40

Field: 45

Throw: 45

It’s the profile of a below average regular but keep in mind these things don’t occur in a vacuum. The Phillies scored plenty of runs with Abraham Nunez suiting up at third base almost every day so Asche might just have to be a reasonably un-embarrassing fallback option. It’s not a sexy OFP, it’s not an exciting profile to put together, but this is the job. I’d send Asche back to Double-A to start 2013 and move him to the Lehigh Valley if he keeps hitting. He could see a cup of coffee in September or earlier if injuries force him up.

A Note on K/BB

Over at Beyond the Box Score, Glenn DuPaul (@Glenn_DuPaul) recently wrote a great article about the flaws inherent to the strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) stat. It’s one you’ve seen in many pitching-related articles here, and one I’ve generally just used unthinkingly lately due to its comfort and ease of use.

DuPaul wrote:

My primary issue with the statistic is the fact that walks are in the denominator. Strikeouts are just as (if not more) important as walks, however when walks are the denominator, a pitcher who is very good at not walking batters, but not a great strikeout pitcher will end up with a high K/BB. It’s simple math.

I prefer to stick with plate appearances as the denominator. Strikeouts minus walks, then divided by plate appearances — (K-BB)/PA — makes for a much more valuable statistic, in my opinion.

For those who feel like that statistic is too much work when K/BB is already calculated right there for use, think of (K-BB)/PA in a different sense.

(K-BB)/PA is the same thing as K% minus BB% (both statistics that are readily available). It’s simply the percentage of batters that a pitcher strikes out minus the percentage of batters that same pitcher walks.

DuPaul then offers a few examples of how K/BB can be a bit misleading, even citing former Phillie Joe Blanton.

Unfortunately, DuPaul’s more technical stat isn’t widely available on FanGraphs and Baseball Reference (yet?) so it won’t be as convenient to cite, but going forward, I will make a concerted effort to use it instead of K/BB. Hopefully the change leads to more accurate analysis going forward.

What follows is a comparison for Phillies pitchers who faced at least 200 batters during the 2012 season.

Strikeout rate (K%), high to low

Player K%
Antonio Bastardo 36.2 %
Jonathan Papelbon 32.4 %
Cole Hamels 24.9 %
Cliff Lee 24.4 %
Joe Blanton 20.5 %
Roy Halladay 20.4 %
AVERAGE 18.7 %
Vance Worley 18.1 %
Kyle Kendrick 17.2 %

Walk rate (BB%), low to high

Player BB%
Joe Blanton 3.2 %
Cliff Lee 3.3 %
Roy Halladay 5.6 %
Cole Hamels 6.0 %
Jonathan Papelbon 6.3 %
Kyle Kendrick 7.3 %
AVERAGE 7.4 %
Vance Worley 8.0 %
Antonio Bastardo 11.6 %

Strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB), high to low

Player K/BB
Cliff Lee 7.39
Joe Blanton 6.39
Jonathan Papelbon 5.11
Cole Hamels 4.15
Roy Halladay 3.67
Antonio Bastardo 3.12
AVERAGE 2.51
Kyle Kendrick 2.37
Vance Worley 2.28

(K-BB)/PA, high to low

Player (K-BB)/PA
Jonathan Papelbon 26.1 %
Antonio Bastardo 24.6 %
Cliff Lee 21.1 %
Cole Hamels 18.9 %
Joe Blanton 17.3 %
Roy Halladay 14.9 %
AVERAGE 11.3 %
Vance Worley 10.2 %
Kyle Kendrick 9.9 %

There isn’t a sea change between K/BB and (K-BB)/PA. Perhaps the biggest beneficiary is Antonio Bastardo, who had the third-lowest K/BB of the eight pitchers listed, but moved up to second-best in (K-BB)/PA. Joe Blanton, as mentioned, isn’t quite as attractive in this new light. Compared to the 11.3% league average, though, most qualified Phillies pitchers performed well.

Greinke, Hamilton, Mental Health, Masculinity and Dignity

I know it’s been literally months since I’ve written anything even remotely serious here, but I just want to warn you up front that, unlike most of the stuff I write here, this isn’t going to be funny. Or perhaps this is a better way to put it: this isn’t going to attempt to be funny. I don’t want to presume to speak for Bill or the other guys with this post, but this needs to be said.

In a vacuum, the two best players on the free agent market right now are Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton. Each has won a major award (Greinke the Cy Young in 2009 and Hamilton the MVP in 2010), and each has spent his free-agency years putting up remarkable stats, both traditional and advanced. Each should, most likely, receive a nine-figure contract to play baseball for the better part of the next decade, and good for both of them.

But this free agent class is interesting. Not only because, while it’s relatively deep, it lacks the top-end star power of recent years, but because its two crown jewels, Hamilton and Greinke, are known almost as much for their off-field difficulties as for their on-field prowess.

And about a month into the offseason, I have been truly shocked by how little we’ve heard about the former. It might be a function of my being very careful what bits of the public sports debate I expose myself to, but I’ve been incredibly pleased by how little we’ve heard about Greinke’s anxiety disorder and Hamilton’s battle with drugs and alcohol.

In case you’ve been on the moon since 2005 or so, here’s how the story goes. Josh Hamilton was drafted No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999 out of a North Carolina high school. He was viewed at the time as a franchise-defining prospect, possessed of obvious athleticism, a tremendous throwing arm and generational power. He was spoken of at the time in the same awed tones we currently use for guys like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton. But his minor league career was derailed around the turn of the century by drug and alcohol abuse, forcing him to leave the game for three years to seek help. In 2007, the Cincinnati Reds, having acquired Hamilton through the Rule V draft, gave him 337 major-league plate appearances, and Hamilton made the most of them, posting a .292/.368/.554 slash line and netting them Edinson Volquez in a trade that offseason. Since then, Hamilton has made the All-Star team every year, and in 2010, at age 29, he led the American league in batting average and slugging percentage to win the MVP award.

Hamilton’s skills with the bat have been consistently coupled, in the public eye, with discussion about his addiction. Part of this is by Hamilton’s own choice, and considering what he overcame and what he’s accomplished since, he ought to be open about his faith and his recovery. He serves as a role model for those struggling with addiction, a symbol of hope for those who want to overcome it and seek help by going to alcohol and drug rehabs.

Greinke’s story is similar in some ways. Drafted No. 6 overall in 2002, the famed “Moneyball” draft, where he went ahead of Scott Kazmir, Jeff Francis, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain, Greinke was a prodigy, making 24 big-league starts in his age-20 season. But he imploded in 2005 and missed most of the 2006 season trying to manage social anxiety disorder and depression. By 2009, he was back, to the tune of, by Baseball Reference’s account, a 10.1-WAR season. Since then, he’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball.

So two happy endings, right? Most of you are intimately familiar with the details of these stories, but how we discuss mental illness in sports has a significant bearing on how we discuss it as a society. Don’t believe me? Our political media, for instance, borrows much from sports media, from a troubling strain of anti-intellectualism and innumeracy to the struggle to find meaning in minutiae. So how we talk about and think about Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton has an impact on how we think not only about other public figures, but more importantly, about each other.

I’ve been a strident opponent of the Phillies signing Josh Hamilton this offseason. His age, relative to the length of contract he’s likely to receive, scares me. As do his declining defensive utility in center field, his reliance on contact skills rather than plate discipline and his troubling injury history, which stands to get worse, not better, as his body ages. You know what doesn’t scare me? His history with drugs. Hamilton has made a lot of public noise about the great pains he’s taken to remain clean (with rumors of intermittent, though isolated, relapses) since his return to baseball. He’s struggling with a disease, one identified as such by the National Institutes of Health, and one which afflicts 23 million Americans. With proper caution and supervision, which Hamilton seems eager to take advantage of, he poses, in a vacuum, no more risk to a would-be employer than you or I.

The issue is whether he gets that caution, supervision and treatment. And to that I’ll say, the more we stigmatize addicts and alcoholics in our society, the less likely they are to get what they need to stay clean. Staying sober is a choice, but the way we treat addicts as a society speaks to the way we deal with societal inequalities of all kinds. There’s a common strain of thought in modern political culture, that there’s a 1-to-1 relationship between personal failings and moral weakness. And while the most intelligent and hardest-working often do rise to the top, success and virtue are not as well-linked as we’d like to think.

Certainly Hamilton made bad choices, for which he has paid the price. But we’re better off if we help those who struggle with addiction or any kind of obstacle, particularly if they, like Hamilton was, are willing to accept that help and realize their full potential. And for that, in spite of how he got there in the first place, Hamilton deserves…well, maybe not any special respect or admiration, but at least the courtesy of being judged for what he is now, not as a punchline.

So if you’re going to talk about Josh Hamilton’s addiction as part of the calculus that determines his value as a ballplayer, I don’t have any problem with that. I’m probably more willing to give him  a pass than some people, and that’s fine. But don’t use it as a blanket condemnation–factor it in as part of an informed discussion about his overall value. Because while Josh Hamilton is not only a baseball player, neither is he only a recovering drug addict.

***

But I’ve buried the lede somewhat, because this is really about Zack Greinke. And even then, it’s not really about just him either. This is about Joey Votto as well. And Olympic sprinter Derrick Adkins. And Royce White.

A couple weeks ago, White, a rookie forward for the Houston Rockets, spoke out against the Rockets because he felt they weren’t adequately helping him deal with his anxiety disorder. White’s case has since turned into a messy battle of he-said-she-said, but the public discussion around the issue has remained the same–that White can somehow just get over his problem.

And that insinuation, in the moment, made my blood fucking boil. It’s been a while since I’ve been legitimately vision-closing-in, heart racing, blood-run-cold angry about a sports story, but this one did it. And it’s an outgrowth of the same kind of ill-informed, Eisenhower-era, rub-some-dirt-on-it nonsense that tells us that Greinke “can’t handle the pressure” or “wouldn’t do well in a place like New York or Boston or Philly.” The kind of nonsense that gets “head case” thrown around like it’s some kind of psychological term of art.

This is entirely speculation, but I can’t believe the current composition of coaches and analysts helps. Those ranks are filled largely not with professional administrators and experts, but professional athletes and people trained to get information from professional athletes. So when Royce White goes AWOL, or Zack Greinke goes on the 60-day DL to get therapy, we don’t hear from an M.D. who’s spent his adult life as a neurologist or a counselor. We hear from someone with a B.A. in journalism from Mizzou or Syracuse or Northwestern, or someone with 250 career home runs who looks good in pinstripes, either one of which has spent his adult life in a locker room, being washed over with a professional athletic culture that was had a barbaric conception of masculinity when it was created generations ago.

Considering the prevalence of depression and anxiety in American culture, it scares the shit out of me that we’re routinely entrusting the future of potentially vulnerable young people to men like Billy Gillispie, Jerry Kill and Mike Leach. Because at best, college and professional coaches are ill-qualified to help a young man deal with mental illness, but at worst, they are martinets and bullies with a set of expectations straight out of the Parris Island scenes in Full Metal Jacket. 

As tempting as it is to view athletes dispassionately as lines on a statistical or financial ledger, as we often do, sometimes they turn into what they are in real life: young men in their early-to-mid-20s who often have uncertain futures and have been trained from the cradle not to show any outward signs of weakness. And when that atmosphere contacts one of the 8-to-12 percent of Americans who will experience clinical depression at some point in their lives, or the 7-to-13 percent who will do the same with social anxiety disorder, the combination is toxic and dangerous.

I don’t consider Greinke’s struggles with mental illness as part of his baseball portfolio, because I’m not a psychiatrist, so I can’t speak intelligently on the subject. I can speak intelligently on that situation I described above: dealing with depression as a guy in his early 20s, uncertain future, lifelong discouragement from seeking help. It’s not fun. Even in relatively mild cases, it’s hard to sleep, hard to deal with panic attacks that come without a pattern or warning. It’s hard to wake up in the morning and get out of bed, and when you do, it’s hard to come up with a reason to deal with the source of your anxiety.

And being told that asking for help is a sign of mental weakness, or brands you as a head case, or a complainer, or somehow defective is hardly a compelling incentive to get the medication or therapy you need, or to at least know what’s wrong with you so that, through your own awareness you can overcome it on your own. It’s a shame, too, because for many people, the difference between being able to function and considering taking one’s own life is a prescription, or an hour a week with a shrink, or at the very least, the support of friends and family. Just as with addiction, the stigma against mental illness makes life immeasurably harder on those who could be treated and saved with relatively little effort.

The worst part is that people who spout the “well just get over it” or “head case” lunacy, or even in some cases, just joke about it, are negatively impacting the lives of those around them. Because I guarantee that you know someone for whom depression and/or anxiety is a major struggle. It’s that common, and the gulf between treated and not cannot be overstated.

That’s why I was so encouraged by the maturity of discourse around Greinke by the time he reached free agency. That’s why, for me, the best thing to happen in baseball this season wasn’t Mike Trout’s unbelievable season, or the Giants’ remarkable run to the playoffs, or the Phillies resigning Cole Hamels. It was that when Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff went on the disabled list with anxiety in April, the media reaction was one of overwhelming support.

That’s why this isn’t really about Zack Greinke or Royce White. I’m not worried about them so much. What I am worried about is this: there’s some college junior sitting in the dark somewhere who gets panic attacks or can’t be bothered to go to class, but is scared to death that people might think he’s crazy or weak if he sees a therapist. That’s what this is about, because we deal with mental illness in young men, as a society, with nothing short of criminal neglect. And the more athletes come forward and address this issue publicly, as something to be dealt with but not ashamed of, the more helpful we’ll be as a society. I am emboldened to write to you now because this summer, several writers I look up to talked openly about their struggles with anxiety and/or depression. And the more maturely we discuss Zack Greinke’s history, or Joey Votto’s, or Royce White, the more young men who struggle with mental illness can do the same.

Potential Moves and the Domino Effect

It’s been nearly a month since the final game of the 2012 MLB season was played, and outside of a bunker-buster trade pulled off between the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays, things have been quiet this offseason. This rings especially true for the Phillies, who are being linked to some of this free agent crop’s top names, but have yet to make a bold move.

In actuality, this is a good thing. The Phillies indeed are players for some top talent, but not necessarily the top players on the market. Their current needs and desires are known: centerfielder, third baseman, reliever and possibly corner outfielder. Those of you who are getting anxious and hoping for an imminent move (as I’m sure we all are at some point) may be waiting a bit longer yet, because there are preceding moves that have to happen before the Phillies land any of their targets…if they’re hoping to get a better deal, that is. Here are some potential targets and the moves that have to happen before they can be acquired if the Phils are to avoid setting the market (as they did with Raul Ibanez) or blowing it out of the water (Jonathan Papelbon).

CF Target: B.J. Upton
Preceding Domino Move: Josh Hamilton

The Phillies and Hamilton have been linked, but that feels little more than a big-market link to keep value up. Hamilton isn’t a fit in Philadelphia. Upton, on the other hand, feels much more like a good fit, with his age, defensive ability and occasional pop making for an attractive combination.

Upton won’t be cheap, but he’ll be cheaper than Hamilton…if Hamilton signs first. There exists a possibility, at least in my mind, that there are enough concerns about Hamilton’s durability and off-field circumstances that could, potentially drive his price down. This would be especially true if the other top outfielders available – Upton, Angel Pagan and Nick Swisher included – sign first and set the market. If the Phillies are to avoid overpaying for Upton (at least, more than they already will be through free agency), Hamilton has to find a home first. This may not end up being the case, though, as Tampa Bay Times writer Marc Topkin suggests that Upton could be signing this week.

3B Target: Kevin Youkilis
Preceding Domino Move: None

The free agent market for third basemen is rather odiously weak this winter. The top names that would potentially be available are only obtainable via trade, those being San Diego’s Chase Headley and the Mets’ David Wright. The Phillies don’t have the pieces to deal for either, and should instead be looking for a one- or two-year stopgap. Youkilis, by all accounts, can still play a fair third base and doesn’t seem to be in line for a big payday. As there’s no clear top-tier third baseman currently on the market, there isn’t really a bar to be set.

RP Target: Koji Uehara
Preceding Domino Moves: Rafael Soriano, Mike Adams

The link between the Phils and Uehara seems tenuous at best at the moment, but it’s one I’d love to see strengthened into an eventual signing. Uehara has quietly posted stellar numbers in his four-year Major League career, including elite K:BB numbers. He’ll turn 38 around Opening Day, which doesn’t fit the Get Younger mantra, but Uehara hasn’t shown signs of slowing and certainly seems worth the gamble.

Soriano is the clear breadwinner of this class and will, by far, make the most of any free agent reliever on the wire. Adams, Uehara’s Texas teammate since last July, may not necessarily be the second-best option behind Soriano, but he seems to be a good comp production-wise and thus would likely clear the picture around Uehara. The age gap between them is greater than three years, so the comparison is far from flawless, but Adams and Uehara are just two of nine relievers to have multiple relief seasons of five-plus K:BB since 2009 (Uehara has done it in three of the four, along with Sergio Romo). What Uehara’s trade price tag would be is unknown (if he’s even available from a contender), but would certainly be worth investigating.

Note: Earlier, for some reason, I thought Uehara was a free agent. He is not. We call that a “gaffe.”

Second Note (12/6): Uehara is a free agent, and just signed a one-year deal. Damned commentariat making me second-guess.

COF Target: Shin-Soo Choo
Preceding Domino Move: Justin Upton

Call this one a reach on my part. There is currently neither A) any indication the Indians will trade Choo or B) that the Phillies would be in play. But if a corner outfield upgrade is going to be made through trade, this is the guy I want. Choo has batted .289/.382/.458 with 123 doubles since 2009, and that includes an injury-riddled 2011 that saw his production take a hit. Turning 31 next July, Choo is still in his prime offensive years and can supply the steady, left-handed bat that Domonic Brown either hasn’t had a chance or has been unable to provide to date. Moreover, regardless of what Jimmy Rollins still believes he can do offensively, Choo is an ideal lead-off hitter despite his strikeout numbers. He provides decent speed (78 percent stolen base rate since 2009), the patience to draw a walk (78, 83 and 73 walks in ’09, ’10 and ’12) and has the extra-base pop to immediately get in scoring position ahead of the more powerful bats. What’s more, he’s entering a walk year on a badly struggling club that has but a dim chance of enticing him to stay around past this season. The fit is there.

If anything were to happen, though, I’d feel the trade price set by Justin Upton is one of the only things that could enable a deal. Upton and Choo, both right fielders, don’t share much of a link beyond position, but Upton’s clearly superior trade value would at least establish the ceiling for any potential talks that Phillies might have. The Phils don’t have much to work with, so a clearer idea of the sacrifice needed could help them utilize the right pieces in their
thin farm.

Crash Bag, Vol. 29: Leftover Sandwiches

I think it’s time for a major free agent domino to fall. I’m starting to get bored.

We’re at the point of the baseball calendar where nothing’s really going on. The World Series ends, and then we have award season and arbitration offers, maybe a trade or two (a couple of big ones this year, but that’s not the norm), but by mid-November, we’re into free agency and we’ve got bugger-all to talk about until the Winter Meetings, where nothing of substance really happens anyway. And I know a bunch of national writers are griping about the site of this year’s winter meetings, so let me just say this: I’ve been to the hotel you all hate, and I know it’s a wretched hive of vulgarity and bad taste. But you’re still going to Nashville on a business trip, so if you can’t manage to enjoy yourself, go decompose somewhere else, where you won’t bother anyone, and leave the baseball writing to those of us who still have a pulse.

But we’re still not in the part of the winter where no one’s making any big personnel moves, and at least in the post-New Year doldrums, we’re close enough to spring training and the start of the college season in mid-February that I don’t find myself sitting alone in a dark room, bouncing a baseball off the wall like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.

Being that it’s a holiday weekend, we’ve made like Miley Cyrus’ barber and cut things a little short this week.

@pinvert: “if phils manage to sign uehara, what’re some other names they pursue? adams? or will they stick a mix of the youngins?”

So yeah, the Phillies are apparently interested in former Orioles and Rangers relief pitcher Koji Uehara. This is exciting for two reasons: the first of which is that it puts a Japanese-born player on the Phillies. Since 2008, the Phillies have won the World Series every time they’ve had at least one Japanese player on the team, and have never won a World Series without the aid of a Japanese player. Therefore, signing Uehara guarantees a World Series win in 2013.

That, my friends, is BULLETPROOF LOGIC. There is NO POSSIBLE WAY that the demographic composition of the Phillies roster is unrelated to their postseason success. NONE WHATSOEVER.

No, but for serious, Uehara is among the most underrated players in baseball right now. He’s part of a slew of thirtysomething Japanese middle relievers who came over to the U.S. over the past decade. I consider guys like Uehara, and Hideki Okajima, and Takashi Saito, to be something like the spiritual successor to the Irish-American immigrants of the 19th Century, the massive influx of a certain kind of worker to prop up the American economy in times of trouble. One wonders if there’s some kind of Forkball Famine going on in Japan. Yeah, so anyway…

Uehara might be the best of the Japanese reliever diaspora. His career K/BB ratio is 7.97. He posted a 4.05 ERA his rookie year and hasn’t had a season over 3 since, despite pitching in two of the most hitter-friendly parks in the game. And no one really knows all that much about him, even in a Texas Rangers bullpen that’s been among baseball’s most storied over the past couple years. If he can be had on the relative cheap, I’d literally do a jig. And for all the fuss I make about not signing old middle relievers to contracts of multiple years and multiple millions of dollars, I’d at least bend that rule for Uehara’s sake. The man is a monster, and he’d be at the very worst a near-equal to Jonathan Papelbon.

Beyond that, I’m hearing a lot of fans wishing for Mike Adams, which I’d be okay with as well if the price were right. From 2009 to 2011, he was almost literally unhittable with San Diego and Texas, but he fell back down to Earth some in 2012, posting a 140 ERA+ and a K/BB ratio of 2.65 to 1, not the 5-to-1 or better he’d had in previous seasons. My fear with him is that he’d be valued at his 2009-11 level, but perform at his 2012 level.

Apart from that, I’d like to see the kids run the middle innings of the bullpen, if possible. I think Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus are more than ready to take on high-leverage roles, and Antonio Bastardo is at the very least a competent high-strikeout lefty out of the pen. If more veterans come, I’d rather they be of the low-risk variety. I know it didn’t work out that well, but I loved the Phillies’ acquisition of Chad Qualls last season. They picked a guy with devastating stuff (which he had), but enough red flags and question marks that he’d accept a short-term, low-money contract (which he did). They were then able to run him out there (which they did) to see if he was still damaged goods (which he was), knowing that if that were the case, they could cut him loose without swallowing a lot of money (which they did). I don’t say this a ton, but that was textbook-perfect process from El Rubador, and I’d love to see more of it this offseason, not only in the bullpen, but to fill out the back end of the bench.

@fotodave: “If you could cast the Phillies from all of David Fincher’s movies, Whats the stating lineup?”

I’ve been thinking about this one all week. It’s been very interesting. Bear in mind that I’ve never seen Alien 3, Panic Room, or that silly-looking Benjamin Button movie.

  • Cliff Lee: Mikael Blomkvsit, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The handsome, dour businesslike hero.
  • Ryan Howard: Arthur Leigh Allen, Zodiac. Big guy. Walks with a limp. Leaves a trail of dead bodies in his wake.
  • Carlos Ruiz: Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The freelance badass. I can’t think of a character in a Fincher movie who’s really as upbeat as we all like to think Chooch is. Maybe Sean Parker in The Social Network, but he’s kind of a drug-addled paranoid freak.
  • Roy Halladay: Det. Somerset, Se7en. The aging hero, kind of world-weary, still motivated to do his job well.
  • Kyle Kendrick: Erica Albright, The Social Network. Because people call him a bitch on the internet.
  • Jimmy Rollins: The Narrator, Fight Club. You get the sense that he really only ever wanted an orderly existence.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: John Doe, Se7en. In terms of his public persona, Papelbon is by far the most likely Phillies player to go around yelling “Awww, what’s in the box?” but there’s no blank stare quite like Kevin Spacey’s in Se7en, and no blank stare quite like Papelbon’s on the mound. And let me say that that movie is almost 20 years old, but it has aged incredibly well.
  • Chase Utley: Tyler Durden, Fight Club. Because he’s devastatingly attractive, and because he only exists intermittently.
  • Cole Hamels: Det. Mills, Se7en. What’s in the batter’s box? Oh, Bryce Harper? Plunk him.
  • Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf: The Winklevoss Twins, The Social Network. Because they’re both big, intimidating guys, and because they look so much alike.

@SoMuchForPathos: “You’ve been commissioned to write a Phillies-themed sonnet cycle. Describe scope, foci, and ultimate aesthetic value.”

Well, as LFO so famously sang, “Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole lot of sonnets.” In fact, their coupling of “sonnet” with “hornet” remains one of the more creative instances of slant-rhyming of 1990s pop-rock, perhaps rivaled only by Muse’s “soon/direction” couplet in “Filip,” off their debut album Showbiz. But I digress.

I’d have to write a lot of them, because I’d start at or near the beginning of Phillies-related history. Perhaps a sonnet here about the fantastic 1890s outfield of Hamilton, Delahanty and Thompson, or the mastery of Eppa Rixey, or the epilepsy and alcoholism of Grover Cleveland Alexander. Then on through the heady days of the Baker Bowl, where the likes of Chuck Klein posted team batting averages in the .300s for a last-place club.

A sonnet for Eddie Waitkus, reportedly the inspiration for the character of Roy Hobbs. On Richie Ashburn’s speed, on Granny Hamner’s knuckleball, on Tony Taylor and Larry Bowa and Steve Carlton’s slider, Mike Schmidt’s mustache, and Macho Row. And then on to more familiar subject matter.

And at the end, probably three or four hundred sonnets of–judging by my previous efforts at sports-related sonnets–middling aesthetic value at best, I’d be wishing for the fate of John Keats. Not only to have my work inspire adoration, great emotion and weltschmerz, but also to die of tubercolosis.

Because I hate, hate, hate writing in iambic pentameter. I prefer poetry that, if it has a structure, only does so to enhance the meaning or emotional impact of the piece. I know I go on and on about Dylan Thomas, but his best work is musical, lilting, fitted together with a variety of structures that you’d expect to find in a woodwind quartet. Iambic pentameter (unstressed syllable, stressed syllable), is essentially an accent on every upbeat. Ska music, if you will. And I don’t know about you, but I burned my hemp necklace, Vans sneakers and Less than Jake hoodie when I was 15, like every right-thinking American should have. So while I like Shakespeare as much as the next guy, he writes kind of like a guy with a patchy beard and a trombone.

But enough about this. It’s time for…

THANKSGIVING FOOD LIGHTNING ROUND

@uublog: “What are correct opinions on Thanksgiving foods? Stuffing – unnecessary or terrible? Skinless mashed potatoes – best potatoes?”

I’m glad you phrased it this way, because there are as many opinions on Thanksgiving foods as there are households serving Thanksgiving dinner. Which is good, because this is America, and we slaughtered the hell out of those Indians so we could serve turkey and potatoes however we like on the fourth Thursday in November. Let’s not let that freedom go to waste.

For instance, both Bill and Paul think stuffing is a waste.

Now, I’ve railed against the “Catchy quote of dubious sourcing/Q.E.D.” line of logic before, but I’d like to submit this catchy quote of dubious sourcing, most widely attributed to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” Not because I think it’s gospel in and of itself, but because I believe it to be empirically true that stuffing is an essential part of a quality American Thanksgiving dinner, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is not only a freedom-hating Communist, but anathema to the civil society we’ve worked so hard to found, for whose sake so much American blood has been shed.

And let’s be clear–I’m not talking about that Stove Top Box O’ Soft Croutons nonsense. That I could take or leave. I’m talking about hand-shredded bread, mixed with spices and chopped vegetables, then mashed up and shoved up that turkey’s butthole to marinate in the glorious juices of birdflesh. The kind that comes out soft, and spicy, and tastes of liberty and the warm embrace of friends and family.

In short, when I’m dictator of the world, this anti-stuffing junta, this Thanksgiving Fifth Column of Paul’s and Bill’s, will be put to death like the enemies of the state that they are. In fact, if any baseball blog of greater moral fiber than this one, is interested in my services, feel free to write to me at “I Don’t Want to Prop Up This Anti-Stuffing Dystopia Any Longer, Freedomland, N.J., 08050.”

Yeah, as for the rest, I like white meat over dark meat, but not by much. I’m not a big apple pie person at all, but I’ll chalk that up to my own weirdness, as well as a desire to eat as much cherry pie and pumpkin pie as possible. Other favored foods of mine: cauliflower, broccoli, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole and cranberry sauce (which we’ll get to later). I feel like ham is a decent optional second meat, but is by no means necessary. Neither, it should be made clear, is ham an acceptable substitute for Turkey, but I’ve been to Thanksgiving dinners with 30 or more attendees, and sometimes with a gathering that big, it’s worth it to cook a change-of-pace meat.

And as far as your point about skinless mashed potatoes being the best potatoes, I’ll say this: I prefer them to mashed potatoes with skin, and they’re among the best potatoes, but I can’t categorically call them the best potatoes. I mean, there are so many options: home fries, latkes, shoestring fries, raw fries with bleu cheese dressing, Belgian frites, and, perhaps most importantly, twice-baked potatoes. Skinless mashed potatoes are, as I’ve said, in the discussion, particularly with appropriate amounts (read: a lot) of butter and/or gravy, or even just with salt and pepper, but naming the best kind of potato, categorically…well, that’s above my pay grade.

@kalinkadink: “Which type of cranberry sauce do you like better–canned or fresh?”

Canned. I’d go on some rant about how, while acceptable, the value added by homemade cranberry sauce is nowhere near worth the effort, but Albert Burnenko did it much better a few days ago on Deadspin. If there’s homemade cranberry sauce around on Thanksgiving–and since New Jersey, in case you didn’t know, is half peat bog and half sand dune, there usually is at my house–I’ll heap some on my turkey and enjoy it.

But canned cranberry sauce has two advantages…actually, hold that thought. What a laugh it is that we call, essentially, a 12-ounce cylindrical Jello Jiggler a “sauce.” A sauce should be somewhat viscous and opaque, but ultimately liquid. And cranberry sauce isn’t even a “goo” or a “slop.” Not even a “gel,” as far as I can tell. I don’t know what kind of substance it is, but it’s tasty.

Anyway, like I was saying, the canned stuff has two advantages over the genuine article: first, getting it out of the can is the most fun you’ll have the entire month of November. You open the can, use a knife to break the seal between log and vessel, and shake it until the whole works plops out onto your plate, attended by the vaguely flatulent sound of a vacuum seal being broken. It’s awesome, and I’d eat two cans a day just to get to do open it if I could.

The second advantage is, for my money, the most underrated great thing about Thanksgiving. The Koji Uehara, if you will, of this holiday: Leftover Sandwiches. To make a Leftover Sandwich, take a few pieces of turkey and a spoonful of stuffing, with some cranberry sauce and put them on some bread. Not just your garden variety loaf of supermarket white, but sterner stuff. Weapons-grade bread, if you will. Bread to withstand what will, if you do it right, represent close to a kilogram of tasty things from each of the four food groups. Kaiser rolls, bagels, sourdough, that sort of thing. So while you must have turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing, the rest is negotiable. I like to have some mayonnaise as well, and sometimes cheese, but other people like gravy. The point behind a Leftover Sandwich, of course, is to liquidate what food you failed to eat the first time around, so if you want to throw some sweet potato casserole on the pile or something, go mashugana. Wawa has just, in the past couple years, started to capitalize on this, one of the greatest American culinary traditions, with the Gobbler, and my main question about that is, “What took them so long?”

What I was going to say is that if you have canned cranberry sauce, it’s easy to slice into sandwich-shaped discs that you can place on your Leftover Sandwich like the tomato on a Big Mac. But anyway, that’s why I like canned better than genuine cranberry sauce.

@andymoney: “phillies players as thanksgiving dishes (please show your work)”

No. You are not my eighth-grade algebra teacher. I will not show my work.

  • Turkey: Cliff Lee
  • Stuffing: Cole Hamels
  • Mashed potatoes: Roy Halladay
  • Pumpkin pie: Jimmy Rollins
  • Gravy: Jonathan Papelbon
  • Sweet potato casserole: Carlos Ruiz
  • Cranberry sauce: Domonic Brown
  • Cherry pie: Chase Utley (because I love it so much and there’s never as much of it as you want)
  • Ham: Vance Worley
  • Green bean casserole: Darin Ruf (I guess you guys like it, but I don’t really see what all the fuss is about)
  • Before-dinner cheese plate: Antonio Bastardo
  • Pecan pie: Kyle Kendrick (something I used to pass over, but have recently grown to appreciate more)
  • Apple pie: John Mayberry (I mean, it’s okay, but I don’t know why you’d have it if there were better options)
  • Fresh-baked bread/rolls: Nate Schierholtz (No one really seems to appreciate the value added here)
  • After-dinner pastries: Ryan Howard (Because I always eat so many of these it impairs my ability to walk)

It just occurred to me that while I’m writing all this on a Wednesday, y’all aren’t going to read this until Friday, which is after Thanksgiving. Oh, well. You can all do Thanksgiving again this weekend, in accordance with my decrees.

 

Phillies Interested in Uehara, Berkman

Via Ken Rosenthal:

The Phillies, in their search for a setup man, are asking around about Rangers righty Koji Uehara, whose $4 million salary in 2013 might be more than Texas is willing to pay.

Via Alex Speier:

Free agent Lance Berkman told Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle (as reported via twitter) that the Red Sox are one of four teams in “tire-kicking mode” on the 36-year-old free agent. Berkman, who was introduced as a volunteer assistant coach at Rice University (his alma mater), has said that he will make a decision later in the offseason about whether to retire or continue playing. According to Duarte, the Sox, Rays, Phillies and Astros have shown interest in him.

Let’s start with Koji Uehara. The Japanese reliever turns 38 years old in early April, so a multi-year deal is out of the question. He earned $4 million last year with the Texas Rangers, finishing with a 1.75 ERA and a 1.83 SIERA, thanks in large part to a strikeout-to-walk ratio in excess of 14. You read that right: for every one walk Uehara allowed, he struck out 14 batters. In fact, over his career spanning over 211 innings, he has averaged eight strikeouts for every one walk, an incredible ratio. A single-season double-digit strikeout-to-walk ratio has only been accomplished nine times, many of them in the last three years.

Player SO/BB IP Year Age Tm
Dennis Eckersley 18.33 57.2 1989 34 OAK
Dennis Eckersley 18.25 73.1 1990 35 OAK
Koji Uehara 14.33 36.0 2012 37 TEX
Sergio Romo 14.00 48.0 2011 28 SFG
Mariano Rivera 12.83 70.2 2008 38 NYY
Edward Mujica 12.00 69.2 2010 26 SDP
Rafael Betancourt 11.13 62.1 2010 35 COL
Koji Uehara 11.00 44.0 2010 35 BAL
Wilton Lopez 10.00 67.0 2010 26 HOU
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/21/2012.

The combined leaderboard for the 2009-12 seasons is even more ridiculous.

Player SO/BB IP From To Age
Koji Uehara 7.97 211.2 2009 2012 34-37
Sergio Romo 6.10 199.1 2009 2012 26-29
Rafael Betancourt 5.83 238.1 2009 2012 34-37
Mariano Rivera 5.61 196.0 2009 2012 39-42
Edward Mujica 5.06 304.2 2009 2012 25-28
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/21/2012.

Uehara is one of the few veteran relievers that should be on the Phillies’ radar. His defense-independent skills (lots of strikeouts, very few walks) make him a solid bet in 2013, and his age inhibits him from demanding a rich multi-year contract. A one-year deal in the $4-5 million range would be perfect and prevents the Phillies from wildly spending on other inferior, experienced arms.

Lance Berkman, another veteran free agent in his late 30’s, is just as interesting. He clearly has something left in the tank, as evidenced by his aggregate .378 wOBA over the past three seasons  spanning 1,165 plate appearances. Over those three years, however, he has missed a lot of time with lower-half injuries. He needed surgery on his right knee last year after tearing his meniscus. Berkman wasn’t the same, posting a .675 OPS between his return after the injury, and his return to the disabled list in early September. There are two obvious questions: can Berkman stay on the field consistently going forward, and is he completely devoid of mobility?

The first question is important because it would impact the other personnel the Phillies acquire. If they see Berkman playing in the outfield as he did for 126 games in 2011, they would need a center fielder with a lot of range — say, Michael Bourn as opposed to Josh Hamilton. Additionally, the Phillies would need a contingency plan in the event Berkman misses a lot of time. Perhaps they utilize the John Mayberry/Nate Schierholtz platoon I have been harping about so much, or maybe they rely on Darin Ruf. The second question impacts where Berkman would play. If Berkman has been rendered immobile, then he can only play first base and come off of the bench as a pinch-hitter not unlike what Jim Thome did in 2012. Ryan Howard is still a question mark, so giving him scheduled days off, particularly against tough left-handed starting pitchers, would be a good idea.

Berkman turns 37 in January and will receive only one-year offers. He earned $12 million last year with the St. Louis Cardinals, but he will not command as much this off-season for obvious reasons. Although it is not a terribly expensive risk to allot — spitballin’ here — $5 million to a guy with All-Star-level offense when he has been able to stay on the field in recent years, he doesn’t really provide anything that the Phillies don’t already have. A Mayberry/Schierholtz platoon, when you factor in defense and base running, would very likely out-produce anything Berkman would do in the outfield, and using Ruf (or Mayberry) in the role Berkman would be used in as a 1B/PH is a cheaper, less risky play. Despite being a fan favorite and surprisingly productive at the age of 41, Thome was more of a nuisance than anything last year. Thome started in only three non-interleague games and took a grand total of 71 at-bats before being sent to the Baltimore Orioles at the end of June. Berkman could be more of a hassle since Howard is expected to be ready to go by spring training anyway.