December 2006

Meanwhile, in the Real World …

If you read some fan boards, most notoriously the MLB.com Angels board, it’s the same old tired refrain. Everything is awful, everything is terrible, Angels GM Bill Stoneman should be fired because he doesn’t convince other teams to give us their best players for a couple of our marginal players, Angels manager Mike Scioscia should be fired because he doesn’t win 162 games a year, blah blah blah, ad nauseum.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the fact of the matter is that Stoneman is the most successful GM in the organization’s history, and Scioscia the winningest manager. Not only have the Angels been competitive for most seasons since the duo took over prior to the 2000 season, but Stoneman has built a deep and talented farm system that will continue to make the Angels competitive through the end of the decade.

And if one sits back to look at where things stand for 2007, there’s every reason to think the Angels will be in the mix for the pennant chase.

Was the 89-73 record a disappointment? Well, that’s a matter of personal opinion.

The world champion St. Louis Cardinals were 83-78 during the regular season. So by that standard, the Angels had a better year than the world champions. In an era of multi-tier playoffs, divisional play and wild-card contenders, you can be a pretty mediocre team, slip in the back door, and if you get on a hot run for a couple weeks you can win the World Series.

If your standard is whether the Angels reached the playoffs, then 2006 was a disappointment. But divisional play robs any sense of fairness from the system. Let’s face it, an 83-78 team has no business in the post-season. Neither does an 89-73 team, frankly. In 2001, the Seattle Mariners were 116-46, but lost the ALCS to the 95-65 Yankees, four games to one.

Speaking of 95 … If the Angels had only one game each month go differently this year, reversing the decisions of just six games in total, they would have been 95-67. And would have won the AL West.

So sometimes disappointment really is a matter of perception.

Despite the claims by some, both on fan boards and the media, that the offense was to blame, in the real world it was the defense.

In 2005, the Angels finished 2nd in the majors in fielding percentage, having committed 87 errors out of 6,001 total chances.

This year, the Angels finished 27th in the majors in fielding percentage, having committed 124 errors out of 6,027 total chances.

The result? The Angels pitching staff in 2005 allowed only 45 unearned runs. In 2006, it was 80 unearned runs. An increase of 35 unearned runs.

And for all the blather about the supposed ineptitude of the Angels’ offense in 2006, guess what? The numbers in 2006 were better than in 2005, when the Angels went to the ALCS.

The AVG/OBP/SLG in 2005 were .270/.325/.409 (.729 OPS) with 761 runs scored. In 2006, the numbers were .274/.334/.425 (.759 OPS) with 766 runs scored.

The .759 OPS in 2006 was #18 overall in the majors, not great, but better than the division-winning Oakland A’s who were #21 at .752.

So if the defense didn’t sag and allow those 35 unearned runs, could the Angels have won those six additional games? Swung one game a month?

Entirely plausible.

The offense could have been much better if not for unforeseen ailments that robbed the Angels of two top prospects for most of the year.

Let’s have a show of hands from all those whiners on the Angels board who successfully predicted a year ago that Casey Kotchman would miss most of the 2006 season with mononucleosis. (Dramatic pause for cricket-chirping sound effect.)

Kotchman was 22 1/2 years old when he returned to Anaheim for good in August 2005. He posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .302/.369/.526 (.895 OPS) in 116 AB during the final two months of the 2005 season. At age 23 in 2006, there was every reason to expect him to blossom as predicted by pretty much everyone knowledgeable about baseball.

Casey’s career has been marked by a number of freak injuries, nearly all of which were one-time incidents beyond his control. He’s not “injury-prone” as some claim. Prone means the same injury keeps happening. That’s not true with Kotchman. He’s been unlucky, freakishly so. Mononucleosis?! That was the weirdest one of all.

In any case, Kotchman is playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, and by all accounts is totally healthy. Winter ball stats are meaningless, but he’s doing pretty well and there’s no sign of fatigue.

Casey’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors this winter for Atlanta’s Adam LaRoche and Colorado’s Todd Helton, but so far they’ve been nothing but rumors. Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times wrote two articles this month insisting that the Angels were trying to package Kotchman in a deal for Helton, but Denver papers in response quoted the Rockies front office as saying the Times stories were untrue. In fact, with the second story, the Rockies’ GM said he hadn’t even talked to Stoneman in weeks.

Kotchman will be 24 in February. Most hitters don’t hit their prime until their late 20s. If Casey can stay healthy all of 2007 and post that .900 OPS over the entire season, then a major bat has been added to the lineup without a trade or an expensive free agent like Alfonso Soriano.

Dallas McPherson was the other loss. Dallas suffered a herniated disc in his lower back in spring training 2003. Since then, it’s been an intermittent problem. The injury was exacerbated by the discovery of a bone spur on his hip that was tearing at his muscles. McPherson had surgery in September 2005 and, according to media reports, was in a wheelchair for a month before he could even walk. He continued to struggle in 2006 with the lower back problem, locking up at unpredictable moments, and seems unsure how to resolve the problem. Surgery? Therapy? Yoga? There’s no consensus.

It’s foolhardy to judge a player’s performance when his back is locking up on him, so to dismiss McPherson as a bust is unwise. There remains the question, however, of how long the Angels can be patient with him.

I wrote on FutureAngels.com after the season ended the Angels’ targets this off-season would be strengthening the bullpen, upgrading the defense in center field, and resolving the third base situation.

The bullpen went through an overhaul, adding free-agent relievers Justin Speier and Darren Oliver, trading Kevin Gregg for Florida Marlins prospect Chris Resop, and trading Brendan Donnelly for Boston Red Sox prospect Phil Seibel. J.C. Romero was let go. So it looks like the bullpen will be stronger, with Joe Saunders and Chris Bootcheck other possibilities should Bartolo Colon’s return push Saunders out of the rotation.

The Angels signed Gary Matthews, Jr. to a five-year deal to play center field full-time. Some fans blasted the deal, but in comparison to other free-agent contracts signed so far this winter it was actually fairly reasonable. Matthews is unlikely to repeat his anomalous 2006 offense (.313/.371/.495), but he’s also likely to be better than Chone Figgins (.267/.336/.376) or Darin Erstad (.221/.279/.326) at the plate and at least as good as Figgins in CF, with many more years of outfield experience.

So that leaves third base. If McPherson can’t make it, then Figgins probably plays 3B.

My guess is the Angels would still love to have Miguel Tejada at third base, but when dealing with Baltimore there’s always owner Peter Angelos’ flakiness, and Tejada has stated publicly he won’t play 3B.

Let’s not overlook Howie Kendrick replacing Adam Kennedy at second base. Kennedy was arguably the best defensive 2B in the league. Kendrick is probably major-league average defensively right now, but he’ll be in the lineup for his bat. In his rookie year, Howie’s .284/.314/.416 (.730 OPS) were better than A.K.’s .273/.334/.384 (.718 OPS). Kendrick’s career minor league line was .361/.405/.570 (.975 OPS), so it’s pretty reasonable to assume he can post at least a .800 OPS over a full 2007.

So let’s see … A healthy Kotchman, a full year of Kendrick, a decent year from Matthews and the offense is looking pretty good, at least good enough to significantly improve over the last two years.

Losing Juan Rivera last week to injury last week in Venezuela was significant, but not as much as some might suspect. In his career, Rivera has always been a second-half hitter, and he didn’t contribute much in the first-half this year due to injury. The Angels signed free-agent Shea Hillenbrand as insurance, not just as a temporary replacement for Rivera in the lineup but also as "Plan B" for 1B or 3B in case Kotchman or McPherson fall again. Hillenbrand isn’t Rivera, but he should be good enough in combination with Kotchman, Kendrick and perhaps McPherson to generate the offense the pitching staff needs to win.

So the next time you read a fan screed or a beat writer allege that Stoneman has "done nothing" this winter, keep the above facts in mind. Much of what he needed to do, he did a long time ago. He knows what kept his team from winning more games this year. It wasn’t the offense, it was the defense and the stress that put on his pitching staff. The bullpen has been upgraded, Stoneman protected his deep starting rotation, he protected his young hitting prospects, and he added a couple veteran bats in Matthews and Hillenbrand.

Can the Angels reverse that one game a month? You bet.

This article is copyright © 2006 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

Denver Paper Debunks Helton to Angels Rumor

Baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby of the Denver Rocky Mountain News today published an article that debunked the rumor in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times reviving the Todd Helton trade.

Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd on Friday denied a story in the Los Angeles Times that quoted major league sources saying the Rockies have renewed talks with the Los Angeles Angels about a Todd Helton trade, a deal that was discussed briefly at the annual winter meetings.

"There is absolutely nothing there," O’Dowd said. "I haven’t talked to (general manager) Bill Stoneman or anyone with the Angels since the winter meetings. I have no idea who came up with that story."

In addition to $91.1 million in guaranteed money still remaining on the final five years of his contract, Helton has a complete no-trade clause, and he has shown no interest in playing for a West Coast team. Angels owner Arte Moreno ordered the Angels to back out of trade talks concerning Helton because he said he was concerned about Helton’s age (33), recent health issues and declining power.

That’s twice this month that Times writer Mike DiGiovanna claimed the Angels were planning to trade Casey Kotchman and others to the Rockies for Helton, and twice the Rockies front office has been quoted by Denver papers saying DiGiovanna was wrong.

This article is copyright © 2006 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

Juan Rivera Injured in Venezuela

MLB.com reports that Juan Rivera broke the tibia in his left leg while playing winter ball in Venezuela.

It’s too soon to project how the injury might affect Rivera’s 2007 season and beyond, but let’s assume for the moment he’ll miss at least part of next year.

Rivera projected to pretty much perform the same role as 2006, the fourth outfielder and DH, but figured to assume more left-field time from Garret Anderson and perhaps Vlad Guerrero, both who were less mobile due to injury. The arrival of free-agent Gary Matthews, Jr. meant less time in CF, where Rivera had less experience and Chone Figgins often roams.

But Matthews in his career has also seen plenty of time in LF (129 games) and RF (214), so it’s entirely possible that he’ll cover for GA and Vladi while Figgins returns to CF.

Although the Angels could carry another outfielder such as Reggie Willitts or Tommy Murphy until Rivera heals, they could also opt to carry another bat who would DH most of the time. The main candidate for that role would be Kendry Morales. Assuming the Angels don’t trade anyone, Casey Kotchman is the likely first baseman in 2007. Morales is nowhere near the 1B Kotchman is, so to get Kendry’s bat in the lineup DH would be the likely slot.

Other possibilities might include Morales playing a lot of LF during spring training, or even Dallas McPherson, who could also fill the DH slot when not playing 3B. It might also improve the chance that Darin Erstad returns for another year, if the Angels are satisfied his health is good enough to get a decent performance out of him.

Rivera’s injury is no reason to push the panic button and make a short-sighted trade. Injuries are the reason an organization builds a deep farm system. What it does mean is that the Angels, who’ve yet to secure the “big bat” promised last fall by owner Arte Moreno, will now have to rely even more on their prospects. Kotchman, Morales and McPherson will need to fulfill their potential to give the Angels’ excellent pitching staff some breathing room in close games.

The injury also evokes a memory of the horrific broken leg Justin Baughman suffered while playing winter ball in Mexico after the 1998 season. The fact of the matter is that teams have no contractual right to tell a player what he does in the off-season, unless those restrictions are negotiated — which means the player will expect compensation for the restriction. Latin players in particular won’t give up winter ball because it means so much to play for their home country.

Baughman was in Mexico learning second base. A career shortstop, the Angels force-fed him into the 2B role after Randy Velarde was hurt. Justin collided with a right-fielder and missed all of 1999. Speed was always his asset, and he was never the same after the injury.

Other players go to winter ball as a type of rehab assignment. That’s why Casey Kotchman is playing in Puerto Rico now. After the 2003 season, Bobby Jenks played winter to make up for lost time after missing much of that year with a sore elbow. It was in April 2004 that he suffered a stress fracture in the elbow, eventually requiring surgery to insert pins to hold it together.

Life is a risk, and so is baseball as a profession. Just because a player sits at home doesn’t mean he won’t have an injury at some point in his career. Sitting around getting fat or not honing their skills doesn’t do the team any good. That’s just part of the game.

This article is copyright © 2006 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

Times Report: Angels, Rockies Revive Helton Trade Proposal

Beat writer Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels and Rockies are trying to revive a proposed Todd Helton trade.

I remain skeptical, for no other reason than Helton’s no-trade clause.

Troy Renck of the Denver Post also reported on the rumor in today’s paper.

This article is copyright © 2006 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

Angels Acquire Phil Seibel for Brendan Donnelly

Brendan Donnelly at Arkansas in 2001
Brendan Donnelly began his Angels career with Double-A Arkansas in 2001.

Brendan Donnelly was just another minor league journeyman when Angels GM Bill Stoneman signed him in January 2001. At age 28, the Angels were his eighth organization, and he’d already served two stints in independent ball, hoping to just keep his career alive. He’d even signed as a replacement player during the 1995 major league baseball strike, a stigma that would catch up with him later.

Nearly six years, a successful career and a World Championship later, Stoneman traded Donnelly yesterday to Boston for Phil Seibel, a left-handed reliever who turns 28 next month. Seibel has his own journeyman story, an eighth-round choice by the Montreal Expos in the June 2000 draft who was traded to the Mets as a a throw-in for Bruce Chen, then claimed by the Red Sox on waivers eighteen months later, released and then re-signed a year after that, and finally befelled by an elbow ligament injury requiring “Tommy John” surgery in the autumn of 2004.

Seibel’s minor league numbers were good but never great. Before the surgery, he had a career ERA of 3.99 in 456 innings, mostly as a starter, with a career opponents’ average of .266 and a 341:141 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Seibel appeared in the Baseball America 2002 Prospect Handbook as the Expos’ #27 prospect, describing him as “a crafty lefthander with three solid pitches. He has an 87-89 mph two-seam fastball that produces ground balls, a 78-80 mph slider and a plus 79-80 mph changeup.”

The 2003 BA handbook ranked Seibel the #11 prospect in the Mets system, noting that he’d added “an improving curveball” to his repertoire. But he dropped off the radar after the Red Sox acquired him on waivers, and his elbow surgery sent his career to Tommy John limbo.

Many “Tommy John” survivors resume their careers in the bullpen, where studies show that working in short frequent intervals tend to develop the repaired arm rather than pitching in five-day intervals as a starter.

But Boston began his rehab as a 27-year old starter with Greenville, South Carolina, in the Low-A South Atlantic League (probably to begin his comeback in a warmer climate). In four starts last April of five innings each, he struck out 19 and walked none in those 20 innings against overmatched youngsters.

The Red Sox promoted him in late April to Double-A Portland (Maine), where he faced more experienced players, yet continued to show success. Seibel continued to work five innings a start, and continued to dominate. And so it was that in late June, the Red Sox promoted him to Triple-A Pawtucket.

Where he joined the bullpen.

Seibel made nine relief appearances for the PawSox, but was shut down in early August after experiencing tightness in his elbow. According to the Pawtucket Times, “A MRI revealed that the injury was a Grade 2 strain. Seibel had been rehabbing down in Florida,” but returned to Pawtucket in late August after a hurricane threatened the Red Sox’ minor league camp. Seibel made two more appearances in early September, just before the minor league season ended, working three relief innings. He allowed only one base runner on a hit, struck out two and walked none.

So now Seibel becomes another in a long line of Bill Stoneman relief corps reclamation projects. Some pitchers, such as Donnelly and Ben Weber, turned out to be gems. Others, such as Jason Bulger, broke down again and departed.

With the addition to veteran relievers Justin Speier and Darren Oliver, and with the earlier acquisition of Chris Resop from Florida for Kevin Gregg, Stoneman has solidified a bullpen that for years has ranked among the best in the big leagues. But it showed some fraying around the edges in 2006, as poor defense in the first half extended and finally exhausted the starting rotation, placing a heavier burden on the relievers.

Speier and Oliver will allow Seibel and perhaps Resop to return to Triple-A for some final polish. Should they falter, the Angels may rely on Chris Bootcheck and Greg Jones as options. Double-A flamethrower Jose Arredondo, a converted middle-infielder, needs a lot more work but is eventually destined for the bullpen. And Kevin Lynch, a 23-year old submariner who posted a 2.40 ERA and .206 average against at Rancho Cucamonga this year despite missing a month due to an ankle injury, may be on the horizon as a sleeper.

The moves Stoneman made this winter have built a solid and deep pitching foundation for the Angels, in 2007 and beyond. If Casey Kotchman and/or Dallas McPherson come back healthy, the offense will be much better, certainly good enough to provide the runs for a superior pitching staff to win ballgames.

This article is copyright © 2006 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

DiGiovanna on Stoneman

Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times had this to say about GM Bill Stoneman in response to a fan question:

Q: If you were at the winter meetings, is there a sense among the other GMs that Stoneman simply doesn’t want to make big-name trades? Do they even approach him anymore? Or is it more a, "Well, there’s Bill, I guess I’ll say hello as I walk to get my coffee and see if he has anything to say this year" thing?

A: I was at the winter meetings, and while I didn’t canvas the lobby to determine an answer to your question, I have talked to enough front-office executives from other teams to know that Stoneman is extremely difficult to deal with. Not because people don’t like him. Stoneman is personable, approachable, respected by his peers, often praised by executives and agents for being a straight-shooter. But he tends to overvalue his players and prospects while undervaluing players on other teams, and he seems completely immune to the concept that you have to give up something of value to get something of value. In fact, at least one team official told me this winter that as much as he likes Stoneman, trying to deal with him "is like dealing with Scrooge." I have often wondered whether that first trade Stoneman made as Angels GM, the 2000 deal that sent Jim Edmonds to St. Louis for Kent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy, scarred him permanently and made him more reluctant to trade.

Times Report: Angels, Rockies Discuss Helton to Angels for Kotchman, Figgins, and Aybar

Mike DiGiovanna’s rumor du jour from the winter meetings … The Los Angeles Times beat writer says the Angels were exploring a trade with the Rockies to acquire Todd Helton for “three high-level prospects.” The article names the three as Casey Kotchman, Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar.

The Denver Post reports that the Angels first inquired about Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins, then when told he was unavailable asked about Helton. The article contradicts DiGiovanna, quoting a Rockies source as saying “There was no exchanging of names or proposals.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Braves acquired reliever Rafael Soriano from Seattle, meaning they’re no longer looking for relief help elsewhere. The reporter suggests this could revive a possible trade of Adam LaRoche to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and Chone Figgins.

Times Report: Angels, Braves Discuss LaRoche to Angels for Kotchman, Figgins

Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels and Braves are discussing a trade that would send Casey Kotchman and Chone Figgins to Atlanta for Adam LaRoche.

Such a trade would relocate the Angels players closer to their Florida homes. LaRoche’s father Dave was a reliever for the Angels in the 1970s; Adam was born in Orange County during Dave’s second Angels tour in 1979.

On the Manny Ramirez front, DiGiovanna writes:

The Red Sox told the Angels that closer Francisco Rodriguez or set-up man Scot Shields would have to head any package for Ramirez. It’s possible Boston would accept a package led by one of the Angels’ two young starting pitchers, Ervin Santana or Jered Weaver.

But the Angels, whose organizational pitching depth thins out considerably beyond the big-league staff, would prefer not to move any pitching for Ramirez. The Red Sox inquired about shortstop Orlando Cabrera and middle infielder Maicer Izturis, because they need a shortstop, and they like outfielder Juan Rivera.

UPDATE 6:30 AM PST 12/5/2006 — Adding fuel to the Angels/Braves trade rumor reported last night by the Los Angeles Times, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the Braves want pitching along with Chone Figgins for Adam LaRoche.

UPDATE 8:00 PM PST 12/5/2006 — Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Adam LaRoche deal is less likely because Atlanta is asking for Scot Shields as part of the transaction. Boston’s demands pretty much rule out any deal for Manny Ramirez.

BA’s Top 10 Angels Prospects

Baseball America‘s rankings of the Angels Top 10 Prospects are now online. Their Top 10:

  1. Brandon Wood SS
  2. Nick Adenhart RHP
  3. Erick Aybar SS
  4. Young-Il Jung RHP
  5. Stephen Marek RHP
  6. Hank Conger C
  7. Jeff Mathis C
  8. Sean Rodriguez SS/2B
  9. Sean O’Sullivan RHP
  10. Tommy Mendoza RHP

The FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report was published on November 29. There’s not too much difference, other than a reflection of our respective philosophies. I tend to look more towards who’s likely to have an impact with the Angels in the major leagues in the near future, while BA tends to look at a player’s ceiling, regardless of when that might be or with what team.

For example, I gave consideration to Young-Il Jung and Sean O’Sullivan, but decided not to include them. Jung, a high school Korean pitcher, hasn’t thrown a professional pitch yet in a regular-season game. (He pitched in instructional league.) O’Sullivan had a great first year at Rookie-A Orem but BA reported his velocity still hasn’t returned to its mid-90s high from a couple years ago.

If you have a BA susbcription, click here to read an on-line chat transcript today with BA analyst Alan Matthews, who wrote this year’s report.

The Winter Meetings Begin

Baseball’s annual winter meetings are this week in Orlando. The local papers review the Angels’ priorities when it comes to player personnel transactions.

Matt Hurst of the Riverside Press-Enterprise has the best article, a lengthy interview with Angels General Manager Bill Stoneman.

Hurst reports that, contrary to fan rumors on certain bulletin boards, it’s not likely the Angels will go after Manny Ramirez.

Back on October 2, I wrote that the Angels’ priorities this winter should be adding a center fielder, a third baseman and bullpen depth. So far, Stoneman has added the center fielder by signing free-agent Gary Matthews, Jr., and the bullpen depth by signing reliever Justin Speier.

That leaves the third baseman, who could be the “big bat” promised by owner Arte Moreno at season’s end.

Los Angeles Times reporters Steve Henson and Mike DiGiovanna suggest that the third base targets include the usual suspects — Miguel Tejada and Joe Crede — with Alex Rodriguez and Adrian Beltre among the remote possibilities. Although first base candidates are also discussed, personally I think the Angels are better off to go with Casey Kotchman, or Kendry Morales as a Plan B. Dallas McPherson is still in the mix as a third baseman or even a first base candidate, as well as veteran Robb Quinlan.

Doug Padilla of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune newsgroup has a quote from a White Sox source debunking the Santana/Figgins for Crede/Garcia trade, saying that “anybody with a trade idea and an outlet to present it can cause a stir,” a reminder not to believe the nitwit rumors that shows up on fan boards.

The Times‘ DiGiovanna wrote on November 30 that the Matthews signing was opposed by “many Angels fans” citing “the harsh message-board comments on the team’s website.”

But that board doesn’t represent Angels fandom by any means. My guess is that there are less than 100 people who post there regularly. Many of them are teenagers who exploit flaws in the board software to create multiple screen names so it appears someone agrees with them. In fact, an opinion column in the November 26 Times wrote about how today’s young adults have taken to on-line chat sites to create fictitious personae for themselves.

And then there are the people who worship at the Church of Sabermetrics. Even their idol, A’s GM Billy Beane, has walked away from sabermetric orthodoxy. In an interview by Baseball America columnist Alan Schwarz in their October 19 issue, Beane said:

I think the thing everyone’s most proud of around here is the ability to adapt. I think that the misnomer about us in Oakland is that we’re very dogmatic. We’re dogmatic about our desire to win, and try to do it in any possible way that we can … We’re well aware that all plans need to be adjusted on the fly, because as soon as you think you know something to be absolute fact, you’re probably in trouble.

Beane joked, “One day we will lead the league in stolen bases.”

A lot of those “many Angels fans” DiGiovanna cites are actually “statheads” who think that real-world baseball functions like fantasy baseball. Sure, the Matthews contract was ridiculous, but then 99% of the salaries in major league baseball are ridiculous. This year’s free-agent market is a function of demand far exceeding supply.

As I’ve written before, it’s unlikely Matthews will reproduce his 2006 offense output, but he’ll be an improvement over Chone Figgins. Some statheads are citing fragmentary and unproven statistical formulae to claim Matthews is the worst center fielder in baseball, which is absurd. I’ve yet to see a stat that ranks how well an outfielder runs his route to the ball, or takes into consideration the profile of the pitching staff, or adjusts the stats for playing conditions. At the very least, they should be looking at a three-year sample, which they don’t; they bash Matthews’ 2006 season offensively as a fluke, but they fail to look at Matthews’ defensive performance beyond that same one year.

It’s also unfortunately typical to see a lot of demands for instant gratification on those boards. The fact of the matter is that Opening Day is April 2, 2007 — 120 days from now.

I’m more than happy if Stoneman stands pat and goes into spring training to see if Kotchman, Morales and McPherson can handle the first base and third base jobs. Those three have plenty of power potential — and despite what some claim that acquiring a “proven” veteran equates to a “guaranteed” world championship, in the real world nothing is guaranteed. Just ask the Yankees how many championships they’ve won with Alex Rodriguez at third base. Ask the Orioles how many they’ve won with Miguel Tejada. And then look at who’s the reigning world champion — the 83-78 St. Louis Cardinals.

All a “big bat” acquisition does is generate a headline for a day. Beyond that, the game is played on the field — not on paper, not on a spreadsheet, and not on bulletin boards.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.