Sorry I haven’t gotten on I a while to make a post, I’ve been busy being absorbed my March Madness, which is exactly what’s wrong with the World baseball Classic. Jayson Stark:
What happened to the Americans who should love the WBC most? They aren’t watching. That’s what. Not enough of them are, anyhow. Either they’ve been way too preoccupied with how to handicap Wake Forest-Cleveland State, or the folks locked in on baseball are more focused on their teams. Understandably, too. Why wouldn’t Yankees fans care more about who their center fielder is going to be than who’s going to close for Team USA? Sure, it’s possible to care about both, I guess. But why is baseball so intent on competing against itself? What kind of business sense does that make?
But in the end, here’s what I want to see happen:
I want this event to be everything it should be. I want to see Roy Halladay dueling Johan Santana, with Josh Hamilton at the plate, Ryan Howard on deck and Jonathan Papelbon warming up in the bullpen.
I want the night of the WBC finals to feel like baseball’s version of Super Sunday. I want it to be one of the most momentous nights on the entire sports calendar.
And I want spring training to feel like spring training again — not the background noise for the WBC.
Speaking of which I had Wake Forest in the final four and my bracket is officially busted but that is besides the point. The World Baseball Classic is trying to compete against one of the premier events in all of sports. March Madness falls behind maybe only the Super Bowl in sporting significance in the United States. So why do it then? No one is in shape, everyone is getting hurt, and no one wants to do it. What other time is there to do it you ask?
THE ALL-STAR-WEEK EXTRAVAGANZA
I heard this proposal from the always-incisive Buck Martinez, who managed Team USA in the 2006 WBC. Here’s his idea:
Bag the All Star Game every four years and play the whole WBC during what would otherwise be All Star Week in July.
The sites would be the three metropolises with two ballparks — New York, Chicago and L.A./Anaheim. No off days in each round for any team still alive. Finish the entire tournament in one week in July. And hold the finals on a Sunday, in prime time, when there isn’t another sporting event in America to serve as competition. But, most of all, play this event when “players are ready,” Martinez said.
“In July, players are ready to go,” he said. “Players are in optimum shape. You’d take extra starters, so you’d have one starter start a game and that’s it. And you’d give the rest of baseball a week’s vacation in the middle of the summer. I think it would be a great thing for baseball.
“Then everybody’s in shape. Nobody’s concerned. Then you might get the Roy Halladays and Brandon Webbs and Jon Lesters and Josh Becketts. But if you hold it in March, then I understand why they won’t do it.”
What’s the down side: Excellent idea. But there are two reasons owners would balk: (1) No interest in abandoning tradition by not holding the All-Star Game and (2) forcing half the clubs in baseball to give up a weekend worth of gates in July. To me, the positives take a unanimous decision over the negatives. But it would be a tough sell.
Outside of the United States, the WBC is a huge success. In Japan, TV ratings are said to rival the Super Bowl. Buck Martinez’ plan would be a hit in the United States. The All-Star game is not what it was to earlier generations. No one would mind if they canned it once every three or four years in favor of a tournament that would fall behind only the Olympics and World Cup in sporting significance on this planet.
Per capita, the Dominican Republic may be the best, and internationally Cuba may be the most successful, but no matter how you look at it the United States is the best baseball country in the world and without us on board then the credibility of the tournament becomes drastically diminished.
The length of the tournament could easily be shrunk down to a week. One option would be to have a single elimination tournament which would be over in four days. The other would be to leave it as is in a double elimination format, but take away the championship games for each pool which seem to be very unnecessary. That version would be over within four days. Maybe they could even play the first round in spring training and just send the final eight to the new “Midsummer Classic.”
This would allow us to finally move past the ridiculous rule that the winner of the All-Star game wins home field advantage in the play-offs. It should be whichever league wins the interleague series during the regular season anyway. As for the money issue, last time I checked, Major League Baseball was in no financial danger. And why would a tournament like this not make money. There is nothing else going on around this time. Baseball has a monopoly on the summer. The possibilities are astronomical.
Before I bite on Rob Neyer’s writing style, I must first say that even though I’m a Yankees fan, I couldn’t agree more with Jayson Stark’s assessment of the New York and Boston off-seasons:
But the Red Sox’s additions were products of a whole different philosophy, not just a whole different checking account. The four free agents they imported — John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito and Rocco Baldelli — cost this team 4 million fewer guaranteed dollars ($12.5 million total) than the Yankees will pay Burnett alone this year.
Nevertheless, the upside of those men gives the Red Sox four potential impact players without the price tags, or long-term inflexibility, that come with handing out contracts that run through 2016.
And that, for this team, was the whole idea.
Took the words right out of my mouth. All winter I shared mixed thoughts on the Yankees spending spree, first running wild with news of each new big signing before realizing how poorly each contract could turn out, as I briefly mention in my first post.
Smoltz’ rehab has gone well and he was reported to have already been hitting 90 mph on the gun as early as January. Pending an injury or an ineffective Penny or Tim Wakefield, he will be joining a rotation that already includes Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Daisuke Matsuzaka by the middle of June. You know his heart will be in it to prove people wrong and guess who else is in the AL East? That’s right the Yankees, same team that knocked the Braves out of his last two World Series.
Just two seasons ago, Penny was 16-4 with a 3.08 ERA over 208 innings. What happened last year? That can’t really be explained. His good stats seemed to be cut in half while his bad stats doubled and he dropped to 6-9 with a 6.27 ERA over just 94 2/3 innings. Injuries didn’t seem to be the problem, though he spent some time on the DL. He was sent home in September for being unproductive and a hindrance in the clubhouse. A change of scenery could be all he needs.
Now Shifting to their bullpen, a very good bullpen should it hold together. The thoughts of what it will look like are just plain frightening. Justin Masterson, Hedeki Okajima, and Manny Delcarmen make up the middle innings. Jonathan Papelbon is the best closer in the game and he will be set up by a guy who would make a pretty good closer himself in Saito should he come back healthy. His brief three year career numbers: 81 saves, 11.63 K/9, 1.95 ERA, and a .91 WHIP. He has one appearance this spring and showed no discomfort while going one inning, allowing a hit and striking out two.
Sure there are questions, lots of them. Smoltz is 42 and Saito is 39, both coming off torn labrums in their elbows, a daunting task at any age. If the deals don’t work out though, so what, they have the depth to make it without them. Don’t forget about Clay Buchholz, though he struggled last year, and prospect Michael Bowden.
As for Baldelli, he fits in perfectly. Since he lacks the stamina to play every day, slotting him in a fourth outfielder role works just fine for both sides. Plus if someone gets hurt, they now have an All-Star talent sitting on their bench to take over.
Do Smoltz and Penny equal Sabathia and Burnett? Depends how you look at it. Over the long haul? Not a chance. Which explains why that Yankees tag team hauled in $243.5 million, while Penny and Smoltz were guaranteed about one-23rd of that ($10.5 million).
But when it comes to pitching, the word that defines the Red Sox is “flexibility.” For 50 starts or so this year, if all goes right, Penny and Smoltz could give them just as much impact. Their one-year deals also give this team maneuverability to attack its needs again next winter.
But remember this: The Yankees needed to add those players, because it was clear to the world that the Red Sox and Rays were both better and more talented. We didn’t mention the Rays until now, because this was a piece comparing the Red Sox and Yankees. But nobody should forget them once the season starts.
Regardless, though, no team had a more underrated offseason than the Red Sox. And we’ll find out over the next seven months exactly how good a winter they had.
“I just like the way they added depth and filled their needs,” said one scout, “without spending $423 million.”
I apologize for the long quote but it couldn’t have been worded any better. I think the Red Sox have now cemented themselves as favorites in the AL East, especially with the A-Rod saga. If the the moves work, then they make the play-offs and contend for the World Series. If they don’t work, they could afford to make these moves anyway and didn’t break the bank in the process. Either way the team is fine on the field and financially. It’s just the beautiful part about being wise with your money.