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Opportunity, opportunity
This is your big opportunity

- Elvis Costello

Recent developments in the AL East have got me thinking. Which is probably something I should be worried about, but it's too late to stop now.

Boston and New York, the two Beasts of the East, have dominated the division for the entire millenium and longer. But change may at last, at long last, be in the offing. Things are afoot.

Does this have anything to do with the Blue Jays? For the moment, probably not. It would take a miracle, literally. Now I believe in miracles, and so should you. Trust me. I've been watching baseball a long time, and I've seen a lot of miracles. They happen, they really do. Not that anyone should ever expect one, or that anyone should ever - God forbid - count on one.

But nevertheless. I just think this might - might - be one of those weird moments. And if the Baltimore Orioles could somehow trade Daniel Cabrera for Roy Halladay, they might very well be the team to seize the moment. Happily that's not going to happen. It's not going to happen, right J.P.? Right? And the Blue Jays could even get in on the fun, if they could somehow trade - I dunno, Alex Rios? -  for Nick Markakis, who just might be the second most exciting young talent in the whole American League.

The presence of Tampa Bay in first place is obviously an indicator of massive shiftings of the tectonic plates that support the very earth we walk upon. It clearly represents a Profound Discontinuity in the Space-Time Continuum, and it is quite possible that life as we have known it may never be the same. Can I really carry on in a universe where Tampa Bay doesn't lose 90 games every year? What a novel proposition! Who knew such things were even thinkable!

But there's more going on than that. There are reasons to wonder about the Yankees and the Red Sox, neither of whom is quite living up to their own expectations for the season. Tampa Bay, with all of their talented and exciting young players, have surged forth to fill the vacuum. Which is a great story, I suppose. But I'm not ready to assume that the Rays are going to rule the roost for the next five years, while the Erstwhile Beasts Rebuild and Reload. Anyway, it won't take Boston and New York much longer than the winter meetings, if that, to do the necessary retooling. Besides - much of Tampa's success rests on the work of several very talented, and very young, starting pitchers - Kazmir, Shields, Garza, Sonnanstine. Young pitchers will break your heart, and they will even break your heart after they've established themselves as bonafide major leaguers.

Let me remind you all of the Florida Marlins of just two years ago - instead of losing 100 games as many of assumed they would do, they rode the very talented young arms of Dontrelle Willis, Anibal Sanchez, Scott Olsen, and Josh Johnson and stayed in contention until the final few weeks. Haven't heard much out of those guys lately, have you? Young Pitchers Will Break Your Heart - it's one of the few things in life that we know to be true.. (For what it's worth, Olsen has had a solid season for the Marlins this year, bouncing back from a  dreadful 2007; Sanchez and Johnson have just now returned to the Marlins rotation, having both missed almost all of 2007; Willis is now in Detroit, and his very career may be in jeopardy.)

With respect to the Yankees, let's be honest - just about everyone saw the potential for them to encounter some difficulties this season. They sported a lineup with a lot of aging and expensive hitters, who were all starting to crowd each other at the left end of the defensive spectrum. Decline or injury or both seemed sure to catch up with the Bombers sooner or later. Sooner turned out to be operative word - Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui have both missed enormous amounts of time, and Johnny Damon has been hurt as well. Even Alex Rodriguez spent some time on the DL. And Derek Jeter, the Face of the Franchise - Jeter is either beginning to decline, or he's simply having the first off-year of his career. In which case, all one can say is "It's about bloody time." But at this point, we simply don't know which it is.

At the same time, it was the Yankees' plan to bank heavily on three very young and more less completely unproven pitchers - Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy. Sing it with me one more time - Young Pitchers Will Break Your Heart. Kennedy and Hughes started the year in the rotation, but neither has managed to win even one game. Chamberlain was outstanding in the bullpen, was switched to the rotation, and did very well as a starter as well - until his shoulder started hurting. He's now on the DL with tendinitis - tendinitis being generally a very fancy way of saying "it hurts, and we don't know exactly why or what's wrong, but maybe it'll get better with some rest."  The Yankees have stayed afloat this season thanks to Mike Mussina climbing into the Rejuvenation Machine, and generally outstanding work from their relief corps.

The situation in Boston is also disturbing, albeit perhaps in a somewhat more mystical way. Since taking over as GM, Theo Epstein has pretty much made it his life's work to rid himself of Manny Ramirez and his Big Contract. This was the year he succeeded. And I don't know if this is something Boston should be doing. They got rid of their biggest slugger back in 1920, and karma spent the next eighty years punishing them for it, and finding all sorts of inventive ways to give the knife an extra twist or two, just to make sure it really, really hurt. They want to go there again? I guess they do - the Red Sox were nothing if not determined and this year they made a special, special effort to get it done. In particular, they played up the disruptiveness and selfishness of Ramirez' personality to justify what they were doing. Manny made it easy for them of course, mainly by being Manny. I don't know if Manny was any more difficult to live with than he was last year or than he was in 2004, but the Red Sox sure made sure everyone got to hear how impossible he was to live with. They're still working on it, by the way. Don Shaughnessy reports, in a story that has "leaked by the Red Sox" written all over it, that MLB is investigating the circumstances of Ramirez's departure. Essentially, they're accusing him of dogging it in his final days in Boston.

Hey, good luck with that. Ramirez was in the lineup for 22 of his final 24 games in Boston, he hit
.347/.473/.587, and by the way - no one's thrown David Ortiz a pitch anywhere near the heart of the plate since Manny left town. So, yeah. Whatever you say, guys.

Look. It's never the sign of a good organization when they blame all their problems on their best player. To my mind, it's always a warning sign. I don't know if the Red Sox really believe that it's all because of Manny Ramirez that Josh Beckett is 10-8 with an ERA over 4.00, or that Tim Wakefield has a losing record, or that Clay Buchholz has not been able to fill Curt Schilling's bloody shoes.They may not really think it's Manny's fault that Jason Varitek, who is 36 years old, is hitting like he's about 56 years old. But if that's what they were thinking, then drinks all around! Good times are coming! Because it's good to be smart, but it really helps when the other guys are Stupid.

At any rate, there's no doubt that the Red Sox were happy as all get out to let Ramirez take the blame for all of their problems, to help grease the skids for his ride out of town. And yes, Mission Accomplished. But as modern history tells us, just saying Mission Accomplished doesn't actually mean that your real mission has been accomplished.

One can't help but wonder, by the way, if the lengthy absence of David Ortiz this season made the Manny situation worse. It's generally OK to have a nut or a fruitcake on the team as long as there is a Big Dog to keep him more or less in line. But it's got to be a pretty special Big Dog. Dennis Rodman, even nuttier than Ramirez, was a crucial part of five championship teams - but that was when he had the fierce, driven ultra-competitive figures of Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan dominating his team. In San Antonio, the Big Dog was David Robinson -  a truly great player, but also a Famous Nice Guy. Rodman could not be managed in that environment. There's certainly no one wearing a Boston uniform, with the exception of Ortiz, who could possibly get Manny Ramirez to do anything he doesn't feel like doing. You think he's going to listen to Kevin Youkilis? (Actually, no one listens to Youkilis, he gets on everyone's nerves.)

Left field in Boston has been populated, for most of the last century, by some truly remarkable players - and they were not necessarily any easier to deal with than Manny. Ted Williams, who held the job for more than 20 years, was one of the most despised players in the game while he was active - he was regularly vilified by the local press corps, who never got tired of pointing out why he was so very inferior to Joe DiMaggio, and never let it be forgot that Williams hit just .200 the only time his Red Sox made it to the World Series. For his part, Ted observed that if you poured boiling water on a sportswriter, you'd have instant shit. All of this changed after he retired, but while he was active Ted Williams existed somewhere in between Albert Belle and Barry Bonds on the spectrum of the public's affection.

Carl Yastrzemski, who followed The Kid, was also regarded as a selfish player, at least when he was young. While that perception, and Yaz himself, may have eventually changed, he was nevertheless the leader and captain of the celebrated  "twenty-five guys, twenty-five cabs" Red Sox teams that never could win the big prize either. Williams and Yaz are both Hall of Famers and legendary figures - Williams is a mythic figure in the game's history, and Yaz is a mythic figure in Boston at least. Both of them retired as Red Sox, having never worn another uniform, full of honour and glory. They were followed by Jim Rice, who isn't in the Hall of Fame yet, although he may still be admitted. While I don't think myself he's quite HoF quality, if you had asked me that question in 1980, I would have told you that Rice will probably end up being ridiculously over-qualified for the Hall. Rice was another MVP, and he was yet another notoriously surly ball player, another big star on another team that didn't win a championship. Rice never played for another team either, but his major league career ended somewhat early - the Sox released him after his age 36 season, Mike Greenwell having taken his job. While a very good player, Greenwell alone of this group never won an MVP for the Red Sox - he was the runner up to Jose Canseco in 1988. He never played for another major league team either. The Red Sox actively ran him out of town at age 33 - he fled to Japan, vowing never to play for Boston again.

Manny Ramirez was one of the great free agent signings of the current century. I'm willing to accept nominations for a better one - I dunno, Jermaine Dye? -  but there's no arguing with the fact that the Red Sox finally won the World Series, the thing they couldn't win with Williams or Yaz or Rice. They won it twice, and they wouldn't have done it without adding the greatest right handed hitter of our lifetime to the lineup.

I think you meddle with these forces at your own risk.

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westcoast dude - Friday, August 08 2008 @ 09:23 AM EDT (#190258) #

What was Theo Epstein thinking? Reflect on a quote in the Spectator from Alexander Solzhenitsyn: "To do evil, a human being must first believe that what he's doing is good."

Meanwhile, Betancourt had a sac fly in the 8th, Ibanez led off the 9th with a walk-off home run.  Mariners beat TB 2-1. Youneverknow.

Mike Green - Friday, August 08 2008 @ 09:47 AM EDT (#190259) #
The General Motor man is a compliment collector
I'd like to be his funeral director

A few folks in Oshawa might be nodding along.  Everybody has their own version of what it takes to "Get Happy".

Magpie, you've evidently got a liking for the Big Scary Bat theory of team offence organization.  Glaus, Ramirez, there's a common thread there.  Anyways, the real story with the Red Sox as far as I am concerned is all their young talent.  Pedroia, Lowrie, Ellsbury are going to be the core of their club for the next 5 years or more.  I wonder if George Kottaras is going to develop to complete the "down the middle" youth movement.  Despite Ellsbury's surprising struggles, the Red Sox sit in second place and have the best run differential in the American League by a large margin.  And in the off-season, the Sox will have plenty of cash to throw around on a catcher (Ivan Rodriguez? Gregg Zaun?) if they want to.
braden - Friday, August 08 2008 @ 10:16 AM EDT (#190262) #

The Rays play ten in a row on the road (including last night).  Now, their opponents aren't all that daunting (Seattle, Oakland, and Texas), but Tampa isn't a very good road team at 23-29.  It's their home record that's truly stunning, and they've played 10 more at the Trop than on the road.

This may be their time to come back to earth a bit, though people have been predicting that all season.  Still, if they do struggle out west, it would be nice if it coincided with the Jays beating up on the hapless Indians and the reeling Tigers.

Seriously, youneverknow.

Magpie - Friday, August 08 2008 @ 10:59 AM EDT (#190264) #
Magpie, you've evidently got a liking for the Big Scary Bat

Absolutely. I want Manny!

Uh, let me rephrase that. Repeatedly.
robertdudek - Friday, August 08 2008 @ 03:13 PM EDT (#190298) #
I'll submit a few other free agent signings:

Alex Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Vlad Guerrero

ScottTS - Friday, August 08 2008 @ 05:39 PM EDT (#190324) #
Speaking of MannyBeingManny and free agent signings...

Where does ManRam end up next year? Obviously not Boston, but I'm guessing there's really only a handful of teams that could afford him (I'm guessing he'll be looking for at least 20M a year).

The Yankees? They already have a number of DH types, plus I'd imagine that if they wanted a bad-fielding hitter they would go after Adam Dunn.

The Tigers could probably afford him, and might be looking for a DH, but they need pitching more than hitting, I would think.
Would Uncle Ted really pony up the cash to bring Manny to TO?

The Mets? The Dodgers?

Any ideas?
Magpie - Friday, August 08 2008 @ 06:15 PM EDT (#190337) #
Where does ManRam end up next year?

Right where he is now, I would expect. I think he's going to love National league pitching. I think the people in Los Angeles are going to love him, especially after he hits another 15-20 homers and they win the division. And I think they actually print money in Dodger Stadium. They don't always share it with the hired help. But sometimes they do. If they could give Darren Dreifort $11 million a year...
mathesond - Friday, August 08 2008 @ 06:17 PM EDT (#190338) #
If they could give Darren Dreifort $11 million a year...

And this was back when $11 million a year meant something....
Magpie - Friday, August 08 2008 @ 06:23 PM EDT (#190344) #
free agent signings

Ordonez has generally played great for Detroit, but one of the keys to the White Sox winning it all in 2005 was letting Magglio walk and replacing him with Dye, who was way cheaper. And that one year Dye was way better (because he was able to stay in the lineup, that was Ordonez' injury year.)  Dye hasn't exactly been chopped liver the rest of the time, of course, but Magglio's certainly been better since 2006.

But a ring is a ring is a ring. Manny's got two of them in Boston. Come to think of it, Pudge Rodriguez was a decent signing for the Marlins in 2003.
Glevin - Saturday, August 09 2008 @ 12:48 AM EDT (#190376) #
"Essentially, they're accusing him of dogging it in his final days in Boston."

There are a lot of rumours going around, but it became clear that the Red Sox players didn't want him there anymore. "A bum" one called him. There is a difference between being a distraction and between being a cancer and I think Manny was very close to becoming the latter.
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