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Our link to Blue Jay Way has been re-directed, and I finally got around to reading Matthew Elmslie's latest column, entitled Sabremancy. It's a good introduction to some Bill James principles for predicting team success; highly recommended if you just said, "Bill who?"

Matt correctly points out that Toronto's AAA farm team was a disappointing 64-80 last year, a negative indicator. But the outlook has changed dramatically for 2003 -- in addition to some excellent talent on the way up from lower levels, the thorough Mr. Ricciardi has added several very capable players who will strengthen the Syracuse roster, if they don't make the big club's bench in spring training. Last year's inexperienced SkyChiefs (Mike Smith, Scott Cassidy, Justin Miller...) spent plenty of time in limos, being shuttled to and from Toronto, but now veterans like Bruce Aven, Howie Clark, Doug Linton and Josh Towers are in the mix. I'm confident that a year from now, this rule of thumb will predict a successful 2004 campaign for the Blue Jays.
There's no question that simultaneous belt-tightening by just about every MLB team has left a lot of free agents pacing nervously on the sidelines. There's no precedent, other than deliberate collusion, for so many excellent players being non-tendered, or traded for "nothing." This response by the vast majority of teams to the new CBA has already deflated market values, and the glut of available talent means there's no hurry to offer lucrative multi-year deals.

But there's another reason for the stagnant baseball economy. Suddenly conscious of fiscal responsibility, teams (except for the Yankees) are reluctant to add payroll until they somehow escape the burden of their existing "bad" contracts. There will be no interest in Rondell White ($5M) or Raul Mondesi ($7M) or Sterling Hitchcock ($6M) unless a large bundle of cash is included, and not much expected in return. Then there's Drew Henson, who will receive $2M in 2003, $2.2M in '04, $3.8M in '05 and $6M (!) in 2006 -- any takers?

From the MLB Contracts site, I came up with this partial list of other "untradeable" players, who are tying the hands of their current employers:
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The Star ran an interview with Carlos Delgado today in which he talks about Christmas in Puerto Rico.

Of course, the writer (not listed in the online article) fires off a cheap shot at Delgado, followed by a paragraph complaining that he isn't particularly open with the press. If someone were to accuse me of being shallow, I don't think I'd be too cooperative in interviews either.
This is entirely a propos of nothing, but while I was doing research on Dave Parker for an article I'm writing for Baseball Primer, I came across a little gem written to commemorate the passing of Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field. Just a small collection of "great moments" and personalities from the Reds' time in the stadium, there are dozens of little reminders in here of the quirks and personalities that make baseball such a captivating pastime for all of us.

Never have so many excellent players been left standing when the offseason music stopped. OK, a couple of times before, but the owners were found guilty and punished. This time, it's not illegal -- has anyone noticed Donald Fehr taking any bows for negotiating the new CBA? -- but we are seeing a wholesale change in the business of baseball.

The Twins can't afford David Ortiz, the Angels prefer a roster spot and cash to Brad Fullmer, the Jays wave goodbye to Jose Cruz, and so on. And if six or seven other teams let similar players walk, instead of going to arbitration, they will all hire each other's castoffs to fill the same roles as they guys they let go. The result? No change in talent (some teams will guess right, some wrong, on who they sign to replace the departed, but no net change) and a huge reduction in the collective payroll.

I'm not saying this is a terrible thing. I wasn't pro-union before the 2002 strike threat, nor pro-owner. I was vehemently against the "hawk" faction among the owners, who wanted the players to save them from their own greed and inept management practices. I was thrilled when the strike was averted, and credited the saner players (Glavine, Surhoff and others) for urging their leaders to compromise. I did not anticipate that the deal would have such a dramatic impact, expecting business as usual and a fantastic AL West stretch drive. I was half right; it was a great pennant race.
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Richard Griffin gets off a great line with which I completely agree -- "The owners have recorded a TKO to run their record as organized labour pugilists to 1-13-1" -- and takes only a few backhanded swipes at J.P., applying the "genius" tag with little enthusiasm and a hint of sarcasm. The usual resentment and envy seeps in there, no doubt unintentionally. It suits R.G.'s purposes to feel sorry for Jose Cruz, but mostly he's upset that he didn't get a scoop in advance of the move.

There's some useful stuff in this column, too, like a summary of the Jays' payroll savings under Ricciardi. But when it's time to list the incoming and outgoing Jays in the J.P. era, Griffin resorts to the same underhanded sleight-of-truth he's used before -- arbitrarily drawing the transaction line at Opening Day 2002 instead of four months earlier, when the GM took over. Why? So Hinske doesn't "count" as an acquisition; that would ruin the effect of the propaganda. Only about 90% of fans won't notice the omission, but he can't fool us in the Batter's Box with that garbage.
Thanks for the heads-up to DS, and the Transaction Oracle report -- Dan beat the wire services on this one year deal, at a million bucks.

Sturtze (32, 6' 5", 190) is durable, but hittable, as Jordan pointed out the other day. He's better than his 2002 W-L record of 4-18 in front of the woeful D-Rays, but I don't think anyone expects him to be a Cy Young candidate. What he does offer the Blue Jays is another alternative to Pete Walker and Justin Miller for the rotation, and at this price, if he doesn't get the job done as a starter, he won't be overpaid as a long man in the bullpen. Strictly a depth move, with no risk and a possible reward.
Plenty of pre-Christmas treats for you to nibble on, from the one and only Peter Gammons. My favourite quote:

One AL GM, citing the way The Boss is overriding Yankees GM Brian Cashman, senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman and his sage organization, likens the Yankees to the last decade of the Soviet Union, old and with millions upon millions of dollars unusable.

Fact, according to Peter. Here's another:

It's too bad Oliver North isn't still doing international brokering... the only way Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd could rid himself of (Denny) Neagle is in some four-way deal involving arms, cash, Iran and the Contras.

Like I said, holiday munchies, to be enjoyed with a grain of salt. Mmm...
Some of you may remember an article about the Blue Jays' Consultant (Baseball Operations) Keith Law that ran in the Toronto Star back in September. It was an odd little piece, because the title and splash-page photo featured Keith, but the story itself was just as much about Ricciardi and the whole new face of operations at Skydome. Nevertheless, the references to Law as "Rain Man" and the inferences that he was basically a mad statgeek directing Ricciardi's moves with a laptop from a tiny room were, to say the least, misleading. (Remarkably enough, it wasn't written by our friend Griff, but by Geoff Baker.)

A briefer but better profile of Law, penned by the underrated Mike Ulmer, appears in today's Toronto Sun. If you read the Star piece, you should read this one too, because the author doesn't have an agenda and paints a better picture of a good guy. Ulmer also seems interested in actually sharing with his readers some of the myth-debunking knowledge that Keith and his fellow sabrmetricians bring to the table. It's worth a read.
Say what you will about J.P. Ricciardi -- most armchair critics will be roasting him on a spit for this move -- he has guts. Jose Cruz Jr. was unceremoniously dumped because the Blue Jays had two choices: pay roughly $5,000,000 for his services, or let him walk, and spend that money on more pressing needs.

This is what the market has come to, and the Blue Jays are going to be fiscally prudent, no matter what the average fan's opinion. In hindsight, you might think that they could have, and should have, traded Cruz for something, but no other teams are willing to take on mediocre, arbitration-eligible outfielders, with no control over what salary they might be awarded. Jose, and dozens of other players, have become "poison pills" nobody wants to swallow.
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The Blue Jays have signed Mike Bordick to a one-year deal worth $1 million.

Bordick will back up Chris Woodward. In point of fact, he will probably platoon with Woodward since Bordick hits lefthanders pretty well, Woodward not so well.

I don't know quite what to say about this, so I think I'll hold my fire for now.
I've seen some howlers in my day, some truly baffling trades. But Kevin Millwood straight-up for Johnny Estrada is climbing that list with a bullet.
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In BB #96, I mentioned I had a couple of thousand words to say about Charlie Hustle. Nobody here seemed to care; that thread got hijacked immediately. I know the subject is controversial; I'm aware that it polarizes people to extreme and inflexible positions. I understand if you're all tired of it and wish it would just go away.

For me, it's personal. I am a compulsive gambler, peacefully and gratefully in recovery for several years after nearly ruining my life by betting on horses. I don't judge Pete Rose; I empathize with him. I think it's as ridiculous to consider letting him back into the dugout as it is to exclude him from the Hall of Fame.

(August 12, 2003) Note: this piece was originally posted on a now-defunct site, but it has been added to the BB archives.
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I was going to post my thoughts on the Yankees' reckless pursuit of a Cuban pitcher and a Japanese slugger while they still have immovable contracts like Mondesi, White and Hitchcock, but then an e-mail arrived from Travis Nelson, whose Boy of Summer blog is quite enjoyable. I especially like his plan of playing Rondell in "left center field."

Batter's Box also got a nice plug there, so I want to inform everyone on my "staff" that they can take two weeks off, at triple their salaries. Thanks, Travis. I'll update the links to include you.

Though some find him less palatable than Richard Griffin, here's some thoughts from Mike Lupica on George Steinbrenner's obsession with "winning" auctions, tax consequences be damned. Poor Brian Cashman will have to dump players nobody wants into a market that isn't buying anyway. Awwww.
From Prospectus, the Week in Quotes.

Not that I had a very high opinion of Doug Melvin, Billy Koch or Jim Hendry, but they may be even dumber than I thought.