So Long Pluto

PlutoAstronomers from across the world have been gathered in the Czech Republic for the last couple weeks debating what is, and what is not, a planet. The main controversy centered around Pluto, "The Little Planet That Could" if you will. Pluto is smaller than any other planet, farther from the sun than any other planet until its orbit crosses Neptune's, and the elliptical plane its orbit travels in is much different than that of any other planet. Furthermore, thanks to research since Pluto's discovery in 1930, astronomers have discovered it is far from alone out in the nether regions of our solar system. There are several celestial bodies that are remarkably similar to it, such as UB313 (nicknamed Xena), which was discovered in 2003 and is actually bigger than Pluto. The discovery of UB313, along with the fact there was no definition for what makes a planet, fueled debate over the planets as we know them.

For those of you going "Hey, this is a sports blog!" stick with me, I'm getting there. The International Astronomical Union has met over the last two weeks to finally end the debate by defining what makes a planet. As of last week, it looked like they were zeroing in on a definition that would include Pluto and UB313, but also include some asteroids and even one of Pluto's moons. The definition seemed really stupid; it had the potential to add dozens of planets since there is little doubt many more Plutos and UB313s are just waiting to be discovered. However, the IAU thought about it, realized how dumb the definition would be, talked about it for another week, and yesterday told the world the official criteria for a planet. Pluto no longer makes the cut because its orbit is not round enough. Pluto is the first planet demoted since the 1800s when Ceres, an asteroid, had its planetary status revoked. Ceres would have also been added as a planet if the IAU had not switched up the guidelines they were considering just a week ago.

Though the IAU's ruling is unpopular right now, they got it right. Keeping Pluto in any definition of a planet was going to open the door to asteroids, moons, and other bodies which clearly should not be planets, and I think if most of the people currently upset took the time to realize this they would not be so upset. In case you could not guess, I have a bit of an interest in astronomy but I promised this would ultimately be a sports blog. The IAU meeting in Prague made me start to wonder: Why doesn't sports have a similar union?

Let's create the American Team Sports Union and it would be comprised of sports writers that follow pro baseball (both major and minor league), football, basketball, hockey, and soccer. Everyone would vote on every issue, whether the issue be within their sport of expertise or not. Just as it has been proven planets can be demoted, I would like to see the ATSU start by demoting some teams. Let's start with baseball. What have the Royals and Devil Rays done in the past decade to warrant staying in the major leagues? Nothing, and I believe this union would see it the same way. Both would be demoted to the minor leagues, leaving baseball with 28 teams again. This decision would also require re-alignment (another decision for the ATSU) since it would leave the AL with 12 teams and the NL 16, but ultimately the two leagues would have the same amount of teams again for the first time since 1997.

In fact, I'd like to take this sports union idea one step further. I think each team could have fan unions to keep their team in line. How cool would it be if you were part of a panel for your favorite pro team that could actually veto a move if the vast majority of the panel disapproves of it? Let's set the bar really high; 75% of the panel has to veto it. Even with such a high standard I think a Mariners fan union would have had Joel Pineiro in the bullpen and Carl Everett completely off the team by June (though I would hope that even signing him would have been vetoed). By now Mike Hargrove would have been fired, and maybe even Bill Bavasi too. Certain things, like minor-league call-ups, would be off limits for the union, but if whoever was called up clearly isn't pulling their weight after a month, the union would have the power to send him back down. If a bunch of men and women who stare at the sky for a living can meet in Prague and debate about something billions of miles away and reach a consensus, a bunch of sports junkies could band together and settle disputes over moves in their own backyard.

How Low Can They Go?

MoyerThe Mariners are no longer on the verge of the playoffs. They are no longer on the verge of turning the season around. They are not even on the verge of a meltdown. The meltdown has arrived.

Tonight felt like their last gasp. It was game 10 of this 11 game road trip that the team felt would make or break their season. Already 0-9 on the trip so far, Seattle's odds did not look good tonight either with Jarrod Washburn going against John Lackey. The Mariners got down early 4-0 but battled hard and actually took the lead with a 5 run explosion in the fifth, highlighted by a three-run homer from Ben Broussard. It looked like the Mariners might hand the bullpen a lead for the first time in ages.

But it was not meant to be. Seattle was browbeaten for four more runs and the game seemed out of reach at 9-5 in the eighth inning. There was hope with runners on the corners and only one out, but with one pitch Scot Shields induced a double play ball off of Jose Lopez's bat to squelch that threat. Once again the Mariners mounted a charge in the ninth, but it fell short thanks to a series of questionable stike calls that led to a Snelling K to end the ballgame.

Then, as if the game and the losing streak was not enough of a gut shot, word broke that Jamie Moyer had been traded to the Phillies for a pair of low-level minor-leaguers. While Ichiro is very popular, Jamie Moyer in many ways was the face of this franchise. He certainly was a pillar in the community and a rare athlete who transcended sports in this region, especially considering he has never been a superstar. This is an absolute publicity nightmare, especially in the midst of a 10-game losing streak, but I would have been willing to swallow the deal if it made good, sound baseball sense. The problem is it does not. Moyer has now signed a mutual option for 2007 with Philadelphia, making a return to Seattle in 2007 seem unlike. The Mariners already had two holes to fill in their rotation with Meche and Pineiro likely to leave, and now the Mariners have added yet another one by eliminating Moyer, a rather safe bet to re-sign. Though one of the prospects they received in return looks like a potentially good reliever down the road, does the Seattle bullpen really look like a weakness right now? It does not help either that the first comment I read on the deal from GM Bill Bavasi was, "It's not a thrill." Though he was specifically addressing simply dealing away Jamie Moyer and he went on to say some good things about the prospects they picked up, that is not exactly the first thing you want to read from your GM's mouth.

I really cannot imagine things getting much worse for the Mariners. They have lost 10 straight games overall, and an unfathomable 19 straight against AL West opponents. And, if that was not enough of a gut shot, they traded Jamie Moyer. This has to be rock bottom, doesn't it?

Trade Deadline Review

The non-waiver trade deadline tends to be overblown in baseball and this year was no exception. In fact, the deadline was so pathetic this year that the biggest trade on July 31 was actually the Bucks-Blazer deal in the NBA, where Jamaal Magliore was shipped to Portland. However, there were still some interesting deals and a few bigger trades in the days leading up to the deadline. Here's my rundown of the winners and losers:

WINNERS

Yankees - I can't stand the Yankees and it drives me nuts that they did so well this trade deadline. First, they pulled off a classic move that only they can pull off by acquiring Cory Lidle and Bobby Abreu from the Phillies for four extremely raw prospects that are yet to show lots of promise in pro ball. The only reason Philadelphia did this deal is because the Yankees were willing to take all of Abreu's salary. New York did not need any offense, but Abreu is really going to add to the lineup and it is downright scary to think just how good that offense will be if Sheffield and Matsui come back healthy. Whoever thought up the old baseball adage "pitching and defense wins championships" never imagined this Yankees lineup. Lidle was a great pickup as well because, though he is a mediocre starter at best, he is certainly better than anyone the Yankees have been throwing out as a fifth starter. In fact, Lidle may end up having a bigger impact than Abreu because he is replacing such a weak spot on the Yankees roster. If that deal wasn't bad enough, the Yankees somehow coaxed the Pirates to take Shawn Chacon for Craig Wilson straight up! Wilson is good enough to start on most teams but he'll add a ton of punch to the Yankee bench and all New York gave up was a guy who had no place thanks to the addition of Cory Lidle.

Rangers - Texas also made a big splash by acquiring Carlos Lee, but I am not convinced he significantly improves their team. Lee is replacing Kevin Mench, who had just as good of an average and on-base percentage, and the Rangers also gave up a piece of their bullpen, Francisco Cordero. However, Texas also acquired Matt Stairs from the Royals and Kip Wells from the Pirates for essentially nothing, and those were both good moves. Stairs strengthens the bench and Kip Wells cannot be much worse than John Rheinecker lately, and he has the potential to be a huge improvement. The fact that the Rangers were the second biggest winner at the deadline is telling of how little teams did to improve.

Braves - Bob Wickman and Danys Baez don't sound like much of an improvement, but considering how bad Atlanta's back end of the bullpen has been, they are a significant improvement and patch up the most glaring hole on the team.

Tigers - There was so much talk about Detroit getting a left-handed hitter that it may have been disappointing to the team if no one had been acquired. So, though I think Sean Casey is only a marginal upgrade at first over Chris Shelton, the deal may have prevented a swoon by a bunch of disappointed players.

Reds - I am not convinced Cincinnati is any better now than they were before their trades, but I have to give credit to their GM Wayne Krivsky for acquiring a completely new bullpen in only a month. I still think there was a way to make the same moves without giving up Austin Kearns and/or Felipe Lopez, but freeing up time for Ryan Freel and Chris Denorfia was not a bad move either.

LOSERS

Nationals - I do not know for sure, but it looks like Washington really dropped the ball at the trade deadline. It looks to me like Jim Bowden held out forever trying to get the deal he wanted for Alfonso Soriano but the deal that he wanted never came. That by itself does not bother me. However, by trying so hard to maximize the Soriano deal, Bowden completely ignored other options, namely trading a number of his starting pitchers. There were no attractive starters available this deadline, so Bowden could have probably got a better deal for Livan Hernandez, Tony Armas Jr., and/or Ramon Ortiz than in almost any other year. So, if Bowden really did completely focus on trading Soriano and ultimately not pull the trigger, and consequently completely ignored the possibility of trading any of his starters in what could have been a deal that clearly favored Washington, he completely failed at this deadline. There is still the possibility a trade could be done before August 31, but I wonder if any of those starters will pass through waivers since so many contending teams want starting pitching.

Phillies - Pat Gillick actually said his team would be both a buyer and seller at the deadline. Yeah, sure. He ditched Bobby Abreu, Cory Lidle, David Bell, and Rheal Cormier for essentially nothing. This was a complete roster and salary purge. Pat Gillick better sign a bunch of great free agents with all the money he has all of a sudden saved, because the Phillies got no quality prospects at the deadline despite giving away so much major league talent.

Dodgers - The Wilson Betemit deal looks fair, and the Julio Lugo deal looks pretty good, but trading Cesar Izturis for Greg Maddux made no sense. This team is fading fast and Greg Maddux is not much of an improvement at this point in his career. Izturis was a fan favorite in Los Angeles and he is a better player than Maddux at this point. Furthermore, there is a pretty good chance Greg Maddux will re-sign with the Cubs this offseason if he does not retire, which means in a couple months it will become painfully apparent the Dodgers gave away a gold glove shortstop for absolutely nothing.

TWO MORE INTERESTING TEAMS

Royals - Dayton Moore in his short time with Kansas City has made lots of personnel changes and he made some more at the deadline, most notably acquiring Ryan Shealy from the Rockies. Moore has not acquired any blue chip prospects, but he did not have a ton to work with either. Considering the situation Moore faced in Kansas City, he has done a very good job and there is no doubt the team is better now and has a brighter future with him in charge.

Mets - The most interesting deal of the trade deadline was swung by Omar Minaya when he sent Xavier Nady to the Pirates for Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernandez. Hernandez will become a key arm in the bullpen immediately, but Perez is a project. He has shown the potential to be one of the premier starters in baseball, but has struggled with massive inconsistency. The deal is risky since the winner of it will ultimately be decided by Perez, but it is especially risky for the Mets because they dealt their starting right fielder in a year where they are the favorite to go to the World Series out of the NL. Omar Minaya must have unbelievable intestinal fortitude, because I would be chugging Pepto Bismal by the bottle if I were the Mets GM and just agreed to this trade given the circumstances.