Winter League Wonders

For me, spring training marks the start of spring, just like the postseason marks the start of fall. No vernal or autumnal equinoxes necessary. So, with spring only a few weeks away, now is a good time to take a look at what happened in winter leagues across the globe.

Winter league baseball does not receive much press stateside, but it is an important part of the game. In places like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, winter leagues give a chance for many MLB players to go back to their homes and play in front of their compatriots. Franchises will send younger players to various winter leagues for extra development time too. Other players recently out of the league will go to winter leagues too in hopes of reviving their career.

All the Caribbean Leagues (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic) can be found here. It is nice to see the Puerto Rican winter league come back after a short hiatus. Also, new this year is the Australian Baseball League, which from a prospect development standpoint, seems to have replaced the defunct Hawai'i baseball league.

Here are some players that caught my eye over the winter:

Mariners Prospects Among Best

Michael Pineda
MLB.com unveiled their top 50 prospect list for 2011. It is just one list, but it is from an independent source (well, independent of any individual team) that does its homework. As I looked at the list, I thought it would be fun to try to come up with some sort of ranking system to devise how strong each team's farm system is, based on the MLB.com rankings.

Here's the method I came up with:

Angels Acquire Vernon Wells

Vernon Wells
For my money, the Angels have had the most surprising offseason in baseball. I wasn't stunned that they didn't get Carl Crawford, especially since he ended up in Boston. I was stunned though that they couldn't entice Adrian Beltre. They just about had to do something after missing out on both premier free agents, with an offense that sagged in 2010.

Of all the possible answers out there though, it ended up being Vernon Wells?

As a Mariners fan, I like this solution that Los Angeles of Anaheim came up with (if they are dumb enough to continue to use such a convoluted "city" name, the least I can do is use it).

Jekyll & Hyde, Meet Bradley & Meche

It has been a surprisingly newsy day in baseball. Some was guaranteed with arbitration figures being traded, but it turned out to be a noteworthy day without that.

First of all, Milton Bradley finds himself on the wrong side of the law again. Details are still breaking, and the charges probably won't be squared away for a while. However, Bradley has a well-documented temper, and it was already difficult to see how he fit on the M's roster well. This very well could be the end of Milton in Seattle, but we shall see.

Earlier today, Royals pitcher Gil Meche announced his retirement. You might remember him as a late '90s phenom that soared through the Mariners system, before blowing out his arm, and then coming back from that arm injury to be successful. At 32 years old, Meche's retirement is premature, and it might have something to do with injuries that he suffered in Kansas City. Joe Posnanski has a nice blog post with details. The most interesting thing about Meche's retirement is that he is forfeiting $12.4 million he could have otherwise earned.

Originally, I wasn't going to write about either of these stories. Actually, I was going to say more about Meche, but then Posnanski beat me to it, and did a better job than I would have anyhow.

Together though, the Bradley and Meche stories are a study in contrasts.

Still Looking For 2011 Homes

Spring training is about a month away, and there is still talent out on the open market. Looking through the list of remaining players, here are 10 that should get signed between now and then:

RHP Justin Duchscherer - Injuries are Justin's big problem, but when he is healthy, he is productive. Perhaps a return to the bullpen (where he made his first All Star appearance) would be good for him. Ducscherer's best weapon is pin-point accuracy, so he has a chance to age well. He will be 33 years old in 2011, so it's worth thinking what kind of pitcher he will be like as he loses velocity. Justin's recent injury history will probably limit him to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, but if he's healthy he is a candidate to break camp with whatever team that signs him.

Cheney Stadium Love

Cheney Stadium rendering
I live in Tacoma these days, and one of the perks of living here is watching the ongoing Cheney Stadium renovations. The project is expected to be done in a few months, in time for opening day.

In the past month, the project has really started to take shape, and it's going to look fantastic when it is done. The Rainiers are doing a nice job of sharing the progress online too.

Steroid Musings

Jeff Bagwell
Not that I'm a real expert, but I am a real baseball fan. A real baseball fan with a real baseball blog, and a mind that likes to think about these things.

This post isn't as timely as it could have been. It would have been better last week when people were really buzzing about Jeff Bagwell's relatively low Hall of Fame vote total, and how it seemed to be driven down by the mere speculation that he looks like a juicer.

However, really, the debate is timeless. Steroids are what they are, and especially were whatever they were at the height of the "steroid era."

For my taste, steroids users are being treated way too harshly by Hall of Fame voters.

In fact, I'm not even convinced that steroid users from the steroid era were cheaters.

Garza to Cubs, Rays Reloading

Matt Garza
This news is a little bit old, but between working and watching the Seahawks, this post had to wait. The Cubs acquired Matt Garza from the Rays in an eight-player swap. The other seven players involved are minor-leaguers, though some have accumulated time in the majors.

Chicago acquired two other players along with Garza. Here are brief looks at both of them:
  • OF Fernando Perez - Perez has some speed, which likely means defense too, because he can't really hit. He will walk some, but that's almost concerning. The strikeouts are still remarkably high, even with plate discipline, suggesting that there are some serious holes in his swing. At 26 years old, Perez likely is what he is, and that's a pinch-runner/defensive replacement at best. He is minor league depth.
  • LHP Zach Rosscup - Rosscup is a classic throw-in. He is rather young (22 years old), with few professional innings, all in the lower levels of the minors. The innings he has logged have been productive. Some Cubs scout must like something about Rosscup, because there is nothing to go off of (good or bad) with his professional production so far.
Now, on to the five players the Rays received in the trade:

Life After Niehaus

Niehaus and Rizzs
The 2011 season isn't too far away, mostly for better, but a little for worse. There is going to be a point where I wonder why I haven't heard Dave Niehaus belt out a "Fly, Fly Away!" If the M's are as punchless as last year, it might take a while for me to notice, but I'll notice.

What exactly are the Mariners going to do with the seat Niehaus vacated a little too soon for any of our tastes?

Greg Johns caught up with Randy Adamack, the M's VP of communications, and apparently the right guy to talk to for answers about Dave's successor. John's article can be found here.

I won't summarize the article here; it would defeat the purpose of the link. We will find out what the M's do pretty shortly from the sounds of it though.

What should they do?

If it were up to me, I would make Rick Rizzs the lead play-by-play guy, which would mean having him call the majority of television broadcasts. He has been here a long time, and understands what Niehaus meant to the Mariners and the community. Plus, he is a pretty good broadcaster. Maybe a little too chipper and energetic from time to time, but I find it lovable. In fact, his upbeat demeanor might mesh rather well with the more tranquil approach of Mike Blowers.

Rizzs and Blowers, for me, is the right mix to follow Niehaus. I would love to hear what others think though. If you were Randy Adamack, who would you ask to follow Dave?

Evaluating a Designated Hitter

Edgar Martinez
With Edgar Martinez's Hall of Fame candidacy (and legitimate candidacy at that, with the percentage of votes he got the first time on the ballot), debate about the value of a designated hitter has heated up. Mostly, when it comes up, people seem to try to guess what Edgar's offensive numbers would have looked like if he played the field, or what other Hall of Famers' numbers would have looked like as a DH.

I don't like either of those methods at all. The Hall of Fame should be about what a player accomplished. Ted Williams might have hit .400 a couple more times, if not for World War II. Babe Ruth might have hit 800 home runs if he had been an everyday position player at the start of his career. Conversely, Ruth might have won 300 games if he had stayed a pitcher. That's not why either of them are in the Hall of Fame though. Their cases, like everyone's, were built on what they actually did.

Dramatic Transaction Reenactments - Episode 2: Yuni to KC

In the second installment of the potentially ongoing series Dramatic Transaction Reenactments, we get an inside look at how the Royals acquired shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. In the process, we see the remarkable lengths that Z will go to keep deals secret, plus a raw, and perhaps sobering, glimpse into how the Royals operate.

As with the first video, some liberties may have been taken. It is a Dramatic Transaction Reenactment, after all:

Current Hall of Famers

I have been watching college football all day, which is awesome, but it still isn't baseball. The holidays stalled my posts too. Well, that and a lack of any sort of news in baseball. There still is not much to say, though Hall of Fame inductees will be announced on the fifth.

That will do for a subject. I won't write a "who I would pick" kind of post, because I don't have a vote.

Instead, how about active players just waiting to make the Hall of Fame? Here is my starting lineup of active players who could end up in the Hall of Fame: