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October 21, 2008 - John Whittaker

What a season it's been.
Who would have thought, seven months ago, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays would be playing in the World Series.
There was the Yankees bad start, resurrection and then inevitable late collapse, Roy Halladay throwing something like 20 complete games while serving as a throwback to non-babied pitchers, Mark Texeira and C.C. Sabathia getting traded at mid-season, the Angels flaming out in the playoffs again, Boston's almost miraculous comeback against Tampa Bay, the Cubs disappointing their fans again, Manny Ramirez going to the Dodgers and almost leading them back to the World Series.
It's been an amazing and entertaining season.
As the baseball season comes to an end, Sir Cumference and I have some thoughts on end-of-season awards, thoughts for our favorite teams in the offseason, the state of the game and, most importantly, the best and worst moves we made in our fantasy baseball league.


Chris Henderson: CC Sabathia (MIL): I hate to pick a guy who only played a third of the season on the team for which I'm picking him as the MVP, but I take the 'V' part of the award very seriously and CC has been ridiculously good since coming over to the NL (11-2, 1.65 ERA). His complete game win over the Cubs to clinch the wild card sealed it for me.

Apologies to Albert Pujols, who was the best player in baseball by a mile this year but falls short under the reasons I listed in my AL MVP choice, and Manny Ramirez, who had a Sabathia-like impact after coming over from Boston but didn't do quite as much to affect the Dodgers' playoff chances as CC did for Milwaukee.

No apologies to everyone else, because if you picked anyone other than CC, Manny, or Pujols I'm seriously wondering if you even followed the league this year.

Special Achievement Award: Cristian Guzman (4th in the NL batting race), who finished with a line of 316/.345/.440 and 6 SB against 5 CS in an effort to redefine the phrase "Empty Batting Average". At least Ryan Theriot and Randy Winn had the courtesy to steal 20+ bases, though Theriot's 13 CS and .359 SLG would have had him in contention for this in many other seasons.

Whitless Wonder: C.C. Sabathia (MIL): I'd have liked Ryan Braun better if his average had stayed above .300 and if he'd hit better down the stretch. I don't know how much the rib cage injury affected him in September, but he struggled until the last three or four games. His numbers are fine --.286, 36 HR, 124 RBI, more than 100 runs scored -- but I thought he was better down the stretch than he really was.

Which means, for me, C.C. Sabathia has to be the MVP -- pitching on three days rest because it was the best thing for the ballclub, throwing well every start until the playoffs, and putting Milwaukee on his back when they were staggering worse than Bernie Brewer after a five-day bender. Sabathia's the reason the Brewers made the playoffs this year, not Braun. And, yes, it really ticks me off that I agree with Henderson.


Henderson: Carlos Quentin (CHW): Seriously, where would the ChiSox be without him? He'll never get it because he was hurt for basically all of September, but that only underscores his value for me.
Chicago went 10-14 from the time he went down and couldn't hold off the Twins, to the point that they need to win a makeup game on Monday and then a one-game playoff on Tuesday just to make it to the ALDS.

Apologies to Joe Mauer. No apologies to A-Rod and anyone on Texas (you can't win the MVP if you don't make the playoffs or at least come damned close unless you throw out a once in a generation season, in my opinion), as well as Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis (if I can't decide which one was more valuable to their team, I'm not putting either of them up for league MVP, especially if they didn't even win their own division).

If anyone is wondering why this doesn't apply to Mauer/Morneau, it's because their batting stats were just about even and a guy who catches 137 games is approximately 400 times more valuable defensively than a 1B/DH.

Whitless Wonder: Justin Morneau (MIN): This is one where Henderson and I tend to disagree. Quentin was great, and yes, he took Chicago on his back. But, he missed a month - and he's the reason he was injured by smacking his bat against his hand after a strikeout.
So, I moved on to Justin Morneau - whose numbers and defense are fine -- 300, 23 HR, 129 RBI and 47 doubles, while playing Gold Glove defense at first base. Problem is, he disappeared - 3 hits and 1 RBI in the last 10 games, when the Twins were fighting for the playoffs - when his team needed him most. One more key hit, and chances are Morneau's team makes the playoffs over the White Sox.

I just can't find anyone else I like better -- Alex Rodriguez' team finished in third place and he couldn't hit at all with men in scoring position, Josh Hamilton had a great individual season, but the Rangers finish in fourth place with or without him; there's no way I'm giving a vote to Francisco Rodriguez, and the best pitchers finished on teams that were third and fourth in their respective divisions.

So, it's Morneau by default for me.


Henderson: Tim Lincecum (SF): This is a very close one between Lincecum and Johan Santana. Honestly, there's almost nothing to separate them statistically (Santana had a marginally better WHIP &
ERA, Lincecum was more dominant and had a better OPS allowed, and they both threw about the same number of innings) so I'm going with the guy that hasn't won it before.

Apologies to Santana. No apologies to Ryan Dempster, though I never would have predicted him having a season like this, and Sabathia, who was the most valuable player but obviously didn't pitch enough in the NL to be the best pitcher over the course of the season.

Whitless Wonder: Johan Santana (NYM): A bad bullpen cost him at least five wins this season, and his team was at least in the race. I'd like to see Tim Lincecum pitch like this he did in 2008 with the pressure of pitching on a winner - not that I'm doubting him, mind you. But, I'm giving the nod to Santana.


Chris Henderson: Roy Halladay (TOR): He had more starts, more innings, a better WHIP, and more Ks than Cliff Lee. He also had a better K/9, a better K/BB, a better OPS allowed, and more complete games. Lee had a slightly better ERA but Halladay pitched 23 more innings, meaning they probably saved about the same number of runs. The sooner we quit even looking at a pitcher's wins & losses, the better.

Apologies to Lee, who still had a hell of a season. No apologies to Daisuke Matsuzaka, who averaged 5.78 innings per start, which is abysmal.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Mike Mussina, who never did win the Cy but came damned close on a couple of occasions, was one of the best pitchers of the last two decades, and put together a fantastic swan song if this was, indeed, his last season.

Whitless Wonder: Roy Halladay (TOR): I hate to agree with Chris here - but there isn't a real argument against Halladay. Cliff Lee was unbelievable this year - especially considering he was sent down to AAA last season - and I'd love to give a vote to Mike Mussina, who was the Yankees MVP, hands down, this year. But, Halladay was filthy all year and almost willed his team to a third-place finish. Had Toronto made the playoffs, he'd be my MVP, too.

Recommendation For Your Favorite Team (Boston) In The Offseason

Henderson: Keep the team together as much as possible. Bat Youkilis leadoff, because that 60 point swing in OBP is far more important than Ellsbury's runing ability when you're batting ahead of Pedroia, Bay, and Big Papi, and bat Ellsbury 6 or 7, because his speed & base stealing have a bigger impact batting ahead of the singles hitters at the bottom of the order.

Whitless Wonder: My biggest recommendation for Brian Cashman is to settle on a direction and stick with it. If the decision is to spend money like a drunken sailor, then by all means sign C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Texeira. If you want to go with a bit more speed, defense and youth, then stay away from the free agent market, stick with the youth and make smaller acquisitions.
Also, the pitching needs to get fixed. I assume Chien-Ming Wang is the number 2 starter, Andy Pettitte is the number 3, Phil Hughes is the number 4. Nobody knows what Mike Mussina's plan is, but the team needs a number 1 starter.
Lastly, there needs to be some premium on defense - Bobby Abreu is pretty weak defensively, Johnny Damon can't throw enough to play center, who knows how much Hideki Matsui's knees will let him play the outfield, Robinson Cano makes more mental lapses than the head of AIG, and Derek Jeter's range is on the decline at shortstop. If you aren't going to have great pitchers, then you need a good defense to make those pitchers better -- and a lot of catchable balls fell in last year for hits.
I know. I know. My list is bigger than Henderson's - but my team has more to work on this offseason.

Best and worst picks on your 2008 fantasy team in our league and why

Henderson: Best: Probably grabbing a slightly injured John Lackey for $15, since I got both a good season and the ability to keep him at $20 and pencil him in as my number one starter next season.
Worst: Not a pick but a strategy, which was blowing a lot of money on starting pitching because I thought top starters were being undervalued by the market. This hurt me in two ways: (A) it essentially negated my ability to pick out cheap sleeper-keeper pitchers, due to limited roster space and (B) a lot of it was money poorly spent since pitchers are inherently unpredictable from year to year. If I have to pick one guy it would be Erik Bedard, who was symptomatic of the trend.

Whitless Wonder: Best: During the draft, it was the biggest joke of the day -- but Geovany Soto for $13 was a steal since I get to keep a good-hitting catcher for $18 this year. Also, the trade with Teddy of Carl Crawford for Jason Bay and Felix Hernandez turned out to be a good move for me. Finally, I liked two waiver pickups -- Adam Lind for $0, making him a $5 keeper if I want; and Max Scherzer for $1, so I can keep him for $6.
Worst: Trading J.J. Hardy before his inevitable hot streak, especially since I could have kept him for $11 this year if I had wanted. That move backfired like a 1972 Pinto. I had two failed strategies bite me in the butt, too. I tried to skimp on closers, drafting three closers but not spending more than $8 on any of them, including Eric Gagne and Chaz Cordero. Only Joakim Soria worked out for me. Also, I bought Carl Crawford, but realized shortly after the draft that it wouldn't be enough to keep me out of the basement in steals, so I traded him for the aforementioned Bay and Hernandez and punted steals.

What is your feeling on the state of the game heading into the 2008 postseason?

Henderson: Seriously? What is this, Costas Now? I think baseball has finally shaken off most of the negative steriod/HGH issues, but the bigger problem is still the financial imbalance, and I say that as a Red Sox

I can't imagine being a Royals or Pirates fan (OK, I actually can, since I went to Duke and still root for their football team--it sucks).

Everybody likes to point to the fact that anyone can win or at least get to the World Series, but most of those teams were only really good for a year or two before going into a five-year rebuilding cycle, which is not something that affects the big-money teams.

Tampa Bay was a great story this year, but what happens in two or three years when half of their stars are demanding new contracts and threatening to hold out? I'm not saying baseball needs a hard salary cap like football has, but the luxury tax isn't sufficient to deter the wealthiest teams from spending as much as they want, since they know full well they'll make up the money in local television revenues, merchandise sales, etc.

The simple way to correct this is for the smaller market teams--i.e., everyone except for the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, and one or two other teams I'm probably missing--to tell those teams, "You know what? Let's see how many people want to watch a six-team league, because if you can't find a more balanced revenue sharing plan, we're simply not going to play you. I hope your season ticket holders and TV audience like seeing you win 100 games by forfeit." But that's never going to happen, because getting 20+ baseball owners to agree on anything is like getting Congressmen to stop spending money bailing out their buddies and appeasing senior citizens.

So in summation, baseball is not in crisis but it does have at least one very serious problem, and it's unlikely that it will be addressed in the near future.

Whitless Wonder: That Henderson guy is pretty smart. I agree with everything he said - I couldn’t imagine being a Pirates or Kansas City fan, knowing full well that you're rooting for one or two major league players and a team that will be lucky to finish the season 20 games out of first place.

It's part of what makes the Tampa Bay Rays such an amazing story and what makes me fondly remember the 1980s and early 1990s. Even though the Yankees didn't win championships then, the leagues were pretty well balanced, and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays or Minnesota Twins had a real chance to win a championship if they played their cards right.
Let me say one thing right now -- smart teams win championships, not teams that spend the most money. But, money sure helps. Take the Red Sox as an example. In 2004 and 2007, the Red Sox, with a huge payroll advantage, won championships because they spent a lot of money smartly.

The Yankees, in those same seasons, spent more money, but didn't spend it as wisely as the Red Sox did. But, having such an asset advantage over smaller teams does lead to a competitive unbalance -- the 2008 season notwithstanding. This is the exception rather than the rule.
Two things I'd like to see, though, are a Larry Bird Exemption-type rule in Major League Baseball and some sort of true salary cap.
First, the true salary cap. If the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and Dodgers have more money to play with than everyone else, great. But, as far as competitive teams go, everybody should have the same money to spend. Let the rich teams do other things with their extra money - like dropping ticket prices so the average family of six can go to a game without taking out a fourth mortgage, or maybe paying for their own stadium when it's time for a replacement.
Backup infielders or one-inning middle relievers don't need million dollar contracts. They just don't. Salaries need to come back in line with the rest of society.
My thought is, set the bar at $85 million - because, really, how much money does one person need? In a time when the average Joe the Plumber is scratching to make ends meet, a ballplayer doesn't need 10 years at a guaranteed $20 million a year. As a country, it says something disturbing about our priorities. So, I'd set a hard cap and make the players deal with it.
Secondly, one of the things I think baseball needs to fix is transient players -- some guys, like a Derek Jeter or a Cal Ripken Jr., should never change teams. Ever. But, when you look at a team like Kansas City, they had to let Mike Sweeney go for salary reasons. Pittsburgh had to trade Jason Bay, in part because they know he's due a payday they can't afford. In the last 40 years, though, each of those teams had a signature player -- Roberto Clemente and then Willie Stargell in Pittsburgh and George Brett in Kansas City.
This would bypass the salary cap, as in the NBA, and then the decision is truly up to the team. If you want to spend a little extra money to make sure a fan favorite isn't plying his trade in another city, fine. But, I think it would be a nice step in the fan's favor.


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