Mets expected to seek masher
Many say the Mets will pursue a big bat this offseason, with Magglio Ordonez prominently on their radar.
Ordonez, who can be a free agent, just broke off contract talks with the White Sox until after the season. But no matter what he's looking for, it will be less than the $78 million Ramirez has coming over the next four years. Whether the Mets would have the players to trade that would make dealing Ramirez worthwhile for the Red Sox, though, is a whole 'nother question.
"The guy I'd be more interested in trading if I were them is (2002's No. 1 pick) Scott Kazmir," says one scout who has covered their system. "Unbelievable arm, but a little enigmatic for me. Just seems like everything has to be perfect for this kid to pitch. He's a terrific talent. But if I were them, I'd keep hyping that guy -- and then move him."
The same scout on Wright: "I hate comparisons. But if I could pick one third baseman who has had a career path like this guy, it would be Scott Rolen."
"If he puts together a couple of good ones in a row, I think they'd be wise to move him," says one scout. "His delivery is a mess now. His stuff is flatter. His old sink isn't there. I think it's a great time to get him out of there."
And an official of an AL team says: "The chemistry of that team is a real tribute to Dave Miley. There's no circus atmosphere around that team anymore. Even in spring training, you could see the attention to detail and the work ethic of that staff. And it's paid off."
|Stat of the Week|
The hardballtimes.com Web site, through data compiled by Baseball Info Solutions, tracks a fascinating stat -- line-drive percentage. Here, heading into this week, are the pitchers who have allowed the highest and lowest percentage of line drives this year among balls put in play (minimum: 20 IP):
MOST LINE DRIVES -- NL
Matt Kinney, Mil. 29.1 pct.
Randy Choate, Ariz. 28.9 pct.
Hideo Nomo, LA 27.4 pct.
Jeff Fassero, Col. 26.5 pct.
Jason Isringhausen, St. L. 26.3 pct.
MOST LINE DRIVES -- AL
Chris Hammond, Oak. 32.5 pct.
Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Sea. 28.2 pct.
Alan Embree, Bos. 28.1 pct.
Ramon Ortiz, Ana. 27.6 pct.
Brian Anderson, KC 25.7 pct.
FEWEST LINE DRIVES -- NL
Aaron Cook, Col. 6.8 pct.
Vladimir Nunez, Col. 10.5 pct.
Victor Santos, Mil. 12.4 pct.
Felix Rodriguez, SF 12.8 pct.
Joe Kennedy, Col. 13.1 pct.
FEWEST LINE DRIVES -- AL
Dennys Reyes, KC 8.2 pct.
Shingo Takatsu, Chic. 9.4 pct.
Jake Westbrook, Clev. 9.9 pct.
John Halama, Tam., 9.9 pct.
Doug Waechter, Tam., 10.0 pct.
"I would trade for Steve Finley in a heartbeat," says one scout. "He's a 39-year-old in a 28-year-old body. He stays in there against left-handers. He plays hard. He runs hard. He's still got great instincts in center field. He's a guy they could trade in July, then re-sign in November. You know the two places he prefers to play are Arizona and San Diego."
"He's not the same hitter he was in Seattle," the scout says. "He's swinging out of his shoes every swing, trying to hit home runs to get to 500. And what really struck me is, he's not that good a center fielder anymore. He gets slow jumps, and he's running three-quarter speed, like a guy trying not to get hurt. Not that I blame him for that."
"It wouldn't surprise me," says one scout, "if nobody in the NL West was over .500 by the time they finish playing the AL East."
"I don't get it," says one Met. "They say, `You've gotta get the guy out from behind the plate so you can get his bat in the lineup.' Then he's out there, playing a position he's never played before, and people expect him to be Keith Hernandez. Well, you can't have it both ways."
The brilliant number-crunchers at Baseball Prospectus just broke down the rate of extra-base hits that are falling in Seattle, since Cameron departed, and in Queens, since Cameron arrived. And this can't be a coincidence: Projected doubles and triples against the Mets this year: 267 -- or 81 fewer than last year. Projected doubles and triples against the Mariners this year: 390 -- up 156 from last year.
When informed of those numbers by the Newark Star Ledger's David Waldstein, Cameron (last seen hitting .196) laughed: "At least I'm doing something right."
But as hard as it is to quantify the effect Cameron has had on the drop in the Mets' ERA, teammate Joe McEwing looks at it this way:
"It's amazing to see how much he's transformed our team. A year or two ago, if it's first and second and a guy hits a gapper, we're down, 2-0, and there's a man on second, nobody out. This year, a lot of times, that same ball is an out. So now it's first and second, one out, and a ground ball gets us out of an inning. That's a potential three-run swing."
"It's unbelievable how aggressive those guys are," the scout says. "Throw a can up there, they'd swing at it."
On the other hand, the scout continues to be blown away at how Bonds towers over every game he plays in.
"How can one guy control a game like that in baseball?" he asks. "Babe Ruth didn't control games like that. Ted Williams didn't control games like that. They walk him with a runner on first. They walk him with nobody on. Hell, they walked him with the bases loaded once. The way he controls a game, he's gotta be the best ever."
"Oh, he's got great control, and he's a competitor," said an executive of one team that passed on Weaver. "But his delivery stinks. He's a long-armed slinger. He doesn't have any secondary pitches that will work at the major-league level. And when he gets to the big leagues, they'll just load the lineup with left-handers. So what's he going to be? A fourth or fifth starter. That's my read."
In other words, to compare this guy to Mark Prior is laughable.
"Hell," says one team's assistant GM, "to compare any college pitcher to Mark Prior is laughable. I know people who have been doing this for 40 years, and they say they've never see a guy like Prior coming out of college."
Ferris' 21 homers, .755 slugging percentage and 1.268 OPS were the highest among all college position players taken in the first two rounds. And while he may not have played in a powerhouse conference, the same executive says:
"I saw him in a series against Rice, which had three first-round (pitching) picks. And he went 5-for-8, with 4 walks, a homer over the scoreboard, a triple off the center-field wall and a double off the left-field wall. Of all the players I saw, this guy was the best hitter in the country."
"I love this kid," he says. "Great arm. The day I saw him, he threw 96 miles an hour in the fifth inning -- on every single pitch."
"I like the kid," said one observer. "But is he the best player in this draft? He's not. No way. His bat is a big question mark. And he's a fringe runner. Very good fielder, though. And tremendous arm."
"The same problem," says Brewers GM Doug Melvin, "exists in the scouting world."
How many scouts have driven five hours to see a high school player get walked four times? Enough to fill up Miller Park. That's for sure.
So Melvin is a big proponent of a rule change that would apply throughout the amateur and professional baseball world -- one that would both help people like Bonds get pitches to hit and stop the right-left-right-left situational-bullpen parade that grinds the rhythm of many games to a screeching halt.
"One rule that I would like reviewed -- and it would create a lot of strategy -- is that pitchers have to face at least two hitters instead of one," Melvin says. "And the intentional walk does not count as a hitter faced. If a lefty pitcher is brought in to face the lefty hitter before Bonds and he walks Bonds, he still must face one more hitter who is right-handed. Maybe the lefty/righty matchup could favor the offensive club that keeps putting runners on base."
Melvin admits this proposal is "not a cure-all." But any idea that promotes strategy, quickens games and increases the potential cost of an intentional walk is a brainstorm well worth thinking about.
"It's not an issue," Schuerholz says. "We feel so good about this team's ability to work through these tough times and come out the other side and still be in the dogfight in the National League East that we expect John to be our closer in the seventh game of the World Series."
Not that Smoltz isn't frustrated over having one-third as many save opportunities (10) as Danny Graves (31). But Schuerholz says: "Chipper Jones is frustrated, too, because he's not able to contribute. Marcus Giles is frustrated because he's not able to contribute. A lot of guys are frustrated."
It's a lonnnggg year, though. And by October, the last thing Schuerholz expects people to consider John Smoltz is irrelevant. Or trade bait.
"Our thinking right now is, keep all our options open and let's be flexible," Schuerholz says. "But if we get to that point (where they're ready to make a trade), then we'll have to be less flexible and more decisive about what it is we want to do."
However this ends up, you have to admire the selflessness of a player of Jones' stature volunteering to bounce to a new position at this stage of his career -- even if health is one factor in that stance.
"What's more remarkable than the fact that he could play either of three positions," Schuerholz says, "is his willingness to play either of three positions."
"Last year, he had the best at-bats on our team, against the toughest pitchers, in the toughest situations," the GM says. "He's turned himself into an all-star second baseman. And he's really the catalyst for our success. ... What gives me a lot of hope is that we continue to stay in the race and stay within striking distance at a time when our MVP isn't in the lineup."
For one thing, it's not their M.O. to give up prospects of Gavin Floyd's or Cole Hamels' magnitude for a rent-a-player. For another thing, with a $92-million payroll, they don't have enough financial breathing room to take on even the last two months of Beltran's $9-million paycheck.
And finally, no matter what you hear, they're not ready to pull the plug on Marlon Byrd -- a perennial slow starter who hit .325 after June 1 last year. Then again, if Byrd hasn't gotten his stroke mechanics together by July 1, stay tuned.
Steve Finley will almost certainly be on the market. But he hit .190 in 72 plate appearances out of the leadoff hole this year -- and, at $6.75 million a year, is probably too pricey. The Yankees would love to move Kenny Lofton once he gets healthy. But he seems to interest fans in Philadelphia more than he interests the Phillies. And Endy Chavez and Tike Redman are even less prototypical leadoff animals than Byrd -- who did have a .379 on-base percentage hitting leadoff last year and led the NL in runs scored in September.
And for long-haul purposes, other clubs report, the Phillies are starting to call around exploring potential July deals for set-up relievers. They're expected to step up those efforts in a couple of weeks.
Baseball people who have watched Rollins over the years think he plays with more offensive energy at the top of the order. And the facts bear that out. Through Tuesday, he was hitting .316, with a .372 on-base percentage, batting first or second this year. But out of the 7-8 holes, he was batting .200, with a .257 OBP.
"I think Jimmy is a red-light player," says GM Ed Wade.
Because of the Phillies' desperation for a true leadoff man -- and his inability to play that classic "little man's game" people seem to expect him to play -- Rollins has probably moved into the much-coveted team lead in boos attracted in Philadelphia.
But if the Phillies ever wanted to move him, they'd have numerous takers. This guy, after all, is only 25 years old. He has averaged 43 steals, 31 doubles and 12 triples a year in his career. And he's such a good defensive shortstop, Wade says: "A lot of teams would take Jimmy strictly as a defensive shortstop, even if he was hitting eighth and he was a .218 hitter."
Up in the Phillies' front office, however, the trade-Jimmy talk appears to sail through the GM's ears without a pit stop.
"I think people are either losing perspective, or choosing not to have perspective," Wade says, "on what he brings in terms of his total package. ... I think Jimmy Rollins is a winning player."
But anyone who saw Millwood as a Brave knows his troubles have nothing to do with fear of pitching in big games: "I don't think Kevin shies away from those challenges at all," Wade says.
On the other hand, Millwood has always been high-maintenance mechanically, even as a Brave. And he has slipped in and out of sync all season. And scouts following the Phillies say they have big questions about Millwood's conditioning -- or lack thereof.
Stat of the Week
Scouting Report of the Week
John Smoltz just returned to Detroit to face the Tigers team that traded him to Atlanta on August 12, 1987. Can you name the only pitcher still in baseball who finds himself on the same team now as he was back then? (Hint: He hasn't been there all this time.) In fact, only one other active pitcher is even in the same league they were in then. For extra credit, name him, too.
ANSWER: Same team now as then: Greg Maddux. Same league: John Franco (then a Red). For all those who guessed Tom Glavine, sorry. He was called up by the Braves two days after that deal -- to replace the man traded for Smoltz, Doyle Alexander, in the rotation.