- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Now that baseball's glorious era of instant replay is one whole week old, we'd like to let our good friend Bud Selig know exactly what we think of his latest innovation:
Bud, it's great. It's long overdue. We're grateful to you for making it happen. Now let's start tweaking it already.
Yes, friends, we're here to inform the commissioner that he can make the replay era even better than it is now.
By adding more of it.
Really. It doesn't have to happen next week, or even next year. But more replay would not be the end of baseball civilization as Kenesaw Mountain Landis used to know it. It would be a good thing, not a bad thing, if used properly.
Let's ask this question: Why is baseball reviewing only home runs again?
Because there aren't enough yellow lines above the outfield fence? Because those have been the only blown calls this year in nationally televised Yankees games? Because the umpires would go out on strike for the next 20 years if they tried to review anything else?
We're not sure, exactly. Mostly, apparently, it's because things move slowly in baseball, and reviewing home runs was the only kind of replay everyone could agree on.
But technology is good. That's our motto. And getting calls right is better -- as many calls as possible, in fact. So once we establish how well replay works on home run calls, let's keep the magic going and get even more calls right. Why the heck not?
"A lot of clubs aren't satisfied with just replaying home runs," said a high-ranking official of one club this week. "I think we should definitely start this way. It's the perfect way to get people comfortable with using it. But once they're comfortable, there's absolutely no reason we shouldn't be using it on other calls."
Agreed. So what other ways could replay (or other technological gizmos) be applied? Here's our list:
- 1. Fair or foul.
2. Trap or catch.
3. Correctly positioning runners after fan interference or an overturned call, and
4. Sorry to be sacrilegious, but (gasp) even for selected out-safe calls on the bases.
Uh-oh. Off in the distance, we think we hear a different kind of rumbling -- the sound of umpires sprinting toward the nearest cardiac ward after they heard that last suggestion. But this is where we reassure them.
First off, we have no interest in using replay to sort out strike one from ball one (although laser technology sure is advanced these days).
Second, we wouldn't want to live in a world in which every call at first base got reviewed. Or at least we wouldn't want to pay 50 bucks a ticket to attend baseball games in a world like that.
What we would like, though, is to give each team the right to ask for a review of one call on the bases a game. One and only one.
"I'd love to see a challenge-type system, similar to how the NFL is," said Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth. "One a game. Throw a red fungo bat out there or something."
Sure. Just be careful where you throw it. That's all.
You wouldn't even need that review system on fair-foul calls or trap-or-catch calls. They could work exactly the way home run reviews work now: Umpires huddle. Crew chief determines whether to review the call. Then one quick look and move on.
On trap plays, said one longtime scout, "you have the same problem as you have with home runs. The umps have to make those calls on the run or from a distance. So that makes a lot of sense."
And on fair-or-foul calls -- which could be dealt with infallibly using tennis' "Hawk-Eye" technology -- "Is there any reason not to use replay?" asked an exec of one club.
Well, the official reason is that it would require repositioning baserunners. And so would those overturned trap-catch rulings. But the fact is, that happens now.
We vividly recall umpires huddling after a blown trap-catch call in a Saturday afternoon Braves-Mets game this season, fixing the call and then rearranging the runners. So what's the issue? As long as umpires use their usual common sense, the only thing that will change is they'll get more calls right. And who's opposed to that?
Now reviewing those out-safe calls on the basepaths -- that's a whole 'nother deal. Naturally, the initial reaction, when we ran that idea past a bunch of baseball executives this week, was worry, caution, skepticism. From several of them, anyway. Wouldn't that make the games seven hours long, they worried?
No, we argued. And here's why:
You would only get one appeal per game, so wouldn't you want to save it? If we were managing, we'd hang onto our holy fungo until as late in the game as possible.
Suppose a game came down to an out-safe call at home plate on the last out of the game. How dopey would we look if we'd already used up our appeal on a caught-stealing play to end the second inning?
So there wouldn't be a parade of safe-out appeals longer than the Tournament of Roses. We'd bet the average team would appeal no more than four calls a week. And once that appeal was made, the same rules would apply that apply to home run replays:
The umpires get 2½ minutes to look at the replay. And no more arguing -- from anybody. No spitting. No hat-throwing. No dirt-kicking. If anybody wants to create a spectacle after a reviewed call, it's an automatic suspension, with longer suspensions to come for multiple offenders.
"So it would create less confrontation," said one NL executive. "And that would be a positive."
Right you are. But it wouldn't even be the biggest positive. And neither would the whole new level of second-guessing you'd be handing over to fans, who could then complain nonstop about how their favorite managers were using the red fungo.
No, the biggest positive couldn't be more obvious: You'd get more calls right. Big calls. Game-turning calls. Even season-turning calls.
Remember Game 163 of the National League season last year, that one-game playoff between San Diego and Colorado? You don't think the Padres wish they'd had a red fungo to toss to give the umpiring crew a second look at whether Matt Holliday ever got to home plate with the winning run?
"It's about the integrity of the game," said one AL official. "All you want is for the team that wins the game to actually win the game."
Wow. Think that concept will ever catch on? But don't interpret that to mean we're just looking to second-guess America's most beloved umpires. That's not the idea. We're making these proposals to help them, not to undermine them.
But will they view it that way? Not likely. So convincing the commish and the umpires to point the cameras at those out-safe calls is going to take time. We know that.
"Bud is not there yet," said an official of one club who has spoken with Selig. "But most clubs think this is just the beginning. Bud's feeling is, `Let's go slow and start from there. We can't ask the umpires to accept it all too fast.' But I bet, in the next bargaining agreement [with the umpires], this will be a big issue."
Hey, we can only hope so. The bigger the better. Here at International Rumblings headquarters, we've campaigned for replay on home runs for 10 years. Now we'll campaign for even more replay, for as long as that takes, too.
Technology makes our lives better every day, from microwavable breakfasts to watching "Lost" reruns on our laptops. So why wouldn't baseball want to use every technological innovation possible to make its game as 21st-century as it can be?
This is no slippery slope we're pleading for, friends. This is called progress.
Ready to Rumble
• Deadline, schmeadline: Now that the Pedro Alvarez controversy has raised the issue of MLB improperly extending deadlines, how come nobody has investigated what happened at the trading deadline?
There has been nonstop buzz in the industry for weeks that MLB extended the 4 p.m. ET July 31 trading deadline by as much as a half-hour to accommodate the Red Sox, Pirates and Dodgers in completing the Manny Ramirez/Jason Bay trade. Of course, Scott Boras wouldn't make an issue of that, because he needed to get his esteemed client, Manny, to a new destination.
• Fresh Prince: During one of our recent chats, a reader proposed a fascinating trade for this winter -- Prince Fielder to the Giants for Matt Cain. The Brewers will need an ace to replace CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets. The Giants need power. It ain't crazy. So can it happen? Dubious, but possible.
First off, according to an official of one club that has already felt out the Brewers on their tentative offseason game plan, Fielder is "definitely someone they'll listen on. They told us they're willing to listen on him, Bill Hall, [J.J.] Hardy and [Rickie] Weeks in the right [i.e., humongous] deal."
Second, it's clear the Giants have deployed their scouts all over baseball in the second half looking for power at the infield corners. And Fielder is one of the mashers believed to be high on their list.
OK, now here's the biggest hang-up: Giants GM Brian Sabean has told clubs repeatedly that he has no interest in busting up the best thing his team has going for it -- the power 1-2 combo of Cain and Tim Lincecum. But if it meant a realistic chance to deal for Prince Fielder, wouldn't he have to rewrite his script?
"Brian has been saying he won't trade one of those two pitchers for anyone," said one NL executive. "But if you're asking me, he ought to reconsider. If they want to get that kind of player, they're going to have to trade Matt Cain to get it."
• For whom the Beltre toils: One more corner bat the Giants appear to be targeting is Seattle's Adrian Beltre.
"Beltre is playing really well right now, and he's playing hard," said one scout, "maybe because he thinks it will help get him out of there. I know the Giants have done a lot of work on this guy. They're looking at him hard."
But to deal for Beltre, the Giants would have to overcome the same issue -- trading away someone like Cain. There's no way to know for certain whether interim GM Lee Pelekoudas or someone else will be making the decisions in Seattle. But every team we talk to about the Giants says it would want a starting pitcher back in any significant deal. And clubs that have spoken with Pelekoudas say that if it's up to him, he "won't let Beltre go without getting a quality pitcher back."
• Standing Pat: There has been an outbreak of optimistic reports out of Philadelphia about the likelihood of the Phillies being able to re-sign Pat Burrell this winter. But our take is: Not so fast.
Burrell clearly wants to stick around. And the Phillies appear to realize that if he leaves, their free-agent options are messy. But as they mull their offer to Burrell, they have a major disadvantage that other teams wouldn't face:
The biggest concern all National League teams would have about Burrell is whether he would be able to play defense through the life of a three-year or four-year deal, in a league with no DH. But only the Phillies would have to worry that he would become a 10-and-5 man about seven weeks into Year 2 of any contract -- meaning he could block a deal to the American League.
So while the Phillies are more motivated to sign him now than they were a few months ago, there is no indication they have wavered from their belief that they can't afford to give him more than two guaranteed years. And there undoubtedly would be longer deals out there elsewhere. So this negotiation will be a real test of just how much he really wants to stay.
• Take the Stairs: One of the least-talked-about ripple effects of the Phillies' trade last week for Matt Stairs is that he's not a rent-a-player. He's signed for next year, too, at $1 million. So why would the Phillies deal for someone like that? It's uncertainty about Burrell and their 2009 outfield that convinced them it was worth at least adding Stairs to their 2009 inventory.
Stairs will be 41 next year. So no NL team would view him as a regular -- or even a platoon outfielder anymore. But if Burrell exits, the Phillies would be more likely to piece together outfield at-bats among a bunch of players than make a major free-agent run at somebody like Adam Dunn or Milton Bradley. So they're not ruling out anybody or anything right now.
• Can you CC clearly now? Now that the Indians, incredibly, have reeled off nearly the same record since the CC Sabathia trade (30-20) as the Brewers (30-19), the most-asked question in baseball is: Where would the Indians be if they'd kept Sabathia instead of trading him?
So we posed that very question to their vice president for baseball operations, Chris Antonetti. And one of the first things he did was to head for the ESPN.com standings page. He then dialed up the date of that trade (July 7) and reported that our own site (via the geniuses at coolstandings.com) was projecting back then that the chances of the Indians making the playoffs was 0.7 percent. Apparently, they didn't think that was too good.
"I think it's human nature to go back and retroactively look at different decisions," Antonetti said. "But in life, you're left to make those decisions with the information you have at hand at the time. And the information we had at hand at the time was that our record wasn't good (37-51), and we had a number of key guys on the disabled list, and we just weren't getting enough performance from the vast majority of our players. So when we evaluated our chances of making the playoffs at the time, we just didn't think that was a very realistic possibility."
And it's tough to disagree. Even if Sabathia had gone 9-0 in Cleveland over these last eight weeks, remember, that doesn't mean the Indians would have picked up nine games in the standings. In fact, Anthony Reyes -- a pitcher they then turned around and traded for before the trading deadline -- has a 2.01 ERA as an Indian. We can't even be sure CC would have beaten that.
• Ask for a Reyes: Speaking of Reyes, we're not sure how the Mets missed trading for him, since they now lead the league in Reyeses (Jose, Al and Argenis). But you might be shocked to learn that the Reyes they didn't trade for -- Anthony -- has been the third-best deadline acquisition among all starting pitchers dealt before the deadline.
In fact, Reyes' 2.01 ERA in August was the eighth-best in baseball, behind a group of guys it's possible you've heard of: Sabathia (1.12), Francisco Liriano (1.23), Tim Lincecum (1.27), Brett Myers (1.65), Rich Harden (1.82), Cliff Lee (1.86) and Johan Santana (1.91).
Back in St. Louis, Reyes didn't mesh with Cardinals pitching guru Dave Duncan's two-seam sinker philosophy. But now that Reyes is back to riding his four-seam fastball up in the strike zone in Cleveland, he looks more like the prospect he was once purported to be as a Cardinal.
"He's your classic four-seam pitcher," said one scout. "He could command it a little better, probably. But he's rounded into shape. He's got that power-pitcher mentality. He has a good changeup. And I think he'll get his breaking ball going eventually. I don't know whether other people think they missed the boat on him. But I feel like we did."
• Hanley being Hanley: Hanley Ramirez is as fun to watch as any player alive. But he's also leading the major leagues in errors over the last three seasons (with 70). And clubs that have spoken with the Marlins say his lapses in defensive concentration have aggravated his coaching staff and front office enough that they could do something this winter that they've always resisted -- talk about moving him to another position.
The most likely options are third base or center field. But it's also possible the Marlins could give him one more chance, with the old shape-up-or-grab-a-new-glove ultimatum. There may not be a more talented player in the whole sport, but "this guy needs to elevate his focus," said one scout. "No doubt."
• "What might have been" dept.: You hear lots of people say now that they aren't all that surprised by Cliff Lee's turnaround. But where were those people last year, when Lee's name was being dangled as potential trade fodder? The Indians had a few nibbles. But we keep hearing that the deal they contemplated longest and hardest was Lee for Carlos Quentin. Imagine that.
"I guess the big decision," laughed one AL executive, "was which was more valuable -- the MVP or the Cy Young -- because it was obvious then that's what they'd be this year. Wasn't it?"
• "What might have been" dept., Take II: Then there's Ty Wigginton. The Astros couldn't possibly have been more interested in unloading him earlier this year. So of course, he then went out last month and hit 12 homers, tying the high by any player in the big leagues in any calendar month this year.
"Anybody could have had him," said one NL exec. "All you had to do was ask. Just goes to prove again that sometimes, when you think you know what you know, you don't know anything."
• Decision time: Very few teams face a more challenging winter than the Braves. But one NL executive says their biggest question will be figuring out what happened to Jeff Francoeur, a guy staggering through nearly a 150-point OPS drop.
"I don't think you go from being that productive to being a total zero," the exec said of Francoeur. "But if he has the feeling they don't believe in him anymore, or they truly don't believe in him anymore, I think they have to see if they can deal him for pitching."
• Feel a draft: One subtle ripple effect of the Pedro Alvarez grievance is that it just might lead to a worldwide draft. How do we connect those dots? Try to follow us:
The longtime alibi at MLB for not fixing the draft is that the union would never agree to negotiate, because it claimed the draft wasn't covered by collective bargaining. And why wasn't it covered? Because these weren't major leaguers being drafted.
But now that Scott Boras has pressured the union to file a grievance over MLB's alleged mishandling of this draft in general and Alvarez in particular, MLB might well respond by jumping on this grievance as proof that the union now agrees that the draft falls under its jurisdiction after all.
Whether the union buys it or not, you can bet the next labor discussions (still three years away) will include extensive talk about a formal slotting system, plus a worldwide draft. MLB currently has a committee, led by former Braves GM John Schuerholz, studying all those issues.
• Upon further review: One more replay note: One of the most-asked questions about the new replay system is why the umpires' crew chief determines when to go to the video, instead of an MLB replay official, either on site or in New York.
"What I'd like to see," said an official of one club, "is a system where you'd have somebody at every park, and when there's a mistake so blatant, the umpire would have a beeper in his pocket and the guy would say, 'It's wrong. Let's get it right.' "
That, in fact, was close to the original proposal. But the umpires protested and lobbied for the crew chief to make that call. Now not everybody is happy with the way it turned out. But one dissenter says he was told by an MLB official it will all work out fine -- "since everyone knows there's now replay in the building, the crew chiefs will look like idiots if they don't use it."
• Who needs a trophy? Finally, we understand the impact CC Sabathia has made on the Brewers these last eight weeks. And we think there ought to be some kind of award to recognize that impact. We just don't know what.
We made that observation to a longtime NL executive the other day, and he couldn't help but laugh.
"I think CC's award," he quipped, "will come after the season."
Yeah, and the green wrapping paper will only cost about $140 million.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.
14mAdam Lewis, Special to ESPN.com