- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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The commissioner of baseball doesn't ask for our advice. (Can't imagine why.) We just provide it for him anyway, 100 percent free of charge. How magnanimous is that?
But lately, our crew of Rumblers and Grumblers has been dispensing more of that free advice than usual. Must be that time of year.
We've offered to help Bud Selig add more replay to his world. We've also laid out a foolproof plan to add a second wild card in each league and give teams more incentive to finish first. How helpful can one column be in solving all this sport's big issues, huh?
But this week, it's the commish's turn. This week, he gets the floor. Entertaining and incisive as our opinions may be, it's Bud Selig's opinions on this stuff that actually matter. Ours just contribute to the alarming overcrowding of cyberspace.
So where does the commissioner see baseball heading on replay and expanded wild cards? Here's where:
If you missed last week's Rumblings -- and there's normally a heavy fine for that -- you missed our poll of 24 managers on whether to expand the use of replay to review umpires' calls. Of the 24 managers who responded, four declined comment -- but 18 of the other 20 said they were open to some sort of additional use of replay.
So imagine our surprise when the commish was quoted Monday as saying that when he speaks to managers and general managers on the same topic, "I don't get the feeling that there's a lot of support for it."
Our response, on Tuesday's edition of "Mike & Mike," was that the commissioner needed to "open his ears." The commissioner's response to that quip was: "My ears are open. My ears have been open."
"People say to me, 'Bud, does anybody call you about this -- owners, general managers, managers?' And that answer, frankly, is no. I really don't get calls on this," Selig insisted. "Frankly, outside of ESPN, I really don't hear much about it."
The commissioner said he regularly surveys his special committee for on-field matters about replay -- a committee that includes four managers, by the way. He said he even checked in with his committee members after our survey. And he continues to maintain he finds very little sentiment for more replay in that group.
"Right now," he contended, "there's really no big push for it. The guy who keeps bringing it up is me."
We can't say we're on board with the first part of that premise -- that the only people on Earth pushing for more replay happen to be employed by ESPN. But we will say this about the second part of that statement:
The fact Bud Selig keeps bringing this up is a good thing.
People around the commissioner have told us in the past week, in fact, that Selig is actually "more open to [additional replay] now than he's ever been." And the commish himself told Rumblings that people weren't listening to what he said Monday closely enough.
"I said this very carefully," Selig said. "I'm willing to talk about it in the future."
That clearly wasn't the message most people got from Monday's remarks -- which came when he attended the unveiling of George Steinbrenner's Mount Kilimanjaro-sized monument at Yankee Stadium. The message that got the headlines was the part in which Selig said baseball wouldn't expand the use of replay during the 2010 postseason.
But Selig hinted that 2011 could be a whole different story. The kind of expansion he's considering would be "quite limited," he said. But that's better than "No never ever not while I'm the king of this castle," right?
Calls on the bases? Hard to envision Selig going down that road yet -- if ever. But fair or foul? That would seem like a logical next step.
But when we tried to bring up specifics -- what sorts of calls would work, a manager-challenge system versus an umpire-in-the-booth setup, etc. -- the commish wanted no part of that conversation. Too sensitive to air in public, he said.
He did entertain one specific question, however, on whether he envisioned baseball experimenting with additional replay -- say, in spring training or the Arizona Fall League -- before implementing it.
"I would hope," he said, "that whatever we decide, we'll be confident enough in it where we could just put it in."
If Selig ever does sign off on more replay, the one thing you can take to Vegas is that it will be a system designed to zip those reviews along quickly.
"This sport has a wonderful pace to it," he said. "So we can't have pitchers standing around while we go in [to look at replays] for three minutes here, and four minutes there, and five minutes here."
The irony, though, is this: While Selig wants those calls reviewed swiftly, his own review -- of this whole issue -- is moving along more slowly than Calvin Pickering. But we all need to recognize that's just this commissioner's style. He's a deliberate man, and that's not changing. But at least we sense his stance on this issue is -- finally.
"I haven't said no," Selig said. "I've just said we're reviewing this thoroughly, and we've spent hours talking about it. At the end of the day, when I finally make up my mind, I want to do that after a lot of consideration. I want to make sure we've really thought everything through."
Hey, that's our man Bud. As long as he ends up in the right place on this, we'll put away our stopwatch. But at least, he promised several times, his ears are open. And if it means anything to him, ours are, too.
Adding wild cards
Before we weighed in on replay, a previous Rumblings column made what millions of Americans agree was possibly the most compelling argument of all time for why baseball should add a wild-card team in each league.
We don't endorse that concept because we want baseball to have more playoff teams than the NHL. We endorse it because we're seeing once again that what should be the best race in baseball -- Yankees-Rays -- has been rendered semi-meaningless by a flaw in the wild-card system: i.e. there just isn't enough incentive to finish first.
But if you add a second wild card in each league, and force those two wild cards to battle it out in kind of a Survivor Series just to move on, you'd have a whole different scenario.
So what does the commissioner think? It's an idea he's shown interest in before. And it's "something I'd seriously consider" again, he said.
Selig has his concerns, of course. One is that his studies have shown that there would be years in which adding a wild card would "take away some of the drama, rather than creating more." (Our own studies don't show that, we might add.) The other is -- and this will shock you -- figuring out how to fit more postseason games into the schedule without finishing the World Series in between slices of turkey on Thanksgiving.
"The problem you have," he said, "is the schedule. You know how I feel about [playing into] November. So I've often said that if the clubs want to cut back to 158 games or 154, then we have the option to do a number of things."
But we all know the clubs don't want to cut back the regular season, because -- in a related development -- they also don't want to cut back the dollars flowing into their checking accounts. So squishing more postseason games into an already-tight schedule is no simple matter.
Nevertheless, we continue to hear from people close to Selig that "he likes this idea." And some of the folks around him like it even more than he does. We hear that owners have been informally surveyed about it. And as we reported earlier this month, the players' union apparently has been feeling out players, as well.
The problem is that neither side favors a one-game October Madness win-or-go-home wild-card duel, which would be easy to fit into the schedule. Everyone wants a best-of-three, which gets tricky.
But "tricky" isn't the same as "impossible." And Selig made it clear he'd be open to suggestions for how to make this idea possible -- ostensibly in time to negotiate it into the next labor deal before 2012.
If there's a brainstorm out there that can make baseball a better sport, "I never say no to anything," Selig said.
Boy, we love that kind of talk. Sounds like an invitation for Rumblings to promote many more ingenious baseball innovations in the future. Doesn't it? And because we appreciate the commish taking the time to listen, we'll keep on waiving our usual fee -- just for him.
Ready to Rumble
• Land of the free: It's no secret the players' union has looked at the operation of the free-agent market over the past few offseasons with plenty of skepticism. So the endless pursuit of labor peace has led MLB to agree with the union on a fascinating deal:
The two sides have reached an agreement to lengthen the offseason negotiating periods for free agents by moving up the annual filing, arbitration and tender dates, starting immediately after this season. So what's the big deal about that?
Theoretically, it should mean we won't flip the calendar to February this winter and find 50 free agents still unsigned. In theory, this should allow more of those players to sign by mid-to-late January, because they can now start talking to teams earlier.
But we're already hearing talk from front-office types about the need to be "patient" this offseason. So it will be interesting to see how these changes work out in practice.
• The agent game: After years of madness, client-stealing and finger-pointing, the players' union is taking steps to clean up the player-agent industry. It's about to implement a new set of agent rules and guidelines. And Rumblings was able to obtain a copy. Among the intriguing highlights:
1. The union is no longer just going to certify agents who negotiate contracts. It also will certify "runners" and "recruiters" who have long operated beneath the surface, in a not-always-ethical manner.
2. Any contact between an agent and a player that agent doesn't represent has to be disclosed to the union. Obviously, it's practically been open season for that sort of thing in the past -- which made client-raiding a little too rampant for everyone's tastes.
3. Agents will no longer be allowed to promise "anything of value" (such as endorsement deals, trips, cars and other tempting perks) to players they don't represent. It's no secret that many a "promise" has been made to recruit clients in the past.
4. Players who are about to become eligible for free agency or salary arbitration will have to "consult" with the union before they change agents. It seems clear the union hasn't been satisfied with all the reasons for players making those switches, at critical negotiating times, in the past.
5. In an attempt to deal with the increasing frequency of agents leaving their agencies and taking players with them, the union is going to allow agencies to negotiate "reasonable" restrictions on that sort of thing.
6. And when two or more agents have a dispute they can't resolve themselves, they will now be required to have those disputes settled by a union-appointed arbitrator, as opposed to the courts. Until now, the union has mostly allowed agents to thrash those issues out on their own.
One agent described this as "really a house-cleaning." But you don't need to be a descendant of Marvin Miller to know that house had gotten way too messy.
"If this is enforced," said the same agent, "it should significantly change the way the industry operates. And it puts pressure on agents to make sure they're working in their players' best interests, and not just their own."
Obviously, that hasn't been quite how the agent biz has been working. So only good can come of this -- theoretically.
• Bat men: We asked a half-dozen executives and scouts this week to rank this winter's top five free-agent position players. Here's how that poll turned out:
1. Carl Crawford: Except for one Jayson Werth nomination, Crawford got every first-place vote. "I would take Carl Crawford over anybody on this list," said one scout. "He's high-energy. He can steal bases. He's developed power. He can defend. He's a great player who's just getting into his prime."
2. Jayson Werth: We don't get the sense teams are buying Scott Boras' "he-should-get-more-money-than-Matt Holliday" sales pitch on Werth. (More on that in a moment.) But we have a feeling Werth will have no problem funding his 401(k) when this offseason is over. "His game is a little less reliant on speed," said the executive who chose Werth over Crawford. "So as [he and Crawford] get into their mid-30s, I can see Werth aging a little better."
3. Adam Dunn: There was no consensus whatsoever on the 3-4-5 spots. But Dunn eked slightly ahead because he's a power bat in a game where his kind of power is suddenly a scarce commodity. "He'll be a high-on-base, home run guy for the next few years, and given his track record, I think you can count on that," said one executive. "And at a time when most teams are stressing about their offense, there's real value in that."
4. Adrian Beltre: No player in this poll confused the people we surveyed more than this guy. "When he's healthy and playing well, he might be one of the 10 best players in the game," said one. On the other hand, said another, "what's scary is that he's tough to assess because his body is falling apart." And let's just say teams have also noticed the two best years of his career have come in contract-drive seasons.
5. Paul Konerko: One exec said he just "assumes" Konerko will go back to the White Sox. But if he doesn't, he'll find he has a lot of fans. "I've always liked him," said one executive. "He's had a great year. And he's a great guy. He's one of those guys who's just a good guy to have on a good team."
• What's he Werth? As multitalented a player as Werth clearly is, we ran across several clubs this week that were openly chuckling at the idea that merely hiring Scott Boras was enough to double the size of the contract he rakes in this winter -- or even close.
"What was amazing to me," said one AL executive, "is how the needle on Jayson Werth seemed to swing by about $30-40 million overnight. One minute, he's a guy looking at getting four years times $15 million, or maybe five times 15, to a guy where people are asking if he'll get $100 million. What exactly changed about him, other than his representative?"
What Werth has going for him is obvious: He's a right-handed power bat in a market that offers virtually no outfield alternatives like him. Over the past two years, just two right-handed hitters in the game can top Werth's 61 homers, 134 extra-base hits and .379 on-base percentage: Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera. Neither plays the outfield.
On the other hand, said the same executive, "I think the days of the over-30 position-player free agent getting $100 million are probably over unless you're a Hall of Fame-caliber player."
Well, Werth isn't quite that. It also hurts his potential value that the Yankees now appear to be backing off on him. If they throw big dollars at any free-agent outfielder this winter, it would be Crawford. But even Crawford will rank far below Cliff Lee on their offseason priority list.
So that would seem to leave the Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, Tigers and Giants as Werth's most likely pursuers. And at this point, it's hard to foresee any economically feasible scenario that leads him back to Philadelphia.
• Goodbye Joe? Hard as Joe Torre might be working at damage control, he's not convincing many people that when he visited New York this week, he "had no intention of making people believe that I wanted to manage the New York Mets."
"I've been hearing he had his eye on the Mets since April," said one longtime baseball man who has known Torre for years.
"He would love to come back to New York," said another front-office man who once worked with Torre.
"He loves money. He loves being a manager. And he loves New York," said a third executive who goes back years with Torre.
So when Torre spoke openly this week of "hoping that the phone will ring" this winter, those were not the words of a man who is ready to retire.
"I think Joe plays every card he has," said the third exec. "That's what he always does."
But now that we've got all that out of the way, none of these three men believe Torre was ever going to wind up with the Mets, no matter what he did or didn't say.
For one thing, the Mets aren't likely to pay any manager in the neighborhood of $5 million a year. And Torre almost certainly isn't going to work for less.
For another, "I don't know if he would take a job with a team that's not going to win," said one executive. "He can't end his career by winning 75 games this year and 75 next year and maybe 80 the next year, and come away with the same reputation he has now."
So it's very possible, even probable, that you won't find Torre in anybody's dugout next April. But if you don't, is it because he's "closing the door on managing the Mets and probably everybody else," as he put it? Let's just say the people who know Torre best haven't heard him slam that door yet.
• The Wizard of Oz: We keep hearing the Marlins are watching Ozzie Guillen's situation closely these days. If Guillen were to force his way out of Chicago by pushing for a contract extension, there's no doubt he'd zoom right to the top of the Marlins' managerial shopping list.
One baseball man who spoke to the Marlins' brass told Rumblings they know "they can't do anything right now," because Guillen is still under contract with the White Sox through next year.
But the Marlins are clearly looking for a big-name manager who could energize their potential fan base. And not only would Guillen obviously meet that definition, he's also a fellow who spent two years as a coach for the Marlins, coached in Montreal when Jeffrey Loria owned the Expos and would fit right in with this team's oft-stated goal to become Latin America's Team.
So if his time's up on the South Side, Guillen would be the off-the-charts favorite to land in South Beach.
• Closing time: With Billy Wagner still holding firm on his retirement plans, the Braves are already looking over the horizon for their next closer. And they don't need to consult Alejandro Pena to see they have two potential closing candidates in their own bullpen: Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel.
Kimbrel has dropped out of the sky in the second half to whiff 31 hitters in 16 innings -- a 17.44 K/9 IP ratio that would blow away Eric Gagne's all-time single-season record (14.98) among pitchers who worked at least 16 innings. (Carlos Marmol, at 15.85 this year, is also on pace to pass Gagne, incidentally.)
"The thing he's done the last six weeks is control the fastball," Braves GM Frank Wren said of Kimbrel. "His command was never bad before. But he might come in and strike out three and walk one or two. Now he's not walking people. I think it's just been a matter of settling in as much as anything."
But it's Venters -- who has a 1.83 ERA in 73 appearances -- who is likely to get the first shot at closing next spring, at least at this point.
"I'm sure we'll go out and get somebody with some veteran presence, like we did with Billy and [Takashi] Saito this year, to give us some options," Wren said. "But those two guys [Venters and Kimbrel] give us a good starting point."
One scout's review: "They both have closer stuff. The thing I worry about with Venters is, who knows if his arm will still be attached to his body by next year, as much as he's pitched."
• Oh say can you CC: Finally, can CC Sabathia win 300 games? He went into his start Thursday against the Rays with 156 wins at age 30 years, 2 months. And that's more wins than Roger Clemens or Tom Glavine had at the same age -- and almost exactly as many as Greg Maddux.
So the question is whether a guy with Sabathia's not exactly Maddux-esque body type is more or less likely to hold up for enough years to get to 300 wins.
"I definitely think he can," said one scout. "Obviously, you can never forecast that. But I've thought since he was in Cleveland that CC is a guy who could pitch forever. And the big reason is, CC can pitch.
"We think of him as a power arm. But this guy has got great pitch-ability. He's always going to have more pitches to get him through when he doesn't have his good fastball. And physically, he's a horse. So I think he's got the best chance to get there of any pitcher in the game. Very often, the guys who win 300 are great power guys who become good 'pitchers' late in their careers. And I think that's exactly what CC will do."
The Rumblings Scouting Bureau
Once again this week, let's check in with America's sharpest scouting minds:
• On Jeff Niemann: "He's not the same guy [since he got hurt]. He just throws too many pitches right over the middle of the plate in a nice, hittable range -- 92-93 [miles per hour]. If he does that against good lineups in October, the good hitters are going to pummel him."
• On Huston Street: "The thought of running him out there at the end of a big game in October scares me. He's not a big, physical guy, and when he pitches a lot, his stuff gets flat. He's just scary."
• On Peter Bourjos: "He can do everything but hit. And for me, he's not going to hit. He's got a weird swing, very unorthodox. It's kind of like a badminton swing. But I'll tell you what: He can fly. And he can cover ground in the outfield. Now I understand why they moved Torii [Hunter] to right."
Quotes of the Week
• From Braves left fielder Matt Diaz, on how appreciative the fans in Philadelphia were after he made himself a YouTube legend by tripping a dopey fan in a red body suit who made the mistake of running on the field and venturing into his space:
"They were very complimentary. One of them said, 'I just put you on YouTube.' And there was a girl with an 'Utley, Marry Me' sign who said, 'I'll marry you, too.'"
• From Rays manager Joe Maddon, on how shocked he was Monday when he thought he'd called in Randy Choate to pitch in New York, only to have the wrong reliever (Grant Balfour) show up on the mound instead:
"I went out there, and I was on the mound, and all of a sudden I'm giving the ball to the pitcher, and it didn't look like Randy Choate."
• From Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, after he allowed a home run last Saturday to a guy who had just broken his foot with a foul ball (the Mets' Luis Hernandez) and watched him take 33 seconds to stagger around the bases:
"It was his Kirk Gibson moment."
Tweet of the Week
From the Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan (@PWSullivan):
"New York Times reports Yankees caps are popular with criminals. That must mean Cubs caps are popular with victims."
Late Nighter of the Week
From the No. 1 item on David Letterman's list of "Top 10 Things Overheard This Week At The United Nations":
1. "Forget the world. How about fixing the Mets?"
Headliner of the Week
Finally, this just in from our favorite comedians at Sportspickle.com:
MANNY RAMIREZ PRETTY SURE
HE PLAYED FOR THE WHITE SOX BEFORE
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
Baseball's commissioner responds to Rumblings' calls to expand replay and add a pair of wild cards to the postseason.