Make no mistake, the Chicago White Sox are very good. Their starting pitching has been in the top three in ERA, the staff is third in the league behind Boston and Oakland in lowest OPS allowed -- a good measure of stuff -- and the White Sox have done it without a fifth starter. In fact, they haven't had a win out of the No. 5 spot since 2002. And to make their place atop the Central more remarkable, they cannot win on the West Coast; Sunday night's loss in Seattle was their 37th in their last 45 West Coast games.
Expect Ken Williams to be among the more proactive GMs this summer.
So Ken Williams continues to walk the floor for another starter. Williams, like Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein and others, was told by Mariners GM Bill Bavasi that he wants to wait a couple of more weeks before he starts taking bids on Freddy Garcia. Williams has talked to the Expos about Tomo Ohka, as have the Yankees. "Unfortunately I'm not very patient," says Williams.
One young player who is not available in a deal is Joe Borchard. "No way will I trade him," says Williams of the former Stanford quarterback who has begun to put it together in Triple-A and is on a tear that included five homers and 13 RBI in a nine-game stretch through Friday. "It took him time to learn that baseball is different from football because it's a game of controlled aggression," says Williams. "Joe is very intense, but he has made great strides. He's going to be an exceptional player in time."
Williams asked Ozzie Guillen if he wanted Borchard or Jeremy Reed to be brought up to replace Magglio Ordonez. "Ozzie said no, that he wants to give the playing time to bench guys who have been contributing," says Williams, meaning Aaron Rowand, Ross Gload and Timo Perez. "He feels that with additional playing time, when Magglio comes back, they will be that much sharper."
Go with what you know
News item: Another Drew rejects draft offer. "These kids," says an AL manager, "have been told they're entitled to huge amounts of money without proving themselves."
J.D. Drew's significant injuries have always been incurred playing hard. He is quiet, almost painfully shy, which is sometimes misinterpreted for arrogance. But the joy, the Úlan he demonstrated in his younger days at Florida State isn't there. He sits out games at the most bizarre of times, citing a need to be 100 percent healthy as he sat out with a swimming injury when the Braves had Rafael Furcal, Brian Giles and Chipper Jones out of the lineup.
When Drew goes into the free-agent market this November, he will be one of the most talented players. He is a highly skilled right fielder who can play center. He is en route to a 30-homer season if he stays in the lineup, and his career .887 OPS puts him among the top active players in that category.
But when he hits the market, there will be a major question about him: Does he really love to play? Yeah, yeah, yeah, he was compared to Mickey Mantle in the Northern League, but did that whole experience of essentially telling the world that his signing bonus was more important than getting to play major league baseball quickly jade him? We all heard about what he was supposed to be worth when he was drafted by the Phillies and refused to sign, but in the end, how much did that cost him in terms of those precious millions over the span of his career? There's little question that Jason Varitek lost two to three years of service time by not signing with the Twins, and to a player of his magnitude, at 32 that means mucho millions.
If the money a player gets before he ever takes one professional at-bat or throws one pitch is more important than playing professional baseball to get to the real money -- the major league money -- as quickly as possible, do you really want him? At draft time each year, one criterion they ask is: Does he love to play? J.D. Drew has never played 136 games in a season.
That less than 24 hours before the draft and the first five teams didn't know who they were going to take tells us that this is a draft with a lot of mid-first round players no one's crazy about signing. "There is not one player without significant warts," says one GM. "Except maybe Jeremy Sowers of Vanderbilt."
Sowers is the best college pitcher in the draft. Best high school makeup? Mark Rogers of Orr's Island, Maine, who wears No. 8 for Cam Neely, as Rogers would be an NHL draftee were he not signing in baseball. It kills Buck Showalter and John Hart not to have had a shot at picking Rogers, as they like those Northeast kids.
Now the same questions will be asked about his brother Stephen, questions that were raised when he hobbled out of last year's regionals against Texas. Scott Boras indicated to the Padres that money is the most important thing to the Florida State infielder, not the opportunity to play in a good organization in a great city for a kid who doesn't like big cities with a potential opportunity to play second base aside Khalil Greene.
Kevin Towers just backed off and went on to San Diego high school shortstop Matt Bush, whom he signed Sunday night for $3.1 million. Two months ago, one AL GM said, "Stephen Drew has the Northern League written all over him."
By Sunday afternoon, Towers was already negotiating with Bush because of Boras' demands, which essentially made the argument that Drew is entitled to Rickie Weeks money, when Weeks was considered a far, far better prospect and lacking the warts that have been attached -- fairly or unfairly -- to Drew.
For years, major league players have wanted a cap on signing bonuses so that the cash will go to players who have proven they can play in the major leagues. Agents, coaches and the media can say someone can play in the major leagues at a star level, but they don't know. Ten of the 25 highest bonuses ever paid were to Matt White, Travis Lee, John Patterson, Joe Borchard, Dewon Brazelton, Bryan Bullington, Eric Munson, Justin Wayne, Jason Young, and Luis Montanez.
This should be a rule of thumb: if a team doesn't know that the player on their draft board doesn't love to play, he's taken and gets $1.5-4 million, they deserve the headaches. If a player who's drafted would rather play in the Northern League, cut your losses, you got the wrong guy.
Anyone who does like and respect the game hopes that J.D. and Stephen prove their fire and passion.
Vazquez proves worth
Freddy Garcia and turns 28 this week. Javier Vazquez turns 28 next month. Kerry Wood and Mark Mulder turns 28 next year; Barry Zito turns 28 in May, 2006. This is also a little misleading because Garcia has pitched for a team that averaged more than 100 wins a year for three seasons, where Vazquez pitched for one with a winning record.
But before we toast Garcia and Wood on their birthdays, here are the five winningest pitchers currently under 28:
And, for perspective, Roger Clemens had 116 wins before his 28th birthday, Greg Maddux 115, Pedro Martinez 107 and Tom Glavine 95.
But Vazquez's emergence with the Yankees has clearly stamped him as one of the game's elite. He has six wins with the third-lowest run support (Garcia has the lowest) in the AL. He has allowed the fewest baserunners per nine innings and the second lowest OPS (to Mulder) in the American League. As Andy Pettitte makes his second trip on the DL, it makes a couple of people in George Steinbrenner's baseball inner circle look pretty smart.
There was a strong push to retain Pettitte, but a couple of voices argued to instead invest in Vazquez. "See who wins more games over the four years," argued one Yankee official.
"Vazquez is precisely what we traded for," says another. "We were not worried about him pitching in New York. He's smart, he's savvy. I'm not sure we realized how competitive he is, so in that way I would guess he's exceeded our expectations.
"But what is the surprise? Theo Epstein tried to get Vazquez, not Bartolo Colon, the winter before. This winter he admitted that his first choice was Vazquez, but he didn't match up with Omar Minaya. We could have made the same deal for Curt Schilling that we made for Vazquez, and while we all know Schilling is a great pitcher, we wanted Vazquez. They're both great pitchers, but there is a 10 year age difference."
And as extraordinary as Vazquez is, he has yet to prove that he can win on the October stage like Schilling.
The Yankees are trolling for pitching, but Garcia isn't yet available. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times reported that if the Yankees ate most of Jose Contreras' contract, they might eventually be interested in him for Garcia, along, presumably, with catcher Dioner Navarro. That's like the Red Sox's situation with Byung-Hyun Kim -- if his chiropractor works out his back problems and he returns throwing close to the way he did two years ago, there are interested teams if Boston eats the salary, like the Marlins, Rockies, Cardinals, Expos and Rangers.
But don't hold your breath waiting for the Yankees to take Bret Boone, because they feel the 2005 contract -- second only to that of Jose Vidro, the highest-paid second baseman of all time -- is too high for their situation. Aaron Boone met with the Indians this week, and is at least intrigued. Boone's preference is the West Coast and the National League, but Cleveland is a rising franchise where he would assume a mantle of leadership.
Pedro still quality
For some perspective for those who believe Pedro Martinez has turned to stone or don't appreciate the seasons Tom Glavine, Scott Schoeneweis and Doug Davis have put together thus far:
Horacio Ramirez leads the NL in quality-start percentage at .89, followed by Glavine (.83), Clemens (.82), Penny (.82), Perez (.82) and Ben Sheets (.82).
Schoeneweis leads the AL at .80, followed by Halladay (.73), Mulder (.83), C.C. Sabathia (.70) and Martinez (.67).
A's explore options
With the loss of Eric Chavez for two months, the A's promoted 2002 draftee Mark Teahan to Triple-A Sacramento, and closely monitored his first two starts for his defense.
The Carlos Beltran sweepstakes may begin this week, but Mike Sweeney apparently will go nowhere for now. Allard Baird met with Sweeney last weekend, and Sweeney said that he would honor his contract and intended to try to move the Royals back up to the top of the AL Central. The All-Star first baseman would love to play some place with pressure and passion, but feels that the investment the Royals made in him obligates him to being loyal.
They know that with three left-handed starters, third base is extremely important, so if Teahan fares well in Triple-A, he might be a short-term solution. "What we have to study is where he picks up the ball," says one A's official. "The great ones -- and right now that includes Scott Rolen and Chavez -- react to the ball off the bat. That's what made Graig Nettles and Brooks Robinson so great. The best of the rest react after it hits the ground. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a huge difference in range."
Chavez has a clean break, and is being treated with Forteo, an Eli Lilly drug that builds bone mass and was used by Michael Vick. It was tried with Mark Mulder to try to quicken the healing process for his hip stress fracture, but there is no evidence that Forteo works for human stress fractures, although it has helped in some clinical animal studies. The drug is expected to expedite the healing process for Chavez, who has a high pain tolerance and a history of quick healing.
The A's do not have the cash to even take on a Geoff Blum, so for now Billy Beane will go with what he has; he threw a Mark Redman-Kevin Youkilis feeler out, with no interest. Eventually, if he does not decide to put Rich Harden in the bullpen, Beane will have to go get some help for his bullpen, where his only reliable contributor has been Justin Duchscherer. They really miss Keith Foulke, who is one of only a handful of known, reliable, predictable closers. Oakland went into the June 6th game a game behind Boston in the wild-card loss column. If Foulke were in Oakland and Scott Williamson were Boston's closer, with no disrespect to Williamson, the A's would be at least three games ahead of Boston, maybe more.
Isn't it funny that we never hear about QuesTec? It's still in the same 10 parks. Glavine is pitching as well as he has in his life and QuesTec is in Shea. When Schilling went to the Red Sox, he asked them to have QuesTec removed, MLB refused and Schilling is pitching masterfully. "I really think the whole controversy died last September when we showed the umpires that there was virtually no difference in ERA, strike percentage or anything else with and without the system," says Sandy Alderson.
Bud Selig did look into whether or not Raul Mondesi manipulated the system by getting out of Pittsburgh and getting more money in Anaheim. But the Pirates assured them that Mondesi manipulated nothing, only that they were surprised he came back as soon as he did. Pittsburgh had grown weary of waiting for Mondesi to come back, but respected the fact that he was legitimately afraid for his family after a number of threats against his family stemming from the lawsuit by Mario Guerrero claiming Mondesi owes him more than $500,000 for helping him become a major league player. Guerrero won a court case, after three other judges dismissed the same case.