Wednesday, April 18, 2007

You Cannot Be Serious!!!

Over the past few years, one of my favorite things to do in my weekly football column was to feature a section titled the "Johnny Mac You Cannot Be Serious" department.

For the most part, that portion of the column was devoted to outrageous calls by the officials or inexplicable moves by head coaches.

So tonight -- with so many crazy things going on in baseball it seems -- I'm resurrecting my old friend. So here we go with another edition of...


* Item #1 -- let's begin by examining some of the recent moves made by the Phillies, who are off to a terrible start. On Thursday night -- after staff "ace" Freddy Garcia got roughed up in his season debut -- Manuel challenged WIP Radio's Howard Eskin to a fight in his office after Eskin suggested Manuel needed to show more fire. Say, isn't that the kind of thing that managers do just before they lose their jobs?

* Item #2 -- I can't pin this one on Manuel entirely, but the decision to move Jon Lieber back into the rotation and send Brett Myers -- Opening Day starter Brett Myers, that is -- back into a setup role is just plain ridiculous. Can someone explain to me what kind of incriminating pictures Adam Eaton has of Pat Gillick? I understand Myers has struggled lately, but this is a move that makes absolutely no sense. Let's say it together now: You Cannot Be Serious!?!?!

* Item #3 -- Not to pile on Manuel, but -- during tonight's game against Washington, the Nats sent up Michael Restovich as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning...and the Phils promptly made a pitching change. But because Manuel (and bench coach Jimy Williams) didn't wait until Restovich was announced as a pinch-hitter, Restovich was still available in the 11th for a double-switch. Now THAT'S the kind of thing a manager does to get himself fired...but, again, Williams also deserves some blame here.

* Item #4 -- Finally...let's move away from the Phigtin' Phils for a moment. Is it really possible that Kei Igawa and Daisuke Matsuzaka have the same number of wins? You Cannot Be Serious!

* Item #5 -- Is it really possible that Sammy Sosa has three times as many home runs this season as Manny Ramirez and Carlos Delgado...combined?! You Cannot Be Serious!

Friday, April 6, 2007


We're in the win column.

One of my favorite announcer "catch-phrases" is the one uttered at the end of winning Orioles games by play-by-play man Joe Angel. At the end each game, Angel tells you that "the Orioles...are in the ___ column."

Obviously, if the O's are losers, he tells you -- in a rather dejected voice, usually -- that "the Orioles...are in the loss column."

But when the Birds are victorious? It's a little brighter: "The Orioles...are in the WIN column!"

Much better.

And tonight -- finally -- I got to hear those words. After starting the season 0-3 -- with an ugly series-ending loss to the Twins on Wednesday night -- the Orioles picked up their first win of the season.

Making it even sweeter was the fact that the win came in Yankee Stadium -- and against former Oriole Mike Mussina.

Listen, I was a 17-year-old Orioles fan back in the spring of I know all about losing streaks to start a season. Whenever I even hear the words "oh-and-twenty-one" I reflexively wince in pain.

So -- for 20 seasons now -- I've always savored that first win of the season just a little bit more.

And tonight both the Orioles and the Phillies got it. So I can rest a little easier.

* I know I knocked Directv's new "Strike Zone Channel" a bit in my last column (which you can read here: But I have to say that after a few more nights of checking out the channel, I think it can work. Sure, they sometimes switch too quickly from one game to another -- but I think I've figured out the key to watching the channel: you have to have another game on at all times on a second television. Seriously -- the Strike Zone channel works pretty well when you can flip back and forth between their updates and cut-ins and another game. I hereby retract my criticism for the time being.

* Was that really David Riske shutting down the Tigers in the 9th inning tonight to register a save? I realize I'm late to this waiver wire party, but I can't imagine that Riske will succeed in this role -- even for a short time.

* There was something rather ironic about 44-year-old Jamie Moyer defeating that group of Marlins youngsters to give the Phillies their first win of the season, wasn't there?

* OK, the delay tactics by Seattle manager Mike Hargrove earlier tonight were just outstanding. Paul Byrd and the Indians, however, were not as pleased. After all, they were just one out away from making the game official...which would have likely resulted in a Cleveland win. But Hargrove had other ideas -- and perhaps a minute-by-minute weather forecast -- and was able to get himself a ppd. Very nice. Am I the only one who thinks there might be some bad blood between these two teams over the weekend?

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Some Early Observations

Before we get started -- my apologies for the lack of posts recently. Between the usual draft prep and a few other things, this blog has taken a back seat for a week or so.

But no more.

Let's just dive right into some observations from the first two days of the 2007 season...

* I was stunned that Daisuke Matsuzaka "only" went for $39 in my local, 12-team AL-only keeper league. This is a league with ridiculous inflation (Alex Rodriguez was a keeper at $65 for one owner) and I was shocked that the Dice-K hype didn't drive his price up into the high $40s.

* I know I've mentioned it before in this blog, but Daniel Cabrera is going to have a huge season for the Orioles this year. He looked absolutely unhittable at times on Tuesday night.

* Maybe it's just me, but I think Cardinals fans should be worried about the fact that Chris Carpenter is going to miss his next start with elbow inflammation. That rotation was shaky to begin with; the Cards could be in real trouble if their ace is gone for an extended period.

* Break up the Pirates...two wins -- on the road, no less. And with each loss, the Astros can feel Roger Clemens slipping away.

* Speaking of worried, I'm beyond worried that Jose Contreras might be finished. Not only did he get lit up like a Christmas tree on Monday, but Indians players were claiming that Contreras wasn't throwing nearly as hard as he did last year. Not good.

* How is it possible that there were NO games broadcast in hi-def on Tuesday as part of the MLB Extra Innings Superfan package? I realize there was a limited slate of games...but come on. Throw me a bone, here Directv. The season isn't even a week old and I'm already frustrated with the lack of hi-def availability.

* Speaking of which...if the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) wants to be taken seriously, they'll need to get moving on hi-def capability. Let's see...Peter Angelos secured the rights to broadcast both the Nationals and Orioles games on his network...but that network is planning a grand total of ZERO hi-def broadcasts in 2007? I guess I should be thankful that Angelos gave the go-ahead to broadcast the games in color...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What Do I Know, Anyway?

About three weeks ago -- in this very blog -- I offered up a list of 5 pitchers I felt could surprise in 2007.

(If you'd like to see for yourself, here's the link --

Today let's take a look back at that list and see how each of those pitchers is progressing so far this spring...

1. Tim Wakefield was my first choice, and he's penciled in nicely as the 5th starter for what figures to be a solid Red Sox rotation. Wakefield has been healthy so far this spring and has posted a 5.00 ERA in three starts. A little bothersome is the fact that Wakefield has allowed 15 hits in nine innings of work. But, hey, it's spring training...he's just working on a few things, right? I stand by my statement that 15 wins is not out of the question.

2. Zack Greinke of the Royals was my next selection, as I figure he could slide under the radar on draft day or be discounted in some way due to his off-field struggles in 2006. But Greinke has looked strong so far this spring, leading the Royals with 14 innings pitched and 14 strikeouts (against just one walk.) There's no guarantee that Greinke will end up in the rotation, but his 3.86 spring training ERA doesn't hurt -- I also stand by my statement that Greinke will be a late-round steal.

3. Next up was Jaret Wright of the Orioles, who had struggled getting his work in this spring before pitching four innings against the Mets (allowing two earned runs) earlier tonight. It's clear that the Orioles have been cautious with Wright, and I still feel that his reunion with Leo Mazzone could be a successful one. I will say, though, that after seeing Wright throw this spring I no longer see a 15-win, sub-4.00 ERA as a realistic possibility.

4. Jon Lieber of the Phillies was my fourth choice, although at the time I felt it was likely that Lieber would be traded at some point this season...and I still feel that's the case. In fact, I think it's more likely now than ever -- Lieber has pitched well this spring (one earned run in six innings) and the Phillies are beginning to talk as though he might beat out Adam Eaton for the fifth starter's job. Don't buy into that, though -- it's simply Pat Gillick building up Lieber's trade value before the inevitable deal.

5. Can I have a mulligan for my last pick? I selected Kerry Wood of the Cubs and said that he'd notch 30 saves this season. Now it looks as though Wood will open the year on the disabled list (hard to believe, isn't it?) and I'm stuck with what looks like a ridiculous prediction. Don't worry, though -- if somehow Wood does save 30 games I'll pretend I stood by my prediction all along...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Draft Day Nightmares

Every year I have the same, Groundhog Day-like dream night after night for approximately two weeks...and it always happens at this time of year: just prior to my annual AL-only auction. I suspect – although many of you may not admit it – that I’m not the only roto geek in the world who has dreams like this. So I share this with you today as sort of a public service. One way or another, you’ll feel much better about yourself after reading this. I figure either you’ll now know that someone else suffers as you do, or, more likely, you’ll realize that compared to my problems yours are really just a drop in the bucket.

Before I begin, however, let me take a step back. Since 1995, I’ve been in a highly competitive AL-only league in the Baltimore area. It’s been fun every year – we’ve ranged from 10 to 12 teams and we have a good group of owners who know are very knowledgeable, to say the least.

This is the league I take most seriously – I’ll generally play in two to four leagues per season – and I spend much more time preparing for this draft than any other. We’re a $260 auction league with 10-man keeper lists and 10-man minor league rosters. So you need to do your homework before heading into the auction every year or else you’ll have to endure a long, tough summer full of ridicule as your team languishes near the basement.

Anyway, back to the dream...or, I should say, nightmare. (And, yes, I realize that having dreams about a rotisserie baseball draft probably means I should seek professional help. Believe me, that’s nothing I haven’t heard before.)

So the dream always begins the same way. I show up a half-hour or so early for the auction and immediately I see a few of my fellow owners in the parking lot. It’s a warm, sunny day so we spend a few minutes just standing in the parking lot, talking about which players we each feel other owners will pay ridiculous prices for.

After a few minutes of trading what amounts to mostly misinformation, we decide to head inside. I always pick a spot in the corner of the room where I can see every other owner’s face, but no one else can see my notes.

As usual, we have a few owners who show up late, and after an hour or so of ordering drinks and waiting on the late-arrivals, we finally get started.

The first name is thrown out for bid and there are the customary ooohs and aaahs, along with the usual wisecracks about how this player is likely to get injured or that he should go for no less than $50.

In every single dream of late, I should point out, Vlad Guerrero has been the first player brought up for bid. I have Vlad on my list and I jump into the bidding at the $20 level and continue on up into the $30s before backing off.

The bidding, however, keeps on going well past the $40 mark and climbs into the $50s. Once the bidding hits $56, I hear, “Once...twice...sold.” I find it a bit odd that Guerrero sells for more than I expected him to, but I cross him off my list and we move on to the next player.

But here’s where it starts to get strange. (And, again, I realize that the whole concept is strange to begin with; so cut me a break on that...)

Each time a player comes up he always sells for a much higher price than I had forecast. I can’t force myself to overpay for players early in the draft, so I jump out of the bidding and watch as the players begin to fly by. Player after player comes and goes...and I’m not getting any of them.

Joe Mauer comes up and I become determined to finally land my first big name. After the bidding opens at $10, I jump in and try a pre-emptive surprise bid by pounding my fist on the table and yelling, “$35 FOR MAUER!!”

The commissioner repeats my bid, saying “OK...$35 for Mauer going once...going twice...”

But then I hear “$36.” I figure someone is bidding me up, so I jump over $37 and go straight to $38. But it’s no use, as I soon hear “$39...$40...$41...”

At this point a full-scale bidding war breaks out and Mauer's price jumps to $50. I figure that’s too rich for my blood, so I back off and feel secure in the knowledge that I’ll soon have control of the auction as everyone else will have over-spent way too early.

This continues for several rounds. Each time a player comes up for bid I jump into the fray but the bidding always carries on well beyond what I feel comfortable spending on that player. So I wind up dropping out.

I come close to getting Aubrey Huff for $25 but then get blindsided by another owner who suddenly bids $30. I make a run at Mariano Rivera – in fact I come within a half-second of hearing the word “sold” – before someone else jumps in and bids him up into the mid-$40s. This just goes on and on...player after player.

But for some reason, each time we do a recap of how much money each owner has left to spend, everyone else always still has plenty of money. 30 or 40 players have sold for $40 to $50 each yet somehow everyone else still has more money than I do and they have complete control of the auction.

Let me stop here and point out that I realize – in the light of day – that this makes absolutely no sense. I understand completely the idea that each time a player sells for more than he is forecast to, that means another player will sell for less than I thought. I get that.

It’s just that it never works out that way in my dream. After a few more rounds, I become the butt of nearly every joke as I still have NO PLAYERS. Everyone else has a team loaded with all-stars and I’m sitting there with an empty roster.

The dream gets fuzzier for a bit, but then near the end I select each of my players – for $1 each – as my fellow owners pack up and leave. A few stop by to console me on their way out but most of them just shake their heads and laugh, as if they’ve gotten away with some sort of hilarious crime.

As I drive home I keep trying to piece it together and figure out why I’m left with a roster full of $1 players and more than $200 in unspent draft dollars. I go over the numbers in my head again and again but I can just never figure it out.

The dream always begins and ends the same way. We always start with Johan Santana, and I always wind up completely frustrated and confused as I leave the room having left over $200 on the table. As it’s happening I know it makes no sense but I am absolutely powerless to stop it.

This has gone on now for five straight years – I just keep having this very same dream over and over in the nights leading up to my draft. It’s not something that keeps me awake or causes anything more than mild curiosity and slight annoyance...but for the life of me I can’t figure out why it keeps happening.

So as your draft approaches, I hope you sleep much more soundly than I do...and I hope you leave your “real” roto draft with not a dollar to spare.

As for me, I have a few more nights to figure out a solution to this puzzle, as my draft isn’t until March 31. That’s 14 more nights of settling in for the best day of the year – Draft Day – only to have each draft quickly dissolve into a baffling dream fit for the likes of Bill Murray.

So, again, I wish you the best of luck on draft day. But if the first player brought up at your draft is Johan Santana, you may want to spend whatever it takes to get him...just to be on the safe side.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Seven Annoying Things About Spring Training

Now that we're into the middle of March, we'll soon begin hearing from some of MLB's veterans that they can't wait for spring training to end.

I can't say I agree with that sentiment -- after all, I still feel like I need more time to prepare for my fantasy draft -- but I will say that I find myself becoming more easily annoyed with certain parts of spring training.

So today, I plan to vent a little bit. Here are the seven things I find most annoying about spring training...

1. Closers pitching in the middle innings -- Listen, I understand that managers want their closers pitching against legitimate big league competition rather than the prospects and suspects typically in the game for the ninth inning. But there's just something odd about seeing pitchers like Mariano Rivera or Bobby Jenks entering a game in the fifth inning. More importantly, when I see a pitcher -- like Tampa Bay's Juan Salas -- pitching the ninth inning, I get excited about the prospect of finding a new closer...only to realize later that the ninth inning was completely meaningless.

2. Spring training broadcasts filled with features -- The people who produce spring training television and radio broadcasts have become incredibly annoying. Over the past couple of years, it seems, it has become fashionable to run an interview with a player -- or, in some cases, an entire press conference -- while virtually ignoring the action on the field. I realize the producers are trying to appeal to a mass audience, but a junkie like me really wants to know what's happening on the field. And speaking of that...

3. Identify all the players, please -- Nothing bothers me more than watching a telecast of, say, a Colorado Rockies game where the Rockies telecasters completely ignore the names of the opposing players. And what's more -- the production staff doesn't even bother to identify the players with graphics once the regulars leave the game. Listen, if you're going to go to all the trouble to actually broadcast the game, you could at least tell me who's playing.

4. Teams that send down their prospects too soon -- One of the great things about watching spring training baseball on television is you get the chance to see both the big leaguers and the top prospects on the field in the same game. But some teams have gotten into the habit of sending their top prospects down to their minor league camp after just a week or so of exhibition games, leaving only the big league players and a bunch of 30-year-old career Triple-A types. Here's an idea for Bud Selig: why not mandate that teams not make cuts any earlier than March 15? And for the first two weeks of the exhibition schedule, why not "strongly suggest" that teams feature three of their top prospects and at least four of their regular players in the starting lineup at all times?

5. Fans on cell phones waving behind the backstop -- I appreciate the fact that NESN and the Boston Red Sox televise so many games from City of Palms Park in Fort Myers. But do any of the ushers actually work there? Or is it just accepted practice that fans take turns walking down to the seats behind home plate so they can wave furiously while telling their friends back home to "Look at me, I'm on TV"? And this isn't a problem exclusive to Fort Myers. Again, I think the commissioner should step in here and have these people banned from attending ballgames for life.

6. Non-apology-apologies -- Seems like this has become another rite of spring. A couple of years ago we had Jason Giambi's apology -- for "something" -- just before spring training began. Then we had the infamous Congressional hearings in 2005, with plenty of doubletalk. And this year, we've heard Gary Matthews Jr. apologize for the "distraction" on one day and then deny that he did anything wrong soon after. The way I see it, unless you're planning to tell me what you're apologizing for, don't bother. Think of it this way: would your wife accept a general apology without details? Not a chance -- in fact, we all know that a stunt like that would actually make things worse than if we didn't apologize in the first place.

7. Fashion sense -- I think we can all agree that the new spring training caps look terrible. I understand wanting to market new gear, but shouldn't someone check first to make sure the new gear actually looks good? And beyond that, I'm sick of seeing those batting practice jerseys. Here's another rule proposal: All MLB teams are allowed to wear batting practice jerseys until March 17. On March 17, of course, all teams should wear green for St. Patrick's Day. And from March 18 until Opening Day, all teams should be required to wear their regular season uniforms.

OK -- rant over. My apologies for throwing so much negativity out there during such a positive, relaxed time as spring training. I'll be back with more tomorrow...

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Weekend That Was

While most of the country focused its attention on NCAA basketball this past weekend, a few of us -- including those of you reading this blog -- remain locked in on MLB spring training.

So instead of filling out brackets and talking about Cinderella, people like us prepare draft lists and talk about guys like Mirabelli.

(OK...that's an awful line -- but you get what you pay for with this blog.)

Here are some observations from the weekend...

* Orioles starter Jaret Wright looked strong against the Washington Nationals on Friday, pitching two scoreless innings and striking out three while allowing just one hit. It's still too early to say for sure whether or not Wright will regain his 2004 form under pitching coach Leo Mazzone, but I think it's possible. Before jumping on the Wright bandwagon with both feet, though, I'd like to see how Wright looks when he gets stretched out to four or five innings in spring training.

* I turned on the Cubs-Padres game on Friday afternoon for just a little while, but in the short time I was watching I saw Alfonso Soriano misplay yet another ball in center field. Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a fly ball just over Soriano's head that went for a double in the second inning, but it was a ball that should have been caught. Kouzmanoff, by the way, later homered in the game and is hitting .353 (6-for-17) so far this spring with a .765 slugging percentage.

* So were you wondering how Adam Wainright's transition from World Series closer into 2007 starting pitcher was going? Here's an update: Wainright pitched 4 2/3 innings of shutout ball against the Orioles on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, scattering five hits and a walk. Those five hits, by the way, were the first allowed by Wainright all spring. So far he has pitched 11 2/3 scoreless innings.

* The Daisuke Matsuzaka hype continues. (And, yes, I realize I have both contributed to and bought into this hype so far this spring.) But I found it interesting that the Orioles sent six regulars across Alligator Alley on Sunday to face Matsuzaka in Fort Myers. Matsuzaka was hit around a bit -- he allowed a pair of homers -- but the players who did the damage aren't exactly regulars: Jon Knott and Jason Dubois.

* What cracks me up about the Matsuzaka story is the latest tact taken by the media: suggesting that Matsuzaka is overhyped and that there is too much attention being paid to him this spring. Well, who exactly do you think created this hype? And who's paying so much attention? The media, perhaps?

* Has there ever been a player who has dropped off the face of the earth as quickly -- and completely -- as Javy Lopez? Think about it: just four years ago, a then-32-year-old Lopez hit .328 with 43 home runs and 109 RBI in his free agent season for the Atlanta Braves. Lopez signed on with Baltimore, where he his numbers declined in each of the next two seasons (.316-23-86 in 2004 and .278-15-49 in 2005.) The 2006 season was a disaster -- he was replaced by Ramon Hernandez in the Baltimore lineup...he failed miserably in an attempt to play first base in spring training...and he was sent to Boston after hitting .265 with 8 home runs and 31 RBI in just 76 games. With the Red Sox -- who were desperate for catching help at the time -- Lopez hit just .190 in 18 games before being shown the door. And now -- with three weeks to go in spring training -- Lopez has been released by the Colorado Rockies. What's amazing is that Lopez is still only 36 years old...but it seems as though his skills have declined to the point where he's truly 46.

* Here's a potential sleeper for late in NL-only drafts: Washington outfielder Chris Snelling. Snelling, the former Mariners' prospect, has battled injuries and has never quite developed into the player many expected. But he's hitting so far this spring: a .294 average (5-for-17) with a game-winning, three-run 8th-inning home run against the Mets earlier today. Snelling will clearly get a long look in Washington, as the team is not hiding the fact that 2007 is a year for evaluating talent.

More tomorrow...