January 2006

From the Millennium, Part 1

Greetings from the site of the 2006 Winter Warm-Up, the 10th one over all and the fourth one I’ve been around. I spent much of the afternoon at MLB.com’s booth in the exhibition hall, helping to make sure that everything got set up properly.

Last night, I found myself thinking, "Man, the weather is really mild for any time in January, but especially for the day before Winter Warm-Up." This weekend ALWAYS seems to be crazy cold, and it was downright pleasant when I walked the dog last night. So, of course, there’s driving snow today. Clearly I jinxed myself even by having the thought. But anyway…

It really is pretty remarkable how much everyone wants to talk baseball in January. We have a CD of a game showing on our video screen, and one person after another stops by, watches for a while, talks about the team. I see friends I haven’t seen since October, and after "Hello" and "How were your holidays," the next topic of conversation is, "What do you think of the ballclub?"

I’m a little less honed in on baseball this year than a lot of winters, because, you know, I’m getting married in eight days. But it’s still fun to be around ball talk again, even if it’s an adjustment.

If you’re coming to the Winter Warm-Up, please do drop by the MLB.com booth. I won’t be around much — I’ll be back in the media room doing interviews most of the time, but we’ve still got friendly people and cool stuff. So come on by. I’ll be checking in throughout the weekend with updates from here in downtown STL.

-M.

congratulations

Just a short note today…

Sincere congratulations to Bruce Sutter on one of the game’s great honors. I never covered Bruce (obviously), but in my dealings with him he has always been exceptionally classy and graceful. You never know what you’re going to get when you call someone at home, but each year when I called Sutter with the "So, you think this is the year?" line of questioning, he answered thoughtfully. I appreciate that greatly.

So although I wrote yesterday that he’s not one of the guys I would have voted for, I’m personally glad that he’s in the Hall. Now let’s get Goose and Blyleven in.

-M.

The Hall of Fame

The new Hall of Famers are announced tomorrow. I don’t have a ballot, since Internet-only writers are not permitted to be members of the BBWAA, but if I did, it would have the following names on it:

Bert Blyleven
Goose Gossage

That’s it. I don’t think Dawson, Rice, Sutter or Belle would be horribly out of place, but I don’t think I would vote for them, either. Thanks to things like defense and baserunning, Dawson’s probably the best of that bunch. Sutter will probably get in, and I don’t have a problem with that, but as Joe Sheehan wrote today, I don’t see how anyone could justify voting for Sutter and not Gossage.

Good luck to all the candidates. Just being on the ballot really does mean something, so congratulations to all of you. I am looking forward to the day when guys I covered are on the ballot (not including Darryl Kile, I believe Chuck Finley will be the first).

-M.

This sounds suspiciously like rock and/or roll!

My six favorite discs of 2005:

1. Mike Doughty, "Haughty Melodic"
2. Kanye West, "Late Registration"
3. Kings of Leon, "Aha Shake Heartbreak"
4. The White Stripes, "Get Behind Me Satan"
5. System of a Down, "Mezmerize" / "Hypnotize"
6. John Mayer Trio, "Try!"

The Mike Doughty disc, I don’t even know what to say about it. Wonderful songs, sounds great, doesn’t sound like other stuff, I just love it. Loved it from the first time I heard it. … Kanye West is a good MC but not a great one (Jay-Z blows Kanye away on the track where he appears); but he’s an exceptional lyricist, the disc sounds great, etc etc. … The second Kings of Leon is better than the first, and the first was terrific. … "Get Behind Me Satan" left me cold the first few times I listened; I put it away, came back a couple of months later and it’s been growing on me ever since. … I finally got System of a Down this year; I just never really could get my head around them before, but I get it, and they’re great. … I never cared for John Mayer before, but this is a lot of fun; an excellent band enjoying itself.

Seven more I enjoyed a lot:
Beck, "Guero"
Better Than Ezra, "Before the Robots"
Bloc Party, "Silent Alarm"
Coldplay, "X&Y"
Hot Hot Heat, "Elevator"
Jack Johnson, "In Between Dreams"
Kasabian, "Kasabian"

I run hot and cold on Beck, but dug this one from first listen. … Someone, somewhere, once wrote that all great pop music is wistful, and nobody does wistful better than BTE (which also happens to be the bride-to-be’s favorite band, earning them bonus points). … I think if I had another month, "Silent Alarm" would crack the top list. I came to it late, but like it more and more. … In a just world, Hot Hot Heat would be huge stars. They just write one great, memorable, catchy, smart pop song after another. … Johnson’s disc is wonderful top-down music, and I like having the top down. … Kasabian takes me back to when I was a senior in high school.

Welcome returns from old favorites:
(in descending order of my fondness for the discs)
The Rolling Stones, "A Bigger Bang"
Depeche Mode, "Playing the Angel"
Weezer, "Make Believe"
Garbage, "Bleed Like Me"
Oasis, "Don’t Believe the Hype"
New Order, "Waiting for the Sirens Call"
Aimee Mann, "The Forgotten Arm"

Cheers to the Stones and D.Mode for finding their form. In the Stones’ case in particular, I’m such a huge fan that I just can’t rate then objectively. But there’s probably no recording I listened to more this year. Weezer had a great single but, IMO, only a decent album. Garbage sounded great but were a little less lyrically interesting than in the past. The Oasis disc was a major step forward after some stumbles. New Order was solid all the way through but there was no transcendent track, no great single — no "Regret" or "Round and Round." I haven’t connected with either of the last two Aimeee Mann discs; dunno if that’s because of her or me.

Disappointments:

Arcade Fire, "Funeral"
Death Cab for Cutie, "Plans"
New Pornographers, "Twin Cinema"
Nine Inch Nails, "With Teeth"

Arcade Fire’s disc was, IMO, the best of these, and I do enjoy it. But the raves were so incessant, and it just didn’t live up to that for me. In the cases of Death Cab and New Pornographers, I thoroughly enjoyed the last offering from each, and both were really well-received, but neither ever did it for me. I used to love NIN, but the last thing he/they did that really thrilled me was "The Downward Spiral."

And finally, the discs that I really wanted to hear but never got around to acquiring or haven’t listened to enough to have an opinion…
Doves, "Some Cities" (just bought it); Gorillaz, "Demon Days"; Sleater-Kinney, "The Woods"; British Sea Power, "Open Season"; My Morning Jacket, "Z"; Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, "Howl"
 

Lotta strands in ol' Duder's head

I really do intend to keep this thing updated regularly from here on out. What that means is sometimes you’ll get more substantive stuff (see yesterday’s post), and sometimes you’ll get bits and pieces, like today.

* Uncompensated endorsement: Alterra makes fantastic coffee, has friendly stores (Milwaukee is the most underrated town in the National League, as my colleagues have heard me say ad nauseam) and even reasonable prices. I just opened a fresh pound of their Kona blend, and it’s my favorite coffee these days.

* My friend and professional blogger Brian Walton over at The Birdhouse, has taken the time to refute my post about Preston Wilson, while also saying some nice things about OYNAG in general. Brian raises a very valid point about Wilson’s injury history, as well as about the apparently spacious outfield at new Busch. I think where he and I part ways, however, is when it comes to the length of the contract. If the Cards had taken a one-year flyer on Encarnacion, I’d have liked that deal a lot more than a three-year pact too. The Astros are only on the hook for one year with Wilson, which is the main reason I like the move. Still, give Brian’s piece a read. In the words of Maude Lebowski, "He’s a good man. And thorough."

* Another friend of mine, Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus, sent out a note today reminding people about something very cool that BP is doing. Thanks to Diamond Mind (which I’ve never played but always wanted to), BP is simulating a series between the White Sox and the Chiba Lotte Marines, who won the Japan Series this year. Game 1 was not particularly close. BTW, unlike much of BP’s content, this series is free — no subscription required. Then again, if you’re a baseball fan, you should subscribe to BP.

* As you might expect, I’m very sad to see college football come to an end, but what a phenomenal bowl season. Congratulations to Vince Young and Texas — as well as to SC, who enjoyed a truly remarkable run. Cheers to yet another friend of mine (yes, it’s nepotism day at  OYNAG!), Jonathan Mayo, for tying Minor League Baseball in with college football.

* NFL predictions for this week (winners and losers, not against the spread): Redskins over Bucs, Pats over Jaguars, Giants over Panthers, Steelers over Bengals.

-M.

Extra! Extra!

Striking development — a team has struck a relative bargain for an outfielder this winter. In a world where Juan Encarnacion and Jacque Jones each got three years guaranteed, and where Jeromy Burnitz is reportedly about to sign a two-year deal worth $6 million a year, this is an excellent move.

Oddly, the Astros didn’t necessarily need an outfielder, if you believe Chris Burke is going to develop into a factor (which I do). But Wilson is a fairly comparable offensive player to the other guys (actually a little more effective), and to get him for fewer dollars and fewer years is simply a better deal. His one huge year was extremely Coors-inflated (302/370/591, 21 HR, 84 RBI at home; 260/316/479, 15 HR, 57 RBI on the road), but even then he hit for decent power.

That’s really the difference between Wilson and a guy like Encarnacion, though Wilson is two years older. Even when you adjust for ballparks, Wilson has more power. He’s not a superstar, but he’s a guy with a lifetime slugging percentage of 483 on the road (Encarnacion’s is 460). None of the guys in this discussion get on base nearly often enough, but if Wilson can slug 5-something at home and 470-480 on the road, then you live with the lower OBP.

It’s a strange contract, with a three-year club option at the end of the year. But from the Astros’ perspective, there’s only $4.5 million guaranteed. From Wilson’s perspective, I don’t really understand how/why he took a deal like this if there were three-year guaranteed contracts available to him. I don’t know whether there were or were not, but you would think any team interested in one of the other guys would be interested in Wilson.

How does this relate to the Cardinals? Throughout the early parts of the winter, I advocated patience and understanding from Cardinals fans, because I thought most of the contracts being handed out by other teams were foolish, and I thought the Cards would make a move a lot like this. And actually, I think the flyers on Junior Spivey and Sidney Ponson both are terrific moves. But all things being equal, if the Cards could have had Wilson for a year and a guaranteed $4.5 million, or Encarnacion (two years younger, similar but somewhat less effective hitter) for three years, I think Wilson would have been a better move.

There are a couple of ways that won’t be true: if Encarnacion’s newfound OBP ability (career-high 349 last year) actually sticks, or if he comes into his own at 30. Neither is impossible, but neither is a certainty, either. I’d love to be wrong, and love to see Encarnacion make his contract look good. I just wouldn’t want to bet on that happening.

-M.

predictions

FSU 24, PSU 21

USC 35, UT 31

And I’ll be thrilled if they are both actually that close.

-M.

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