Honestly, after seeing 12 Years A Slave last night, everything else seems trivial. This was something we talked about last night, about how everything else seemed less. But here’s the thing: an hour later, we were all laughing about Air Bud: 7th Inning Fetch. Because humor is important, too. It makes us human, makes life enjoyable. Baseball isn’t quite humor, but it accentuates life rather than detracts from it. (Unless you’re an Indians fan. Whee!)
With that in mind, a brief mailbag, followed by my picks for the major MLB awards, and an (oh-so) brief discussion of this year’s Modern Era Ballot from the Veteran’s Committee on the Hall of Fame.
“Travis, what are your thoughts on Bryan Price and what changes to players/coaches/atmosphere he will make [for the Reds]?” – Ryan, Ohio
Ryan, thank you for your faithful devotion to the Addison Recorder. If we had shirts, we would send you one. Alas, we are but lowly cultural writers who don’t even have t-shirts on our backs to give you the t-shirts off our backs. #cardboardbeltsrule
I think Bryan Price was a safe choice for manager. One of the major problems of the Reds of the 2000’s (we remember these as the Dark Ages) was a lack of continuity and leadership in the clubhouse. Price is a familiar face who has proven his skills through the rise of the pitching staff over the last four years, and is respected within the Reds organization by players and management alike; this will be a change from Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker’s tenuous-at-best relationship. Nobody will come close to working with the players as well as Dusty did, but then again, Price might embrace the idea that a bunt in the 2nd inning is a waste of space. I think it’s a solid choice, and that Price has a good core to work with. The biggest questions I have regarding Price are his support staff, particularly the hitting coach. The Reds’ lineup has severe OBP holes beyond Votto and the departing Shin-Soo Choo, and hopefully whoever Price chooses for his hitting coach will be able to work with youngsters like Todd Frazier, Zach Cozart, and Devin Mesoraco to build some form of consistency for them. (They all are very talented, but prone to streakiness; here’s hoping an Eric Davis or someone of similar ilk will be able to help them build upon their prior successes without regression.)
The second thing, and what I think is the most important item of note, is the lack of leadership within the clubhouse. Time was when Barry Larkin ruled the kangaroo court, and was the Captain of the team. When he departed, the team was already bad, but nobody stepped up to fill that vacuum until the trade for Scott Rolen in 2009. Since his retirement, the Reds have not had anybody step up to fill that void. Votto is too introverted to really step into that role, which is completely fine. Brandon Phillips could be that guy, but at the same time, he is a live wire, one which the Reds are possibly seeking to trade. Bronson Arroyo was the old man on the pitching staff, but he’s likely gone, now. In several years time, Todd Frazier could fill that role, but that’s a ways down the line. The best way for the Reds to acquire a clubhouse leader will either be through trade or free agency, and those don’t exactly grow on trees. It’ll be a very curious conundrum for the team at the very least.
“Dear Travis J. Cook…should Tigers fans feel like the past few years are chances that got away or are good days ahead?” – Alex, Chicago, IL
Yes. Prince Fielder has already started to regress, which is a shame since they’ve got him for 8 more years and boffo boffo bucks. Verlander will always be good, and I think Anibal Sanchez is consistent enough to be a Number 3 starter. Unfortunately, the rest of the team will be made of spare parts as long as the millstones of the Fielder/Verlander contracts are bloating their payroll. Brad Ausmus may prove me wrong, but I really feel that the Tigers have only a few more chances before age and decline set in heavily with players such as Miguel Cabrera and Fielder. (By the way, Cabrera’s contract is up after 2015, and unless his leg falls off, there’s no way they don’t resign him for less than a Ryan Howard type of contract, say 5 years, $100 million or $125 million at least. Which will further add to payroll woes.) If they were ever going to do anything, last year would have been the time to do it.
Then again, I’ve been epically wrong before.
“What are your views on the trend of 10+ year contracts that are destined to hurt a team on the back half of the contract?” – Ryan, Ohio
Ryan, you’ve swiftly turned into the #1 reader of our baseball coverage, and for that we salute you. Here’s a promise of a as-yet-unprinted bumper sticker.
I think you’ve said it all with your question. These 10 year contracts, barring the signing of a 24-26 year old player a la Evan Longoria or Clayton Kershaw, all turn into millstones around organization’s necks. Even the almighty New York Yankees aren’t immune, as they’re currently paying upwards of $27 million a year for the shell of a player formerly known as Alex Rodriguez. The Angels with Albert Pujols and Tigers with Prince Fielder are similarly woe-begotten. This is one of the hard parts about free agency, is that teams are essentially rewarding players for their past glories while paying for sub-par production in the present. But isn’t the player entitled to ask for such money? Wouldn’t a group refusal to sign such contracts be a form of collusion? Yes and Yes. At the same time, I point you to the NBA, where contracts are not allowed to extend past five years in an effort to save franchises from themselves; a player should get payed what they’ve earned, but it is up to the General Manager of a team to field the best team they can for the best financial price available. Just because a giant wave of TV money is pouring in doesn’t mean it needs to be spent all at once. Yours truly is hoping that the Reds aren’t similarly hamstrung by Joey Votto’s mammoth deal…or that the Reds can figure out a competent lineup immediately before him and after him. It’s a shame to waste the prime years of one of the best 1st basemen in the game today.
And now…the 2013 MLB Awards as Chosen by the Addison Recorder staff (i.e. Me)
Rookie of the Year
AL: Jose Iglesias (Boston Red Sox/Detroit Tigers)
NL: Jose Fernandez (Miami Marlins)
A relatively easy category, though yours truly thought long and hard about Wil Myers of Tampa. Iglesias’ glove work was nothing short of sublime, and he was able to at the very least hit his weight at the major league level. He’s almost as sterling a defender as Andrelton Simmons in Atlanta, who is the current standard of defensive wizardry. Granted, he split time between two teams this year, but his abilities remained the same throughout the season. I don’t think he’ll ever hit much above .260/.340/.360, but with defense like that, it’s almost a bonus if he does hit. I do think that Wil Myers has the brighter future, however.
As for the NL, it was between Fernandez and Yasiel Puig, one of the most exciting players in baseball to watch. Again, I think Puig has the better long-term future, but Fernandez was not only a dominant pitcher in his first year in the bigs (with no experience at Triple-A, which is fairly impressive in its own right) but carried that pathetic excuse for a baseball team on his back at times. He’ll make some other team (possibly the Yankees or Dodgers) very happy in 3-5 years.
Manager of the Year
AL: John Farrell
NL: Clint Hurdle
A fairly easy, and hard to quantify, selection. Usually, if your team goes from worst to first or overcomes tremendous adversity, you take this award home. This should, in no way, simplify things. The work John Farrell did in helping to turn around the toxic clubhouse in Boston is especially impressive, while Clint Hurdle steered the Pirates back into winning ways after two decades of losing. (Yes, DECADES) Not much to say here.
Cy Young Award
AL: Max Scherzer
NL: Clayton Kershaw
The Al Cy Young is the harder of the two to determine, though saying that is like saying hippos are smaller than elephants; this is true, but nobody is arguing the size of the hippo. In this case, Scherzer dominated the Al, posting league leading stat lines in multiple categories, and comparing favorably to the other finalists, Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma. 240 K’s against 152 hits will help his case; ranking in the top 5 in the league in ERA and Fielding Independent ERA helps too. It also helps that there is Tigers fever in this awards year, but even so, Scherzer is a completely deserving selection. Should he not win, I can see this award going to Darvish.
Clayton Kershaw, on the other hand, should go ahead and polish a spot on his trophy case. I don’t think it’ll be a unanimous vote this year, but it should be close.
NL: Andrew McCutcheon
In the IWBAA voting, I opted for Kershaw because I believe that he’s the bedrock of that LA team, and that simply by running him out to the mound during their rough patch to start the year, they had a chance to stay in the race. At the same time, Andrew McCutcheon is incredibly valuable to that Pirates lineup, which scuffles along and would be in tatters without his presence there. Not only is he an elite batsman, but he is an elite defender. He adds value to the team in every way conceivable, and helped them to the postseason. This isn’t a case of one player loading a team onto his back, a la Barry Bonds, but rather a player around whom the lineup is constructed, who drives the engine, who stirs the drink. I’m out of metaphors, but I think you get the picture.
AL: Miguel Cabrera
Ah, the tough choice. This award actually got settled for me in the playoffs, when Cabrera was hurt, and the Tigers’ lineup was a shell of itself. The argument is for Mike Trout, who somehow managed to take his historical rookie season and improved upon it. (Even if his defense slipped) If that’s the argument that we’re going for, then Miguel Cabrera also improved upon his year last year, to the point where his slash line was among the top 10 seasons put together not by somebody named Barry Bonds. Anytime you rank up there with Ted Williams and Willie Mays, you’re doing something right.
At the same time, the argument for team performance is drawn into focus. The argument is that it’s not Mike Trout’s fault that the Angels front office constructed a team with such terrible pitching, and he shouldn’t be penalized for his team’s performance. On the other side of the country, it seems as though when Cabrera sputters, the Tigers sputter; with Verlander coming back to earth, they were saved by a dominant year from Max Scherzer, but more so by Cabrera’s everyday heroics. Were it not for a torn groin muscle (ow), Cabrera could have easily contended for a second Triple Crown (and was actually doing so, until, you know…ow). I would debate this further, but I seem to remember doing so last year. In addition, this of this more as a prognostication of how the BBWAA will vote on the awards and less as a qualified expert (I’m not) offering forth a golden opinion (it’s not) about a worthy topic of discussion (I just saw 12 Years A Slave…this is silly and irrelevant, but in a good way).
So there you are.
Oh yeah, the Veteran’s Ballot.
That’s a column for next week; they don’t even vote until December. In the meantime, your candidates are listed below. I’ll cover them in a future column. (Next week, probably)
Now, go and watch 12 Years A Slave. But before you do, email/tweet/post your questions to me regarding all things baseball. If you wait until after, you won’t do it at all. I guarantee it.