By SEAN RAPOSA
August 26, 2008
Thus far in my columns I have kept the analysis on the diamond and ranked top rotations, table setters, young studs and much more. Today, I’m dusting off my imagination cap from kindergarten and stepping outside the box. We all know the cliches - excuses are like rumps, we all have one and they all stink; if the queen had a pair she’d be the king, etc. - but when you’re just a bystander in the whole mess it’s good fun to second-guess. What follows will be less of a ranking in the traditional My Five sense than simply a collection of hypotheticals I found interesting.
One last thing before I get to it: Please save your hate mail this week about East-coast bias or American League favor. I tried to bring elements from each league, but it just turns out the A.L. had more compelling scenarios. What if … Albert Pujols had two arms? What if … the Dodgers had donated $36 million to cancer research instead of donating it to Andruw Jones? What if … Roger Clemens hadn’t appeared at Astros spring training and cursed their season? These are all good questions, but the items to follow had more run and just happen to involve A.L. teams. Let’s do it.
No. 5: What if … Pedro Martinez was still on the Red Sox?
This question was the genesis for this column. Watching Petey show flashes of his old brilliance the last few weeks and the concurrent void of starting pitching my beloved Red Sox are experiencing which forced them to trade for Paul Byrd got me to wondering … what if? Of course, the outlandish contract demands and his ego conflict with Curt Schilling made his departure following the championship season of 2004 a foregone conclusion. It’s also true that the Boston faithful may have already run Martinez into retirement at this point after his 16-12 record and mere 42 starts in the last 2 2/3 seasons since going 15-8 in his Mets debut in 2005. But, ifhe was still there, they could really use him.
At 36 years old Martinez is clearly not the annual Cy Young contender he once was, but he still has that flair and he’s been pitching quality innings of late. Over his last seven starts, Pedro has a 2.88 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings. On the other hand, Josh Beckett is ailing with arm numbness, Tim Wakefield just came off the DL, the aforementioned 37-year-old Byrd is in the rotation, Clay Buchholz and his 6.75 ERA were sent to AA and Bartolo “Andre the Giant” Colon is on the comeback trail - not exactly a crack staff in Boston at the moment as they try to make sure they’re around to defend their title in October. If it weren’t for money and ego, The Nation that Pedro built could be cheering him off into the sunset, and I bet he could’ve kept Manny the masher around too. We’ll never know.
No. 4: What if … Bill Simmons was the VP of Common Sense for the Rangers?
For any of you who don’t know him, Bill Simmons writes for ESPN as “The Sports Guy.” He is constantly pointing out the incompetence of professional sports general managers and suggesting they should hire someone just to make sure they don’t do anything really stupid - a hypothetical job he refers to as the “VP of Common Sense.” The job discription would be kind of like Happy Gilmore’s caddy was supposed to do at the Waterbury Open when Happy attempted to tee-off in the wrong direction on the first hole. Anyway the point is that Rangers General Manager Jon (I like to call him Jack) Daniels needs one, bad. He’s like the guy in your fantasy league who always scores good young talent but trades them away before they produce.
In the last few years, Daniels has traded away an All-Star team. Let’s investigate. Adrian Gonzalez and his .278 batting average, 28 homers and 92 RBI? Gone. Mark Teixeira with his Gold Glove defense, .302 average, 27 jacks and 98 RBI? Gone. Alfonso Soriano and his .283 average, 22 longballs and 62 ribbies in limited action? Gone. I think I see a trend developing here. OK, so he got MVP candidate Josh Hamilton in a trade this past offseason so he’s covered, right? Not so fast. What they can never find in Texas is pitching.
Chris Young and his Albert Pujols-redesigned face aside, if Daniels had been fitted with the chastity belt before the start of last season he would have three 10-game winners on his staff. Armando Galarraga was traded to Detroit this February and has gone 12-4 with a 3.17 ERA for the Tigers. John Danks was traded for Brandon McCarthy’s dead arm before last season and has gone 10-6 with a 3.16 ERA for the White Sox this year. Lastly is likely N.L. Rookie of the Year Edinson Volquez, who was the pride of the Texas farm system before being shipped to Cincinnati this offseason. No worries, they couldn’t use his 15-5 record and 2.80 ERA anyway. I am certain that Simmons wouldn’t have made any of these trades, and if someone would’ve just taken the keys from Daniels - who obviously had too much whiskey before drunk-dialing his fellow GMs - we might have a competitive race in all six MLB divisions this year.
No. 3: What if … Josh Hamilton … ?
There are so many story-lines with the soon-to-be A.L. MVP that I have no doubt his rollercoaster career will someday be made into a movie. The most obvious question has to be, What if he never got into drugs? The 1999 No. 1 overall pick admittedly slipped into alcohol and drug addition in 2001, putting his baseball career in serious jeopardy. Repeated positive tests got Hamilton banned from baseball in 2004 and cost him all of the 2004 and 2005 seasons and all but a handful of short-season class-A games in 2006. The success he has enjoyed since getting his second chance with Cincinnati last year has been inspiring. Had his ascent to the majors not been slowed by addiction and he played those years he could be sitting on 144 career homers and 576 RBI based on his 2008 pace. By comparison, Pujols, who is arguably the game’s best hitter, posted 160 jacks and 504 RBI his first four years.
The other scenario that sparked my imagination was, What if he was still on the Rays? MLB’s Cinderella Man could be playing on the league’s Cinderella team. The team is obviously not lacking in talent, as displayed by their AL-best 79-50 record, but their lineup lacks a true No. 3 batter, a hammer. Carlos Pena has made a nice comeback to provide some power and B.J. Upton is a good young player, but neither is on Hamilton’s level as a hitter. Injuries to Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria have also left big holes in both the lineup and the outfield as the Rays try to close out their historic season. Luckily it is their pitching that carries the team, but had Hammy been on this squad it really would have been a team for the ages. Oh, I almost forgot - I learned that the Cubs owned Hamilton’s rights for about 12 seconds too before they sold him off to the Reds for $100 grand. Despite Jim Edmonds‘ solid play thus far, I’m going out on a limb and suggesting they might be better with Josh’s big bat in tow.
No. 2: What if … Johan Santana was traded to the Yankees?
This year’s Yankees team is like the 2002 USA basketball team that took sixth in the World Championships. You just don’t expect failure with so much talent, but it appears the Bronx Bombers will miss the playoffs, breaking their streak of 13 straight October appearances. While many things have gone wrong for the Yanks this year, sometimes one superstar can change everything. Just look at what Brett Favre has done for the Jets. You may say they haven’t even won a real game yet - and you’d be correct - but the aura of the team and the overall confidence level of its players have been drastically altered by his mere presence. Santana could have accomplished the same in the Bronx had the Yanks been willing to part with Phil Hughes, who just gave up 10 hits and eight runs in three-plus innings in triple-A last week.
Beyond his 12-7 record - which could’ve been better with the Yankees’ bullpen backing him up - and 2.64 ERA, Santana would have invigorated this team with a confidence that has never been as lacking as it has been in 2008. The team is worn-down - some physically, like Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, and some mentally, like captain Derek Jeter. You can see it in their play: They don’t believe. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that if the Yanks were trotting out Johan, Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte with a healthy Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen ushering in The Sandman, Mariano Rivera, to close out games, this team would be considered a much bigger threat, even if they were still five games out of the Wild Card. Lesson learned, I suppose: Always trade prospects for proven talent!
No. 1: What if … the Twins had a $100 million budget?
Money and its effect on baseball is always a classic topic for discussion. Whenever salary caps or uneven playing fields are brought up, people freak out. Often times those people point to an example just like the one I’ve led with here as evidence of “unfairness” in baseball. The Twins are 74-56, just a half-game out of the A.L. Central and a game behind Boston in the Wild Card chase with a bottom-seven payroll, while the Rays have the second-lowest payroll and the second-best record in baseball. The success those teams have experienced this season suggests that it’s not impossible for small-market teams to be competitive. Even though the teams with the top five payrolls are a collective 60 games over .500 and the teams with the bottom five payrolls are collectively 35 games under .500, I agree that winning does not have a specific price. To win it all, however, does. To illustrate my point, Tampa Bay is really good, but do you expect them to be World Series Champions? Now, let’s pretend that they had the resources to sign CC Sabathia this winter. Do you think they could win it all next year? My guess is they would be World Series favorites.
With all that in mind, let’s consider the 2008 Twins. Sure, they’re good, and sure, they might make the playoffs, but what if they still had Santana and Torii Hunter? They’d be real contenders, right? And if they didn’t have to fill Hunter’s spot in the order they might not have traded burgeoning ace Matt Garza to Tampa for Delmon Young. Santana, Garza, Francisco Liriano and the cream of the crop of the youngsters all taking the hill in Minny these days (probably Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey) could rival any rotation in baseball. The continued development of outfielder Denard Span would have rendered the absense of Carlos Gomez - the big piece of the Santana deal from the Mets - irrelevant too. My conclusion is that MLB needs to increase its revenue sharing and possibly institute a policy similar to the franchise tag in the NFL in order to allow more teams to keep and acquire top talent.
Ok, there are my wild and wacky “What Ifs”. Next week I’ll get back to the real action on the field and break down the high-impact September call-ups. See you then.
Sean Raposa’s My Five column runs every Tuesday here on National Pastime. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by The Associated Press
Be sure to check out our previous My Five columns: Starting rotations, The power alleys, MLB’s best bullpens, The table setters, Young guns, Burgeoning bats, Favorite first-half storylines, X-Factors, Financial blunders, Superbad Awards, Rounders, Contenders, Spoilers.