Royals' Moore lacks vision, should lack job

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Disastrous.

It’s the word I used to describe the Royals’ offseason at the time that
they made their one positive move. It is likely that getting Zack
Greinke signed to a four-year deal likely will benefit the Royals’
long-term future more than the rest of the moves combined will take
away from it. Still, it didn’t have to be like this.

Let’s review. Here are all the notable moves the team made over the winter:

10/30/2008 – Acquired first baseman Mike Jacobs from the Marlins for RHP Leo Nunez.

Jacobs went on to avoid arbitration by signing for $3.275 million.
Nunez, who had a 2.98 ERA in 48 1/3 innings in 2008, is making
$415,000.

11/19/2008 – Acquired outfielder Coco Crisp from the Red Sox for RHP Ramon Ramirez.

Crisp arrived sporting a $5.75 million salary in the final
guaranteed year of his contract. The Royals have the choice of keeping
him $8 million in 2010 or buying him out for $500,000. Ramirez, who had
a 2.64 ERA in 71 2/3 innings in 2008, is making $441,000.

Neither trade was necessarily awful in isolation. Jacobs was coming
off a 32-homer season, and Crisp had the potential to really improve
the Royals’ defense. The salaries were perfectly reasonable for both
veterans. The big problem was that the Royals had to decimate their
bullpen depth to get him.

12/11/2008 – Signed LHP Horacio Ramirez to a one-year, $1.8 million contract.

The first of two completely unreasonable moves. One could actually
justify giving Ramirez a major league deal to pitch in relief, but the
Royals signed him to start and gave him a rotation spot even after he
performed as poorly as any player in the Cactus League. Fortunately,
they did replace him after just one turn through the rotation, cutting
their losses.

12/11/2008 – Signed RHP Doug Waechter to a one-year, $640,000 contract.

Waechter has been limited to three relief appearances this season by an elbow injury.

12/13/2008 – Signed RHP Kyle Farnsworth to a two-year, $9.25 million contract with a club option for 2011.

The second horrific move. The market for average relievers had
already been set when Bob Howry jumped on a one-year, $2.75 million
offer from the Giants. It never became clear what team the Royals
competed against to sign Farnsworth.

12/16/2008 – Re-signed LHP John Bale to a one-year, $1.2 million contract.

Bale was rarely healthy and only moderately effective during his
first two seasons with the Royals. Kansas City did make him take a
modest paycut, but it was still $1.2 million that could have been
better spent elsewhere. Bale has allowed five runs in nine innings
while healthy this season.

1/9/2009 – Signed infielder-outfielder Willie Bloomquist to a two-year, $3.1 million contract.

The Royals could no longer afford a real replacement for Mark
Grudzielanek as a result of their other moves. Throwing $1.5 million
per season at a 25th man, though, that was doable.

1/26/2009 – Agreed to terms with RHP Zack Greinke on a four-year, $38 million contract.

The shining star.

2/10/2009 – Signed RHP Jamey Wright to a minor league contract.

Just in case the rest of the moves didn’t pan out. Which they
haven’t, of course, and which is why Wright is likely going to throw
70+ innings for a major league team for the 13th time in 14 seasons.

2/28/2009 – Signed RHP Juan Cruz to a two-year, $6 million contract
with a club option for 2011; forfeited 2009 second-round pick.

It was hard to argue with this one. Cruz would have done better
financially if not for the draft pick issue, and the Royals were able
to get him without surrendering their first-rounder. Unfortunately,
it’s another move that hasn’t really worked out, as Cruz has struggled
mightily over the last few weeks and is currently sporting a 5.46 ERA.

3/09/09 – Released infielder Esteban German.

3/18/09 – Released LHP Jimmy Gobble.

The Royals could have non-tendered both in December, but they kept
them and ended up surrendering termination pay in March. That’s another
$425,000 completely wasted.

It’s not pretty going line by line, and the big picture is even
worse. Jacobs and Crisp may have salaries totaling $9.025 million this
year, but the Royals are paying so much more for them, since it was the
losses of Nunez and Ramirez that led to the Farnsworth and Cruz
signings. Those two relievers are making $6.5 million this season and
$7.75 million in 2010. Nunez and Ramirez are earning $850,000 this year
and probably won’t clear $3 million next year in their first seasons of
arbitration eligibility. The Royals had both under control through
2012. Odds are that none of the four aforementioned acquisitions will
still be around in 2011.

And Moore made the moves so quickly. He wouldn’t have had to overpay
to bring quality free agents to Kansas City. Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu,
Orlando Hudson, Orlando Cabrera… they would have taken Moore’s money.
The Royals had interest in Hudson and Cabrera, but they were already
out of cash by the time their prices had come down. It turned out that
Moore had as much to spend as all but a few teams, yet he badly misread
the market and didn’t get a single bargain.

So, was disaster too strong? Probably once the Greinke signing got
done. While so little has worked out, nothing here rivals the Jose
Guillen signing in handcuffing the Royals’ fortunes for the long-term.
Still, I think it’s enough to put together a legitimate case for
dismissing Moore. He hasn’t rebuilt the minor league system as hoped,
and for a small-market GM, he’s thrown a ridiculous amount of money
down the drain. The Royals have a deserving replacement in the fold in
Mike Arbuckle, who was very well regarded for his work in Philadelphia.
It’s time they try someone new.

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian King writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on King’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not at as mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

New York Yankees
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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.