Daily Dose: Giants get Garko from Indians

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Giants general manager Brian Sabean has talked about wanting to bring
in some offense for weeks now and finally pulled the trigger Monday by
sending Single-A pitching prospect Scott Barnes to the Indians for Ryan
Garko. San Francisco first basemen are 12th in the league with a
.283/.320/.440 line and Garko is a career .283/.355/.450 hitter, so he
certainly represents an upgrade offensively.

However, he’s far from an elite bat, especially against right-handed
pitching, and much of the improvement at the plate will be wiped away
by the steep dropoff in defense from Travis Ishikawa to Garko. As a
low-key pickup Garko makes sense for the Giants, but the problem is
that Barnes is actually a legit prospect, posting a 2.85 ERA and 99/29
K/BB ratio in 98 innings at high Single-A as a 21-year-old.

Cleveland did well to pick him up for a 28-year-old first baseman
with a mediocre .805 OPS and poor glove who’s about to get fairly
expensive via arbitration. Matt LaPorta is the obvious choice to
replace Garko and is hitting .306/.386/.541 in 73 games at Triple-A,
but for some reason the Indians will keep holding him back in favor of
giving Andy Marte one last chance to show that he’s not a total bust.

While the Giants pay a premium for slight improvement and the
Indians get good value for a spare part, here are some other notes from
around baseball …

* Three weeks ago, when Kevin Slowey went on the disabled list, the
Twins said that he’d “battled pain in his wrist for a while” and had
issues “opening doors and things like that.” At the time the hope was
that he’d return in a couple weeks, but unsuccessful throwing sessions
were followed by a canceled minor-league rehab assignment and now
Slowey is going under the knife.

He’ll have surgery to remove bone chips from his wrist, which while
innocuous in the grand scheme of pitching injuries will sideline him
for 2-3 months and end his season at 10-3 with a 4.86 ERA and 75/15
K/BB ratio in 91 innings spread over 16 starts. Slowey’s great record
obviously doesn’t match his mediocre ERA, but he had a 4.04 mark before
struggling in his final two starts while hurting.

Slowey remains a nice long-term bet, but his injury means that
Anthony Swarzak will stay in the rotation after going 3-3 with a 3.74
ERA and 26/17 K/BB ratio over 46 innings through eight career starts.
Swarzak’s poor strikeout-to-walk ratio and extreme fly-ball tendencies
are a bad combination and suggest that he’s headed for a trip back down
to earth eventually, but he’s still worth an AL-only pickup.

AL Quick Hits: Josh Beckett became the AL’s first 12-game winner
Monday while striking out 10 … Cito Gaston said Monday that Scott Downs
will remain the Blue Jays’ closer despite recent struggles … Billy
Butler went 5-for-5 and knocked in three runs Monday, giving him 31
doubles and a .295 batting average … Russell Branyan and Jose Lopez
were out of Monday’s lineup with back problems … A.J. Burnett allowed
two singles, two walks, and an unearned run over seven innings Monday …
After another rough outing Monday, Rich Hill revealed that he’s been
pitching through shoulder “issues” … Mike Lowell was a healthy scratch
Monday, with Adam LaRoche getting another start … Juan Rivera
(hamstring) rejoined the lineup Monday after missing eight straight
games … Nick Swisher homered twice Monday, going deep for the first
time in July … Josh Hamilton dropped to No. 7 in the lineup Monday
after batting third or fourth in every game with the Rangers.

NL Quick Hits: Wandy Rodriguez and Carlos Zambrano matched gems
Monday before Alfonso Soriano’s walk-off grand slam in the 13th inning
… Tim Lincecum set a new career-high with 15 strikeouts in Monday’s
complete-game win … Josh Willingham launched a pair of grand slams
Monday after entering the game with just 31 RBIs despite 14 homers …
Back spasms knocked Troy Glaus (shoulder) from a rehab game Monday at
Double-A and further delays his timetable … Josh Geer fell to 1-7 while
serving up three long balls Monday, giving him 27 in 102.2 innings
overall … Tim Hudson (elbow) threw just 21 of 47 pitches for strikes in
a four-inning rehab start Monday at Triple-A … Chris Carpenter allowed
one run in seven innings Monday to end July at 4-0 with a 1.75 ERA …
Aaron Rowand has a slightly torn forearm, but will try to avoid the
disabled list … Jonny Gomes went deep twice Monday and has homered five
times in seven games … As rumors swirl, Freddy Sanchez was scratched
from Monday’s lineup with knee soreness.

Former outfielder Anthony Gose is throwing 99 m.p.h. fastballs in the minors

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Anthony Gose played for five seasons as an outfielder in the big leagues. He never hit well enough to be a regular, and a series of altercations with his minor league managers and coaches didn’t do too much for his future either.

His fastball, however, may eventually make up for all of that.

Toward the end of spring training it was reported that Gose would begin work as a pitcher. Given that he was a highly regarded high school pitching prospect with a plus fastball, it wasn’t a crazy notion. When Tigers camp broke, Gose stayed in Lakeland in extended spring training, throwing bullpen sessions and stuff.

Now he’s seeing game action. As the Detroit Free Press reports, Gose threw an inning for the Class-A Lakeland Flying Tigers against the Palm Beach Cardinals last night. He allowed one run on one hit with one strikeout and one walk, lighting up the radar gun at 99 m.p.h. This is the tweet from Lakeland’s assistant general manager:

The Free Press says that the Tigers’ vice president of player development, Dave Littlefield, is “very optimistic” about Gose’s progress.

Given that he’s still only 26 and he’s a lefty it wouldn’t shock me at all if he makes his way back to the bigs someday soon.

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 Kang 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 Kang’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” or “The Sandlot.” 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 as a 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. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

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.