Daily Dose: End of the line for Big Unit?

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Randy Johnson seemed optimistic after having his injured shoulder
examined by team doctors Monday, explaining: “I’m feeling a lot better
than I was three weeks ago” and will “have to get with the doctor and
see what he recommends and just kind of take it from there.” Less than
24 hours later his Hall of Fame career was put in serious jeopardy
following the diagnosis of a partially torn rotator cuff.

Johnson is hoping to pitch again this season, but the soon-to-be
46-year-old has been transferred to the 60-day disabled list and won’t
throw again for at least 2-3 weeks. He’s been relatively effective
while going 8-6 with a 4.81 ERA and 80/31 K/BB in 92 innings this year,
but rotator cuff injuries are incredibly tough to come back from for
26-year-olds, let alone 46-year-olds. Cooperstown class of 2015?

While one of the greatest left-handed pitchers in baseball history
could be facing the end of the line, here are some other notes from
around baseball …

* Even after trading Ryan Garko the Indians inexplicably refuse to
simply call up Matt LaPorta and stick him in the lineup every day, but
in the meantime they did bring up former top prospect turned current
bust Andy Marte. Marte has had zero success in the majors, hitting .211
with a .603 OPS in 174 games, but is still just 25 years old despite
being around forever and has been thriving at Triple-A.

While playing at Triple-A for the fourth straight year, Marte has
hit .327/.369/.593 with 18 homers and 24 doubles in 82 games to reverse
a long trend of declining production. Between his .277 career batting
average and poor 50/22 K/BB ratio this year the odds are against Marte
hitting more than .250 or so, but he blasted 25 homers per 600 PA at
Triple-A even prior to showing this season’s huge pop.

* Jason Giambi’s trip to the disabled list with a quadriceps injury
opened the door for Daric Barton to get another long look in Oakland,
but he suffered a hamstring injury of his own five games in and joined
Giambi on the shelf Tuesday. Barton’s long-term outlook has declined
dramatically during the past two seasons and he now looks likely to
become merely a solid regular rather than a potential star.

He’s expected to return in 2-3 weeks, but with Giambi also sidelined
the A’s have turned to minor-league veteran Tommy Everidge at first
base. Everidge made his MLB debut Tuesday and went hitless in his first
four at-bats before delivering an RBI double with two outs in the ninth
inning as the A’s erased a three-run deficit against Jonathan Papelbon.

Everidge is 26 years old and had a mediocre track record in the
minors prior to this season, but hit .306/.380/.489 in 55 games at
Double-A and .382/.432/.636 in 43 games at Triple-A to earn the
call-up. My guess is that he won’t stick in the majors, but Everidge
has averaged 21 homers per 600 plate appearances along with solid plate
discipline, so he could certainly have AL-only value for a little bit.

AL Quick Hits: Chien-Ming Wang has decided on shoulder surgery
after meeting with Dr. James Andrews, ending his brutal season at 1-6
with a 9.64 ERA … Jim Thome was held out of Tuesday’s lineup with back
soreness … Matt Wieters had his first four-hit game Tuesday, raising
his batting average to .273 … In a swap of backup outfielders, the
White Sox acquired Mark Kotsay from the Red Sox for Brian Anderson … As
of Tuesday night, general manager J.P. Ricciardi said that his “gut”
feeling has Roy Halladay staying in Toronto … Daisuke Matsuzaka told
Japanese reporters Monday that the Red Sox’s training methods are to
blame for his shoulder problems … Scott Kazmir threw more than seven
innings Tuesday for the first time in over a year, holding the Yankees
to one run while beating CC Sabathia … Ian Kinsler left Tuesday’s game
with a strained calf … Mark Buehrle followed his perfect game by being
flawless through five innings Tuesday, setting the MLB record with 45
straight batters retired before falling apart in a loss.

NL Quick Hits: Roy Oswalt has been diagnosed with a strained
back after exiting Tuesday’s start in the second inning … Matt
Lindstrom (elbow) is due to come off the disabled list this weekend,
but may not immediately resume closing … Pedro Martinez hinted that he
hopes to join the Phillies’ rotation after his second rehab start
Friday at Triple-A … Todd Wellemeyer has been shifted to the bullpen
after posting a 5.79 ERA and 1.75 WHIP in 110 innings, with Mitchell
Boggs replacing him in the rotation for now … Troy Glaus’ rehab stint
has been indefinitely put on hold because of lingering back pain …
Oakland shipped Sean Gallagher to San Diego to complete the Scott
Hairston deal, making him a nice fantasy sleeper for next season …
Colby Rasmus (heel) was back in the lineup Tuesday after sitting out
four games … After missing four weeks with a broken toe, Ryan Dempster
came off the shelf by allowing six runs over five innings Tuesday.

Major League Baseball considering expansion, radical realignment

Don Ryan/Associated Press
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Tracy Ringolsby of Baseball America wrote yesterday about a “growing consensus” within baseball that expansion and realignment are inevitable. The likely expansion cities: Portland and Montreal. The 32-team league would then undergo a radical realignment that would also involve reducing the season from 162 to 156 games while expanding the playoffs to 12 teams.

To be clear, Ringolsby’s actual reporting here is limited to that “growing consensus” about expansion, and the most likely cities involved, not regarding the specific realignment or game reduction plan. That I take to be speculative — he refers to it as “one proposal” — though it seems like reasonable and informed speculation. The general idea is that, if you expand, you have to realign, and if you realign you have to change the playoff structure lest too many teams in any one division become also-rans. That, combined with the near impossibility of changing the early-April-to-late-October footprint of the season and the desire of players to have less arduous travel schedules and some extra time off, leads to the shorter season.

The details of the plan:

  • The American and National Leagues would be disposed of, with MLB putting all 32 teams into four, eight-team, regionally-based divisions: East, North, Midwest, West. This is designed to (a) maintain regional and traditional rivalries while (b) cutting way back on cross-time zone travel. Both New York teams and Boston are in the “North,” both Chicago teams and St. Louis are in the “Midwest,” etc. Texas and Houston are in the “Midwest” too, but we’ll let the Texans get mad about that later.
  • The playoffs would feature a LOT of play-in games. Specifically, Ringolsby would have the four division winners go to the Division Series, where they would play the winner of four different Wild Card games, the participants in which would come from the eight non-division winners with the best records, regardless of which division they came from.
  • The schedule would go back to 156 games, giving every team an off-day every week. Between that and the more compact, almost all single-time-zone divisions, the travel schedules would be far less taxing, with shorter flights and more flights which could leave the day after a night game as opposed to directly after a night game, causing teams to arrive in the next city in the wee hours of the morning.

Thoughts:

  • Obviously this would piss off the purists.  The elimination of the traditional leagues, the shorter season, a (slightly) altered standard for records and milestones, and a doubling of one-and-done playoff series would make a lot of fans dizzy. On the one hand, I could argue that baseball has NEVER been as pure and unchanging as people like to pretend it is so maybe people shouldn’t get too bent out of shape over this, but it’s simply unavoidable that this would rattle a lot of baseball fans, and not just the ones hopelessly stuck in the past. Baseball should not be slavishly devoted to its history, but it needs to recognize that its history is a selling point and an important touchstone for many, many fans.
  • Ringolsby’s specific realignment idea is kind of fun, but will inevitably lead to some winners and losers. For example, many traditional rivalries or regional rivalries would be maintained — Chicago and St. Louis and Boston and New York would remain division rivals — but other, less-sexy but very real rivalries would be disposed of. The Mets, for example, would have no old NL rivals in their division. There will also be some teams which get screwed logistically. Here, all of Minnesota’s division rivals would be Eastern Time Zone teams, so all of its road games would be played in a different time zone. You could fix that somehow, but someone else would likely be inconvenienced. There isn’t a perfect way to do it. As such, implementation could be pretty messy, with some owners opposing it, possibly vehemently.
  • The playoff idea would make for a lot of drama with four play-in games, but I don’t think it’s a sustainable model. Yes, division winners would all be guaranteed a five-game playoff series, but having two-thirds of all of the playoff teams subjected to a random one-and-done game as opposed to the current four of ten would inevitably lead to calls for longer Wild Card series. And it would likely, over time, diminish the cachet of the Wild Card itself. Now most people think of Wild Card teams as having made the playoffs, With this plan, I suspect fewer people will think of it that way as opposed to some sort of weird, non-quite-the-playoffs limbo, thus hurting late season interest among fans of non-division winners.
  • A 156-game season wouldn’t be the end of the world. We had a 154-game season for a little over half a century total and a 162 game season for 56 seasons so far. Changing it might cause people to get grumpy about records and milestones, but other changes in the game, be it pitcher usage patterns or juiced baseballs or integration or night games or any number of other things have already changed the context in such a way that such standards were never as set-in-stone as people tend to believe. At the same time, extra off days might very well improve the caliber of play as players are more rested and therefore sharper.

In the end, it’s important to recognize that Ringolsby’s article is, in all likelihood, a trial balloon leaked by Major League Baseball, so don’t take any one aspect of it too seriously, even if we should all take the idea of some radical shift involving expansion and realignment in the not-too-distant future seriously.

Why? Money mostly. There are huge financial incentives for baseball to do this. Part of this involves the cost-savings which would result from better scheduling and less travel that Ringolsby mentions. A much greater incentive would come from the franchise fees the owners of the two new teams would pay the 30 current owners in order to be allowed into the MLB fraternity.  In the last round of expansion, the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays owners paid $150 million each for their teams. Given that franchises have gone up in value by a factor of ten twenty, it’s not inconceivable that new owners in Montreal and Portland would have to fork over well north of a billion dollars each to enter the league. That’s a check for $66 million written to each owner in exchange for simply voting “yes” at some meeting in Scottsdale on some fine December afternoon.

So, while there may be no uncertainly on the “how” of it all, the very fact of expansion and subsequent realignment seems inevitable. Now is a good time for us to start thinking about how the details of it all would work.