Boston's failed bid for King Felix won't be its last

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felix.jpgSure, the Red Sox would have loved to add Roy Halladay had the price been right, but it seems clear now that he was never their No. 1 pitching target. As usual, while the media looked one way, the Red Sox thought outside the box and set their sights sky high. In this case, that meant targeting Felix Hernandez.
While I may have argued differently a year ago, Hernandez clearly trumps Halladay as a property now. It’s largely due to contract status and cash. When I ranked the top 50 pitchers for 2010-14 back in May, I had Halladay third and Hernandez fourth. However, money was left out of the equation then and it was close anyway.
The contracts play a huge roll. Halladay will earn $15.75 million next year and is eligible for free agency at season’s end. King Felix will ask for a huge raise from his current $3.8 million in arbitration, but he still probably won’t clear $10 million next season. Also, he’s under control for 2011.
The Mariners never seemed to have any intention of trading Hernandez now, though the return would have been impressive. Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times reported that they could have had Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Michael Bowden from the Red Sox. I can’t think of a trade that ever brought a team a greater haul of young pitching. I’m not convinced that Baker has the list exactly right; my guess is that if the Mariners wanted both Buchholz and Bard from the list of eight players, then a couple of the other pitchers would have been ruled off limits. Still, in terms of quantity and quality, the Mariners would have faired quite well.
Alternatively, they apparently could have had Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres, along with Buchholz, though that would have required them surrendering three of their top youngsters in Brandon Morrow, Carlos Triunfel and Phillippe Aumont. Under the circumstances, the two-team deal with Boston seemed like the better option.
The Red Sox, and probably other teams as well, will again approach the Mariners about Hernandez this winter. There’s still not going to be any urgency to trade him, but they might be more open to it if another round of contract talks fails to result in a long-term agreement. While most of the game’s top young starters have been willing to give up a year or two of free agency in order to guarantee a lifetime of financial security, Hernandez has declined to sign a long-term deal. It’s turned out to be a smart strategy for him; in the wake of his breakthrough season, he’s in line to negotiate far better terms now than he might have a year ago. It might take something like $80 million for five years to lock him up now, and it’s possible that Hernandez would still prefer to wait and see if there’s a $200 million offer awaiting him in free agency.
The Mariners should have the cash to play ball with Hernandez, but they can’t risk having him depart in return for just two draft picks. The plan should be to make him a generous offer this winter and then consider moving him if he doesn’t take it. With so few elite free agents available this winter — particularly on the pitching side — there probably won’t ever be a better time to trade him.

Jessica Mendoza and Chris Archer were great in the booth

Jessica Mendoza

Not news: Jessica Mendoza, who has been excellent on all of the ESPN broadcasts she has done since taking over for Curt Schilling, was excellent last night too.

She was great on the nuts and bolts, continued to show that she can describe hitting mechanics better than most color commentators — way more of them seem to be more comfortable talking about pitching — and was a seamless presence in the booth in terms of flow, timbre and all of the aesthetic aspects of broadcasting. If she has a fault thus far it’s that she leans on some cliches about hitters’ mindsets and desire to win sometimes. This puts her in with approximately 100% of all other color commentators in baseball now and throughout the history of baseball, of course, so it’s not really a demerit.

Ultimately, the true test of a good commentator is whether they (a) add insight; and (b) do so without distracting or upstaging the game. In this Mendoza is superior to most commentators in baseball and clearly superior to the “stop and listen to me” brand of analysts the major networks have employed on national broadcasts in recent years.

Indeed, the best compliment I think I can give Mendoza is that she was — in the literal sense, not the judgmental sense — unremarkable. Meaning: during the game and after there was nothing she said or did that was worthy of the highly-critical remarks almost every broadcaster gets, going back through Schilling, Kruk, Harold Reynolds Tim McCarver, Joe Morgan and everyone else ESPN and Fox have forced upon us in their history doing playoff baseball. I’m on Twitter during most playoff games and sometimes the broadcaster bashing is more interesting than the game. Mendoza gives the would-be bashers very little material.

At least those who would bash on the actual merits. There remains a group of deadenders who are irked by her very presence in the booth because she is a woman. The New York times rounds up some of the less mouth-breathery types today, but God knows there are many, many worse. Some of them even in professional media. At least for now. Whether you choose to ignore those people or choose to engage them — which, their dead end opinions notwithstanding can be a useful exercise in my view — know that they are out there being miserable and sexist as God and the First Amendment intended them to be.

While there are many who slam Mendoza on the faulty premise that she lacks credentials and experience in the booth, there was one person in the ESPN booth last night, at least for a while, who was a total TV noob. His name was Chris Archer. He pitches a bit for the Tampa Bay Rays. And lo and behold, he was pretty damn good himself.

Archer needs some polish for style — he has a lot of “ummms” and “uhhhs” about him — but his analysis is both sharp and quick. Meaning he was RIGHT ON the points when he needed to be without any of the usual prompting guests in the booth need from the play-by-play guy. At one point he even flowed into play-by-play and did a pretty good job of it.  Chris: if that pitching stuff doesn’t work out, you have a bright, bright future in television.

So, on the first night of the playoffs, there were no complaints about the broadcast. Mostly because the broadcasters weren’t the stars of the show. The game was. And it was complemented nicely by a couple of good voices.

And John Kruk.

NL Wild Card Game: Cubs vs. Pirates lineups

Jake Arrieta

Here are the Cubs and Pirates lineups for tonight’s Wild Card game in Pittsburgh:

CF Dexter Fowler
RF Kyle Schwarber
LF Kris Bryant
1B Anthony Rizzo
3B Tommy La Stella
2B Starlin Castro
C Miguel Montero
SS Addison Russell
SP Jake Arrieta

Cubs manager Joe Maddon wanted Tommy La Stella in the lineup over Jorge Soler or Chris Coghlan, so he starts at third base and Kris Bryant shifts to left field. Bryant started just four games in left field all season, compared to 136 starts at third base. Also of note: After batting Addison Russell ninth–behind the pitcher–116 times this season Maddon has him in the more traditional eighth spot tonight.

RF Gregory Polanco
3B Josh Harrison
CF Andrew McCutchen
LF Starling Marte
C Francisco Cervelli
2B Neil Walker
SS Jordy Mercer
1B Sean Rodriguez
SP Gerrit Cole

Pedro Alvarez started 119 games at first base for the Pirates and with right-hander Jake Arrieta on the mound he was the presumed starter tonight, but instead manager Clint Hurdle has benched the 27-homer slugger in favor of utility man Sean Rodriguez. Alvarez is vastly superior to Rodriguez offensively, especially versus a righty, but he’s also very shaky defensively. During the regular season Rodriguez started a grand total of one game at first base against a right-hander, so this qualifies as a hunch by Hurdle.