Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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It’s the second-to-last full-blown Power Rankings of the year — on October 4th I’ll rank the eight playoff teams and after that we’ll let the games speak for themselves — and for the second straight week we have a new number one.

1. Phillies (4): This is in partial recognition of their big winning streak and scorching-hot-September, but this is forward-looking too. They’re a playoff lock now, and with Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels, they have by far the best 1-2-3 punch of any of the potential playoff teams. I suppose a lot can happen in two weeks, but I like their chances to win it all better than anyone’s right now.

2. Twins (1): A bit of a letdown following the White Sox series caused them to drop two of three to Oakland, but — assuming Mauer’s knee thing from yesterday is no big deal — they’re still sitting pretty right now.

3. Yankees (2): They’re starting this week’s series against the Rays the same way they started last week’s series against the Rays: with a bullpen that could use a bit of a breather.

4. Rays (3): Taking two of three from the Yankees was sweet, but dropping two of three to the Angels was sour.

5. Braves (7): Not that they really kicked ass last week or anything — the Mets sweep was nice, but that Nats series was no fun for them, and they are farther behind Philly now than they were this time last week — but just about every other candidate for this slot had a worse week by my reckoning. I was half-tempted to make this a five way-tie between the Braves, Rangers and the three-contenders in the NL West, but that would have merely been fun, satisfying and time-saving, so why bother?

6. Rangers (9): A nice cushion gives them a chance to rest Josh Hamilton. Hopefully his MVP chances are the only thing that come out of this injured.

7. Giants (5): Their 1-2-3 — Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez — is pretty darn good too, but it looks like they’ll be in a dogfight all the way to the end. They have the division lead at the moment, but you won’t find bigger Philly fans this side of Pennsylvania than you will among the Giants during the Phils-Braves series.

8. Padres (8): The only good news this past weekend was that the Rockies got beat by L.A., keeping them at bay for the time being.

9. Rockies (6): Yesterday’s game was a heartbreaker, what with blowing a big lead against a team that had been sleepwalking and everything. One game may very well prove to be the difference in the west. Was that game it for the Rockies?

10. Reds (10): Sporting a 7-11 record in September which simultaneously should give Reds and Cardinals fans pause. The former for the team’s October prospects, the latter for what it’s failure to make up ground on a scuffling team means.

11. Red Sox (11): With J.D. Drew announcing his retirement effective after next season, the Boston writers have just over a year to decide on the next repository for their ire. I guess Lackey will work, but a real replacement will be someone who is actually pretty good most of the time, but whom they hate with an irrational passion.

12. Cardinals (13): They end the season with a four-game series against the Rockies, so it’s not 100% accurate to say that St. Louis is not longer a playoff factor. They are, but just not for their own chances. Beating San Diego this past weekend and crushing Colorado to wind things up would be a pretty neat trick.

13. White Sox (12): How long can Manny Ramirez be the scapegoat before people get bored and turn their attention to Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen? Jeez, Peter King was beating on Manny in his column this morning for cryin’ out loud, and he writes about football (or so I’m told).

14. Athletics (15): Based on the 2011 schedule, I’m wondering if there isn’t a plot to drive A’s attendance down even lower than it is. Instead of two series hosting the Yankees and Red Sox there’s only one. Interleague visitors: Marlins, Diamondbacks. Bud Selig doesn’t seem to want to make the case for San Jose overtly, but by gum, he and his schedule makers will do so passively!

15. Tigers (17): Austin Jackson, Alex Avila and Scott Sizemore led the Tigers to a sweep of the White Sox this weekend. Should Tigers fans be hopeful, or is this merely a quick trip to the Island of Flukeopolis?

16. Blue Jays (16): Jose Bautista will get his 50th home run this week in all likelihood. This is the first time 50 home runs has felt special to me since Cecil Fielder did it in 1990.

17. Astros (19): They have to finish 9-4 to reach .500.  Yes, I really was being serious when I said that I was following this “race.”

18. Mets (18): I have no idea how the Braves’ season is going to end, but even if it ends up short of the playoffs, Bobby Cox leaving with a sweep in his last series against the Mets makes for a fitting sendoff.

19. Angels (21): How you lose two of three to the Indians and take two of three from the Rays is a bit of a mystery, but there are a lot of mysteries hiding in the records of non-contending teams playing out the string.

20. Dodgers (19): Apropos of nothing, I noticed last night that someone with a Los Angeles Dodgers IP address had been Googling me by name and reading my personal blog. My first impulse was to worry that Frank McCourt had finally gotten fed up with me ragging on him all the time and was doing some intelligence work in preparation for my assassination, but then I remembered that hit men tend to work on a cash-only basis, so now I know I’m safe. 

21. Cubs (23): I know they’re behind Milwaukee in the standings, but a six game winning streak when they have every reason to pack it in ain’t hay. Mike Quade is making it really hard to hire someone besides him for the permanent job, isn’t he?

22. Brewers (22): I said this morning that the Astros could be a reasonable pick for third place next year. The big caveat: if the Brewers unload Prince Fielder — get me, I mentioned both baseball playing Fielders in the same post! — for a frontline starter, that could change things.

23. Marlins (14): Yeah, this is a freefall, but they lost every game last week for cryin’ out loud.

24. Orioles (24): And yes, they’ve had a much better go of it than Florida lately, but at some point you have to acknowledge that they still have 15 more losses than the Marlins do. You can’t just pretend the early part of the season didn’t happen, even if it weighs less and less each week. Because of that, this is really they’re ceiling, I think.

25. Indians (25): 9-8 in September and a half-game lead for fourth place over the Royals. Little victories, right?

26. Royals (26): 5-11 in September and a worse winning percentage in the second half than the first. Remember all of those “Ned Yost is resurrecting the Royals” columns from earlier this year? Yeah, whatever.

27. Nationals (27): Jim Riggleman is probably coming back. I suppose that’s the right move. This has nothing to do with anything let alone whether it is the right move, but I met Riggleman back in spring training, and I found him to be the most patient and polite of the eight or ten managers with whom I interacted.

28. Mariners (29): They still have a realistic shot of scoring below 500 runs for the seaso
n. A bit of a long shot — t
hey have to score 27 runs in 13 games to reach 499 — but I have faith.

29. Pirates (30); 30. Diamondbacks (28): Pittsburgh is probably still technically the worst team in baseball, but they did sweep the Diamondbacks, so I should give them their props for at least one week.

Bryce Harper reportedly wants a $400 million extension

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals reacts after hitting a single in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports the Nationals are “balking at Bryce Harper’s demands in early talks about a long-term contract extension” and are thus prepared to let him walk when he becomes a free agent following the 2018 season.

What would make the Nationals balk? According to Nightengale’s source it’s a deal that “will exceed 10 years in length and likely pay him in excess of $400 million.”

That might seem crazy given historical norms and given that Harper is coming off a disappointing season, but if Harper returns to anything close to his 2015 form in which he won National League MVP honors while hitting .330/.460/.649 and hit 42 home runs, $400 million is going to seem quite reasonable. That sort of production was not some crazy fluke for a guy with Harper’s talent, after all. And he’ll be 26-years-old when he hits free agency, which is far, far younger than your typical free agent. Indeed, he’ll be entering what have, historically, been the prime years of most superstars’ careers.

The closest comp to star hitting free agency at that age was Alex Rodriguez, who was 25 when he signed his first $250 million deal following the 2000 season. Top big league deals going from $250 million to $400 million in the space of two decades is not really all that crazy when you think about it. Especially when you realize that, between 2001 and 2018, baseball revenues will have increased by a factor of three, assuming current growth holds.

UPDATE: My first thought after reading all of this was “I wonder if the Nats leaked the $400 million thing, whether it was an actual demand or not, in order to turn the PR in their favor if they deal Harper?” Question answered:

At least one quarter of the Today’s Committee owed Bud Selig a solid

Bud Selig
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OXON HILL, MD — The 16-member committee that voted Bud Selig and John Schuerholz into the Hall of Fame — the “Today’s Game” Committee — consisted of the following members: Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Bobby Cox, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Pat Gillick, Ozzie Smith, Don Sutton, and Frank Thomas, major league owners/executives Paul Beeston (Blue Jays), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Phillies) and Kevin Towers (Reds); and media members/historians Bill Center, Steve Hirdt and Tim Kurkjian.

That’s certainly a venerable list of names. A quarter of that electorate, however, could be characterized as having a pretty notable conflict of interest when it comes to Bud Selig. At least if anyone cared about things like conflict of interest when it comes to baseball.

Whatever the case, two of those 16 guys became owners — and even more wealthier as a result — due to his affirmatively choosing or approving them to join sports’ most exclusive club. Two others were personally chosen by Selig to assist him over the years, raising their profile and importance in the game and giving them resume pieces that will one day be part of their own Hall of Fame cases.

  • Royals owner David Glass: Became the Royals CEO and Chairman in 1993, right after Selig became the acting commissioner. Glass was a key ally for Selig’s efforts to impose a salary cap and take a financial hard line in negotiations with the union, which eventually led to the 1994-95 strike. In 1999-2000 he became the full owner of the Royals after Selig personally stepped in to stop a bid for the club by a competing ownership group and is thus widely refereed to as Selig’s handpicked man. Glass is on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, on which Selig served for decades.
  • Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.: Bought his club in 1995, after Selig had taken over and thus would not be a baseball owner without Selig’s approval. DeWitt was a point man for Selig on a host of his pet projects, including the Wild Card and interleague play. He likewise led the charge for revenue sharing and other potentially divisive financial matters which tended to be in the interest of smaller market clubs, the sort of which Selig himself championed when he was a mere owner. DeWitt chaired the committee to find Selig’s successor, which eventually served to validate Selig’s desire to have his hand-picked choice, Rob Manfred, succeed him.
  • Phillies President Andy MacPhail: Selig’s handpicked choice for the labor negotiating committee in 2002 which, at the time, continued speculation that MacPhail would one day be on the short list to succeed Selig. A few years before that MacPhail was public in saying that Selig would be the right choice to become permanent commissioner at a time when many were concerned that a team owner assuming that role was a conflict of interest.
  • Former President of the Blue Jays, Paul Beeston: In the late 90s, Beeston resigned as president of the Toronto Blue Jays following a successful reign to accepted baseball’s newly created position of president and chief operating officer. The move was widely seen as a means of giving Selig a top lieutenant — a defacto deputy commissioner — which would help him smooth his transition from acting commissioner to permanent commissioner. Many thought at the time that if Beeston was not hired for that gig, Selig may have declined the full-time commissioner’s role. Selig was described in the press at the time as a strong admirer of Beeston’s. In 2014, Beeston reflected glowingly on Selig’s legacy, saying, “I absolutely admire him on this steroid thing.” Beeston is on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, on which Selig served.

Is there anything necessarily wrong with that? No. Baseball is a small world and Bud Selig existed in it for a long, long time, so having a relationship with Selig was pretty unavoidable for almost anyone with any sort of profile in the game. No technical rule or historical baseball norm was violated by virtue of this vote or the composition of the committee itself. Indeed, the old Veterans Committee to the Hall of Fame was widely seen as a group of good old boys voting their old friends. Worth noting, perhaps, that that iteration of the Veterans Committee was abolished precisely for that reason, but I suppose we’ll leave that go for now.

I wonder, however, what the vote totals would have been for some of the other candidates if 25% of their electorate consisted of people who owed personal and professional debts to them the way Selig’s electorate owed him. Maybe Barry Bonds’ agent could get a Hall of Fame vote? Roger Clemens’ mechanic? Mark McGwire’s interior designer?

I suppose we’ll never know.