Saying goodbye to the Winter Meetings

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The team executives and agents have made their escape from the Dolphin Resort and the Winter Meetings are winding to a close.  I have a plane to catch and a couple of kids to see this evening. The hot stove roller coaster is not going to stop, but I need to jump off for now.

It has been a pretty wild week.  Certainly more so than Indianapolis last year, when it seemed like the mere suggestion of an extra dollar would give team executives a case of the vapors. This year? I’m pretty sure three of the guys working the lobby bar were offered seven-year deals.

We’ll continue to analyze the Meetings Madness and all that spins out from it today and on into the dark of winter. For now, though, I think we can say a couple of things with relative certainty:

  • The recession is over, at least as far as baseball is concerned.  I don’t think they would have done it anyway, but if the owners had half a thought of crying poor in the runup to next fall’s labor negotiations, such a strategy has been rendered inoperative by the cash bacchanalia of the past week. Teams are rich — at least some of them — and everyone is getting fat;
  • Silly tabloid and talk radio chatter about the Red Sox playing it conservative and caring more about their investment in English soccer than the baseball team was proven … silly;
  • The Yankees — though they’re certainly healthy and I believe they’ll ultimately be fine — didn’t have a great Winter Meetings. The highlights: a testy Derek Jeter press conference and being forced into offering a seventh year for Cliff Lee by the quite ballsy tactics of Lee’s agent, Darek Braunecker. One can never truly know what goes on behind the scenes, but the Bombers seemed to be on their heels all week.
  • The White Sox are going for it. The Dunn deal. The Paul Konerko signing.  The balance of power in the AL Central may have shifted. If the Twins don’t bring Carl Pavano back it definitely has;
  • The Royals signed Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera. That actually happened. I fully expect them to contact the agents for Dion James, Andres Thomas and Jeff Blauser within the week;
  • Ozzie Guillen continues to be the funniest manager there is, and White Sox beat writers should thank God every day that they get to cover him and not Eric Wedge or someone boring like that;
  • Luke Scott probably had the worst Winter Meetings of anyone, and he was only here for 20 minutes. He’s probably sitting in a duck blind or a birther convention right now, wondering why the lamestream media hates him so.

As for me, it was a blast.  Unlike last year, I knew more or less what I was doing at the Winter Meetings.  I talked to a ton of front office people and some agents and realized that, the closer you get to the actual decision making, the less clear cut all of the moves appear to be. At least compared to the kind of certainty we as fans and commentators usually display.

I’m not convinced that this means that it is actually as complicated as the teams and agents make it out to be. I got the sense that some of these guys are so bogged down in details and office politics that they don’t take the time to look at the big picture. But it’s wrong to say that a team is being dumb simply because they make a dumb move. Maybe they’re too smart by half. Or confused by the fog of war. Or — and I know this is shocking — smarter than we are and aware of stuff we simply don’t know.

Whatever the case, it was a great week, and the hot stove season is sizzling more right now than it has in a good four or five years.  Here’s hoping it will keep us warm until pitchers and catchers report.

Kershaw-Sale anything but a pitcher’s duel

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World Series Game 1 was billed as a battle of aces, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw against Chris Sale of the Red Sox. Between them, they have 14 All-Star Game nominations. Kershaw has won three Cy Young Awards. Sale could his first Cy Young Award this year. Among his 10 seasons with at least 110 innings pitched, Kershaw has never posted a sub-2.92 ERA. Sale has been at 2.90 or below in each of the last two seasons. The two have combined for over 4,000 career strikeouts and both have averaged better than a strikeout per inning over their careers.

And yet Tuesday’s Game 1 was anything but a pitcher’s duel between Kershaw and Sale. Though a couple of fielding mistakes weren’t of any help to Kershaw in the first inning, Red Sox batters were squaring him up good. Of the five balls put in play in the first inning, three had exit velocities of 100 MPH or higher. Of the 12 total balls put in play against him overall, five reached triple digits in exit velo.

Kershaw gave up a pair of runs in the first, another run in the third on a J.D. Martinez double to straightaway center field, and another two in the fifth. Kershaw led off the fifth by walking Mookie Betts, then giving up a single to Andrew Benintendi, ending his night. Ryan Madson relieved Kershaw and proceeded to allow both inherited runners to score. All told, Kershaw yielded five runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts on 79 pitches in four-plus innings.

Sale, meanwhile, was on the hook for individual runs in the second, third, and fifth. Dodger hitters weren’t squaring him up quite as well as the Red Sox batters squared up Kershaw, but Sale was still more hittable than usual. Of the eight balls put in play against him, four were at least 90 MPH in exit velo. One of the runs was a no-doubt solo home run to Matt Kemp in the second. The Dodgers chased Sale in the fifth when he issued a leadoff walk to Brian Dozier. Matt Barnes relieved him allowed the inherited runner to score. Overall, Sale threw 91 pitches in four-plus innings, serving up three runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.

The game is now, as has been generally the case throughout this postseason, a battle of the bullpens.