Tuesday March 2, 2004
DISCUSSION QUESTION OF THE WEEK
I apologize for not having my thoughts on the season finale of Average Joe: Hawaii. I managed to not tape long enough, so I didnít see it! I have a tape coming, so I will have my thoughts on Wednesday!
Recently, I had a chance to converse with another great baseball blogger. Al was one of the first to begin writing a baseball-related blog when he wrote his first entry on June 25, 2002. Those that read SethSpeaks will remember that just a couple of weeks ago, Al posted an interview that he had with Chris Coste. Al also does a quarterly roundtable discussion with a number of other bloggers on baseball and Milwaukee Brewer topics.
Basically, I sent Al an e-mail with a number of questions, and he graciously took the time to answer them very well and very thoroughly. I hope you enjoy the following questions and answers. If you have any questions or comments, send me an e-mail. Also, Alís Ramblings is a must-read-daily site that you should check out and then bookmark.
THE CONVERSATION BEGINS
1.) What is your baseball history and background? (Did you play much?)
Never played much baseball at all, other than some random pick-up games at the park and the playground. However, I was a pretty good softball player. I played in leagues and in some weekend tournaments back in the day. I was the type of player that I would classify as "getting the most out of my ability", your classic scrappy, gritty middle infielder. As with most guys you hear referred to with those descriptions, I was OK, but that was it. I played mostly SS, with some 2B and 3B thrown in. I can honestly say I was the least athletic "good" SS I've ever witnessed. For the most part, if I touched the ball, it was an out. My arm was solid as well, more accurate than strong, but strong enough I guess. My range was, pretty limited, however.
At the plate, I was the epitome of a Billy Beane batter before such a thing existed. One summer during college, I took off from my job in Eau Claire, WI and went home and just played softball for the most part. I kept detailed stats of my performance that summer, and I got off to a poor start. As about my 8th game started, I told myself my only goal every plate appearance was to simply "not get out". I walked as much as anyone, and since I was always slow afoot, usually just got singles anyway. But, I sure got on base a lot.
2.) You've been writing your website for quite awhile. What was it that made you decide to express your thoughts to a wider audience??
I started writing at Fastball as soon as we got online, back in 1998 or so. I then went to the ESPN boards, and then migrated to Brewerfan.net as soon as it was started, as ESPN was loaded with casual fans with casual ideas. What inspired me to start Ramblings was the fact that, as is a fact of life with message boards, old stuff is deleted to make room for the new stuff. I would often be misquoted and taken out of context, and I couldn't look up my prior writings. So, Ramblings was originally just a place for me to store my words. Over time, it's developed into a hobby that many Brewers' fans, as well as mostly small market fans have come to check out once a day or once a week. Like you do Seth, I often discuss other things as well, some of my most frequent e-mailers are very casual baseball fans, yet enjoy what passes as wit and humor at Ramblings.
3.) What is your process for determining what you will write about?
Well, mainly it's a Brewers' site. Anything that is related to the Crew will get a mention. It's been surprising to me how many people are as disgusted with the TV and newspaper coverage as I am, as much of my in-season e-mail deals with, "Did you hear/read this?". Mainly though, I write what I wish I could pop on the 'net and read, Brewers' coverage with an emphasis on the big picture, and no talk of "he sure is a good influence on these younger players".
4.) OK, you write primarily about the Milwaukee Brewers. It has to be tough to be a Brewers fan. So, I've got just a couple of questions on them. Is there any reason for Brewers fans to look positively heading into the 2004 season? Will Geoff Jenkins and/or Ben Sheets last the whole season with the team, or will they be traded?
I'm much more optimistic about Jenkins being resigned that almost anyone not in a mental ward. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not, to be honest. The market seems to have set Jenkins' value at about 3 years, $20-22 million. Geoff is a nice player, but has missed a lot of time due to injury. I'll be the first to admit he has been extremely unlucky, as his DL time has not been because of "lack of condition" injuries at all, but rather broken fingers, injured ankles, etc. But, it's difficult to imagine Geoff suddenly starting a run of health at age 29, which he'll be in 2005, and still playing OF every day. Plus, I really struggle with the idea of signing one of the 3 "easy" defensive positions (1B, LF, RF) to a long-term deal, as for the most part, those are easy spots to fill with a mediocre performer. Many corner OF's signed this offseason for 2 years, $6 million. While they are not as good as Geoff, they aren't a big step down either.
I don't think Ben is an untouchable, but he's as close to one as the Crew has, at least with major league experience. Sheets is a good pitcher, and may well develop into a great one. He's MIL property until after the 2006 season (He was stupidly used for 2 starts in April of 2001, as he should have went down to AAA until a 5th starter was needed in early May. Hence, we traded his rights for 2007 for two 5 inning outings, the epitome of the "fail to plan, plan to fail" mentality that the organization has suffered throughout the years, so I think he'll be in Milwaukee for a couple more seasons, at least.
The Brewers have been building the correct way since about 1999, and the fruits of that are finally at AAA in 2004. There is no doubt the Crew has the best minor league system in the game, as well as 3 of the top 20 players. Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks are as close to "can't miss" as possible, barring injury of course. Doug Melvin is a GM who isn't throwing darts, he's working his plan. The club has finally figured out you don't need to spend money to have a below average team, and has slashed payroll, at least half a decade late. Almost the entire 40 man roster is on the right side of 30. The '04 lineup looks to be a bit light on power, but could have every single player post an above average OBP for his position. I'm sure a prospect or two will flame out at AAA, or get injured, or simply not be able to make the jump. But, the depth is simply overpowering, as at least the Top 20 fellas in the minors have the potential to be everyday players in the majors someday. A few years ago, relief pitcher Mike Buddie was ranked as our 8th best prospect, and while he's not a bad middle reliever to have (or even better, a AAA player in case someone is injured), his ceiling was as a middle reliever, who are a dime a dozen. The future is bright, you just need to look at the players in the pipeline.
5.) On your site, you referenced Baseball America's Jim Callis's interview on ESPN.com. As he wrote, with Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, JJ Hardy, Mike Jones, Minnesota-native Ben Hendrickson and Anthony Gwynn, "The Brewers are just loaded." If you're the Brewers GM, what do you do with all these young guys? When do you bring them up?
I wait as long as possible. The most productive years, per dollar, is the pre-arbitration seasons, which are usually a player's first three years (though a few "Super 2" players are eligible as well). Therefore, it is foolish to "rush" a player to the bigs before they are 100% ready...especially if a game or two in the standings aren't a big deal, which it hasn't been in MIL since '92. JJ Hardy could probably do an adequate job as our Opening Day SS in 2004...but why not let him play at least part of the season in AAA Indy and delay his free agency and arby? Finally, the whole organization seems to be on the same page with this. If Billy Beane can do this in OAK, in the middle of the playoff chase, can wait half a season to call up phenom Rich Harden, we can hold off on our kids a while.
6.) As a Twins fan, I have to ask a Brewers fan's opinion of the job that Bud Selig has done as commissioner? How much "ownership" does he technically still have in Milwaukee? He takes a lot of criticism for some of his ideas (contraction, Wild Card), but he has also done some good things (no strike last year, the Wild Card). What are your thoughts on the job he has done?
Bud owns 26% of the Crew, which is in a trust, of course. Bud gets very little credit for averting the strike in '02 (first time ever, by the way), as well as little to no credit for the additional revenue sharing that CBA gave the game. To be honest, contraction was never a serious threat to the game, as far as I can tell, but it was a chip to bargain with. The Twins have a serious stadium problem, which looks to be close to ending, at least we can hope. They will never be on solid financial footing unless they get a new ballpark, although they've shown they can win, at least in that division:) The funny thing I've found about the criticism of Mr. Selig is no one can agree about what to be critical of, except for his appearance and mediocre public speaking ability. You gave an excellent example with the wildcard. The Sox/Yankees and Marlins/Cubs LCS's were two of the best ever played, especially the Boston/New York all out feud. They never take place without the wildcard. For the most part, Seth, the criticism leveled against Selig is of this variety:
Casual fan, like Jim Caple: "I think it's terrible how (insert pet peeve here). And you know what, it's a darn shame Bud Selig hasn't done anything to fix it."
But, Bud has brought steroid testing in, the wildcard, huge TV deals, averted a strike, and added piles of revenue sharing. Every once in a while, interleague play is criticized, then they show the Yankees/Mets, or WhiteSox/Cubs and all is well. The problem isn't that the interleague schedule includes games such as the Pirates/DevilRays, the problem it always has games like Pirates/Padres or Royals/DevilRays. With an equal, or more equal playing field, that problem is lessened.
7.) Al, where do you stand on the SABRmetrics versus Traditional thinking? It has been a big topic since Moneyball came out. Is there one plan that is more right or can there be some middle ground?
I stand firmly on the sabremetric side. If I hear one more idiot announcer talk about veteran leadership or expanding the strike zone, I'll...oh, I won't do anything, except wonder why the revolution is moving so slowly. OBP and SLG are incredibly accurate in predicting runs scored, somewhere between 97-98%. All that other stuff is so boring it amazes me we still discuss it. Moneyball was an outstanding book, though Beane's drafting ideas are still up for debate. Billy has done an astounding job of fielding a great team on limited payroll for a number of years, and looks to me to have at least a couple more playoff seasons before he tears it down and starts to build it all over again.
8.) Who were your favorite players growing up? Are there any non-big names that you really liked? How about current favorite players?
Yount and Molitor. I probably have one of the most comprehensive Yount memorabilia collections around. I was and am a big fan of guys that make the most out of what they have, as I know if I was 100 times better, that's still all I would be. Keith Ginter is one of my current faves, as is Bobby Kielty. Guys that take a walk, play a good game, and still struggle to get an opportunity to play everyday.
9.) Do you play fantasy sports? If so, what attracts you to it?
I play some fantasy baseball, and joined an Out Of The Park league this winter. I like the way I can build a team of guys with little appeal and usually finish in the top three.
10.) This should probably be Question #1, but... A little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do when you're not writing your site?
I'm a retail manager, I live in the Wausau, WI area. I grew up in Richland Center, WI; went to college in Eau Claire and moved to the Twin Cities before arriving in Wausau in late 2002. I am the proud dad of a 21 month old named Andrew, and am married to a wonderful woman named Kim, who tolerates my computer and Brewers' interests. We adopted a cocker spaniel named Ronnie 4 years ago from a shelter, and he is a big part of our family also. When not online, I love to read, watch bad TV, and watch Andrew grow up. I am a classic upper Midwesterner, as I despise cold weather and snow, while I hate hot weather with a passion.
Al, thanks again for taking some of your time to answer these questions. Although we certainly disagree on the SABRmetrics versus traditionalist thinking, this was really interesting for me. I really appreciated your thoughts about waiting to call up the Brewers big prospects, saving them on arbitration years and waiting until they are a little better. That was something I really hadnít thought of. This was fun!
Again, be sure to check out Alís Ramblings every day for some great baseball analysis!
Here is a quick update on some of the Twins Beat Writersí articles from the past couple of days:
First, be sure to check out yesterdayís Twins Geek posting. He discusses the rumors of the Twins and Dodgers working on a Jacque Jones for Kaz Ishii deal. I thought it made sense when I first heard it this weekend. However, after reading what the Geek wrote, I would be fully supportive of this deal!
Jim Souhan writes of Michael Cuddyerís ďsuper-utilityĒ role for the Twins this season. I still donít like it, but I think if he proves himself able to play 2B or even SS adequately, he could find himself playing a lot! I would love to see him in the every day lineup, but that lineup is pretty tough to break as is. Given 500 at bats, he could provide about 25 home runs to the team.
Mark Sheldon of the Twins MLB.com site wrote a similar article on Cuddyerís role for the upcoming season.
Joe Mauer is writing a Spring training diary for the Pioneer Press. His entry from Sunday is quite interesting. Apparently the thing that he needs to learn the most is not the pitchers or related to hitting. The toughest thing for him right now is learning to say no, to the media and to autograph seekers.
There is a very good article on the Mauer brothers on MLB.com too. Both Joe and older brother Jake are in big league camp. Middle brother Bill pitched at two Class A levels last year. Obviously Joe will be given every shot at the starting catching job. Jake had a decent showing at the Arizona Fall League and should spend 2004 playing at AA New Britain. I think he has put himself in a position to potentially make the Twins big league roster as a utility player.
Of course, the best article on The Mauer Brothers was written in Sundayís Tribune by the great Jim Souhan. It discusses their life, their offseason and living together in a condo in a gated community in Fort Myers. It is really interesting to see how they go about preparing for the season and getting through a day. Golf, pool and video games. They are always competing, yet they are all pulling for each other in their baseball careers.
Patrick Reusse writes a very complimentary article on backup catcher Henry Blanco, who would be fully capable of being an adequate backstop in the unlikely event that Joe Mauer struggles. It discusses his defensive skills, strong arm and soft hands. He wonít hit much, but can provide strong leadership skills. The last few paragraphs of the article are very interesting to me:
Blanco is a friend of Ugueth Urbina, the closer who helped Florida win the World Series last season. Urbina is this spring's Kenny Rogers -- a veteran pitcher who doesn't want to take what he considers a below-market offer.
"I saw him this winter, but he just goes off, disappears," Blanco said. "I have tried to call him to say, 'Sign here,' but I can't reach him.
"I suppose he will sign in the next two weeks. Hopefully, here. This would be a good place for him . . . a good young team."
HmmmÖ So, Blanco can provide leadership to the likes of Johan Santana, , Juan Rincon and Luis Rivas (all from Venezuela), but he also could be a link to the Twins signing Ugueth Urbina!! That would be nice. However, if they donít, I have complete confidence in Joe Nathanís ability to close and a bullpen with Rincon and Jesse Crain. But, getting Urbina for a fair price could be good.
There was an article on my favorite Twins prospect, JD Durbin, discussing his confidence. The Twins and his teammates have no problem with it because he backs it up. Teammates always talk about how he isnít afraid to go after anyone. He throws hard and has three good pitchers.
Kevin Garnett was named the NBA Player of the Month for February. For the month, he averaged 25.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5 assists a game. Amazingly, with the honor, he became the first player in 25 seasons to win the award three consecutive months! Heís good!
By the way, Leslie Monteiro frequently contributes very interesting information to this site with thoughts on baseball and the NBA. To check out more of his thoughts, check out his work at Mofo Sports. Here is his most recent article.
DISCUSSION QUESTION OF THE WEEK
This weeks Discussion question allows you to become baseballís all-powerful commisioner. If you want some ideas, please check Mondayís posting that led to this question:
If you were to take over Bud Seligís job as Commissioner of Major League baseball, and you had all of the power to make decisions, what executive decisions would you make? These can cover serious issues or fun issues. Itís up to you. Youíre the commissioner.
If you have any ideas, please send me an e-mail. Responses will be posted on this website on Friday.
And on that note, that is it for today. Again, I would like to thank Al Bethke for taking time to respond to my e-mail questions. Be sure to check out Alís Ramblings. As always, if you have any questions, comments or ideas, please e-mail me! Have a great day!
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