The Nub

The Nub

"If you don't think life imitates sports, you're not reading The Nub”
                                                                                                             -  Bill Moyers

“Politics and baseball.  Interesting blog…called ‘The Nub’ on perfectpitcher.org.”
                                                                                                               - Boston Globe

Tracking Yankees at Home and Abroad

Pinstripe History Lesson: Enough about the Mets. For the moment they have replaced the Yankees as the dominant team in the New York area. But let’s not forget they have a long way to go to match the Yanks’ glory years. That was the hard-now-to-imagine period the Bombers reached the World Series in six of eight years between 1996 and 20003, and won four of the six championships at stake. Since 2003, we know, the Yanks have proved themselves human, making the Series only once in 12 years, winning it in 2009. Here’s the real rub: The stats show the Yank payroll exceeded an annual average of a little over $2 million during the “down” years; that’s another financial universe compared to other clubs until the high-spending Dodger era began three years ago.

True, the Yankees have made the post-season four times since ’03, while the Mets made it only once (’06) before last fall. The history raises a question: have the Pinstripers given the fans their rooting energy’s worth? The answer is they certainly did, compared to the woeful Mets. But the guess here, judging from Yankee fans we know, in the big picture the verdict is a resounding “No!”

The Cost of Our War Games: What else is new about getting one’s money’s worth? Author and Boston U. prof Andrew Bacevich asks this crucial question about which we hear nothing these days: “Nearly 15 years after this ‘war’ was launched by George W. Bush, why hasn’t ‘the most powerful military in the world, ‘the finest fighting force in the history of the world’ won it? Why isn’t victory anywhere in sight?”

Among possible answers: 1 – Team USA is operating in a region where it is ignorant of customs, languages, depth of corruption, etc; ; 2 – It seeks to maintain a military presence to facilitate sales of billions in weaponry; 3 – And to maintain access to the region’s endless supply of oil. 4 – It’s good at invasion, but not at occupation.

Strategic Confusion: On BBC America the other night, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pointed out how Team USA was contributing to the Syrian quagmire: “We’re preoccupied with getting rid of President Assad. At the same time, we’re supporting his loyal troops against ISIS.”

Total U.S. Military Lives Lost Since 2001: Just under 5,000; civilian lives lost: estimated in excess of a million.

Cost of Wars Since 2001: One trillion, 700 billion, according to count of National Priorities Project.

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Which Yankees Will It Be? Why the Yanks are vulnerable: a rotation of Mashiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino. Why they look to be a playoff team: a late relief corps of Aroldes Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.

An Ex-Yank’s Impressive Landing: On MLB Now the other day, the question posed was which free agent got the most surprisingly favorable deal? The consensus answer: Ian Kennedy’s $70 million, five-year contract with Kansas City. Kennedy had a mediocre 9-15 record and 4.28 ERA at San Diego last season. KC pitching coach Dave Eiland,, who worked with him when both were with the Yankees in 2008, assured manager Ned Yost that Kennedy would be a needed innings-eater.

Looking Ahead: Among teams looking to future seasons – Braves, Phillies, Rockies, Padres, etc., the consensus as to which made the best deals in the off-season: Atlanta – GM John Hart picked up two potential blue-chippers in trading away pitcher Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks and shortstop Anderton Simmons to the Angels. Among D’back prospects the Braves received outfielder Ender Inciarte, who hit .303 for Arizona and stole 21 bases in 132 games. For Simmons, Atlanta got back the Angels’ prize pitching prospect, lefthander Sean Newcomb, a 22-year-old lefthander, who struck out more than one an inning while in Double-A, and went 9-3 overall in a split season.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Saga of Two Streaky Players – Cespedes and Ted Cruz

Saga of Two Streaky Players – Cespedes and Ted Cruz

No Excuse, Except…Snow-blind from wandering in pre-dawn whiteness last Saturday, we missed the Mets-Cespedes deal, confident all Baseball activity would be adjourned until after the blizzard. Our first thought on catching up with the $25,000-per-plus-opt-out-clause deal: the Mets owe someone – Roc Nation, no; Cespedes himself, no – for making it happen. Corporate thanks belong to the Washington Nationals for swooping into the Cespedes swseepstakes. Signing Yoenis to a five-year deal after snapping up the Mets other 2015 hero, Daniel Murphy, would have triggered (1) predictable fan outrage in Mets-land , and (2) a likely NL East title for the Nats.

The last word we heard Friday on where Cespedes would go – between the five-year offer from the Nats and the three-year deal with the Mets – was this from MLB-TV’s John Smoltz: “The longer deal is always the better one. One the other hand, I imagine Cespedes would rather not face Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler during the season.”

Another player of Cuban lineage (though Canada-born) is struggling to complete a winning political deal with Iowa Republicans as they prepare to name their presidential primary choice . Polls indicate the winner will be either Donald Trump or Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Like Cespedes, Cruz is a streaky competitor, whose play on the hustings has elicited mixed reactions from the media. Unlike Cespedes, Cruz has trouble scoring high personally, as he makes points in the policy game.

Gail Collins, the NY Times’ official scorer, sees what some non-fans call his “punchability” as Cruz’s crucial challenge: “If Trump wins this thing, he’ll owe it all to the terribleness of Ted Cruz. Cruz is the No.2 every politician dreams of being stacked up against where the road is long and, sooner or later, everybody needs a friend. It’s fascinating how much fellow Republicans hate this guy…Even in a world full of egotists, the senator from Texas is regarded as off the charts.”

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Problematic in Queens: Overlooked amid the Cespedes-signing euphoria is the reality that the Mets are unlikely to have a full-time third baseman. That David Wright will remain healthy despite his back problem is, in the word of more than one observer, “problematic.” Calling Juan Uribe…

Realism in Toronto: (The front office) traded away most of Toronto’s blue-chip minor-league prospects to secure the likes of (Troy) Tulowotzki and(David) Price. (New president and chief exec Mark) Shapiro said that was ’a high price paid.’…And with Jose Bautista (age 35) and Edwin Encarnacion (33), the two sluggers in the meat of the batting order, not getting any younger, maintaining the high standard of play will not be easy. ‘What’s obvious is that behind this major league team there is not enough to build organically, build a championship team again,’ Shapiro said. ‘So we need to ride this core out as long as we possibly can and simultaneously look to kind of inject as we can underneath it’.” – Robert Macleod, Toronto Globe and Mail

And in Seattle: “Considering the Mariners have the longest playoff drought in the majors — 15 years and counting — (a FanGraphs-predicted second-place finish in the ALWest) would be a wildly successful season. But here’s a list of the newly acquired players coming off subpar or injury-marred years upon whom the Mariners are counting on for a rebound: center fielder Leonys Martin, left fielder Nori Aoki, catcher Chris Iannetta, closer Steve Cishek and setup men Ryan Cook and Evan Scribner…The Mariners will be nothing if not fascinating, and that’s a gift in its own right. Here’s what I like best about the 2016 Mariners: They’re not the 2015 Mariners. ” – Larrry Stone, Seattle Times

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

The Swagger Game Played by Competitors on Both Fields

Most Mets fans love the swagger evident when Matt Harvey takes the mound. He exudes the kind of confidence we all wish we had. It’s equally safe to assume that most Nats fans enjoy the cockiness of their MVP right fielder Bryce Harper; he knows he’s good in a way that dares anyone to think otherwise. Although the Harvey/Harper attitudes may be justifiable, given the high level at which they perform, some of us wince at their bravado. We wondered why in our case, until we realized we associate swagger with people who act as though they’re in charge. Some politicians feel they have a right to behave that way. We resent it when they cross our path. It’s a resentment we also feel about cocky who carry guns for self-protection. The gun-toting militia group in Oregon, defending their right to take charge of public land, are one of many examples.

The brooding occurred as we began to brace for the playoffs for National Skipper that will soon begin in earnest. New Yorker writer – and Harvard historian – Jill Lepore reminds us how crucial is the choice of whom we want to take charge:

“Every U.S. Presidential election is a debate about the character of the American people. We elect the candidate who tells us, to our greatest satisfaction, what the American people stand for. We vote for a vision of ourselves. This election cycle, though, the debate has been less about who the American people are than about who the American people are not. Among the not-Americans are immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers…Presidential candidates have proposed building walls along the nation’s borders, applying religious tests at immigration centers, and deporting as many as eleven million undocumented immigrants. The not-American people even include citizens who might seek to hold elective office…(per) Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution.”

We see ourselves as good, generous, law-abiding, etc., but far from error-free. This election could be an occasion for tightening our defense against the choice of a swaggering Skipper from either party.

E-Mail Bag (in response to previous Nub on Unions): “A retired teacher who benefitted from our union, I have had to defend the role it played with regard to teacher pay, vacation, pensions, etc.. The criticism baffles me, focusing, as it does, on the good things unions have accomplished. .I remain a grateful retiree, indebted to those who fought for organized labor and the benefits all working people deserve.” – Chuck Jones, Lake Worth, FL.

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Influential: The question to four panelists on MLB Now the other day: Which of the newly signed elite free agents – Johnny Cueto, Chris Davis, Alex Gordon, Zack Greinke, Jason Heyward, David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Ben Zobtrist, etc. – will make the biggest contribution to his new team? The unanimous answer, from the four, including retiring pitcher LaTroy Hawkins: “Greinke. Any teammate watching how seriously he works, every day, can’t help but begin working harder himself.”

Cespedes Following Cano’s Lead: Fans thinking still-unsigned Yoenis Cespedes will miss out on a big payday because his agents are demanding too big a contract, should re-think. Cespedes has the same agency – Roc Nation – that lured Robinson Cano away from Scott Boros. Cano wound up with the fourth largest contract in MLB history. Cano looked as though he’d have to settle for a more modest deal after he dropped Boros for the new guys on the block. Cespedes won’t attract close to the $240 million, 10-year contract Cano received. But it would be foolish to bet against Roc Nation getting Yoenis a good, long-term deal. That reason alone explains why the talk of Cespedes returning to the Mets, on a short-term, opt-out deal, is just talk.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

What Ballplayers Have Going for Them, and We Used to Have

Early last June, the Mets put in their most laudable day of the season. It wasn’t on the ballfield; they were barely a 500 team at the time. What happened was that nearly all the players donned orange-colored prison clothing as part of nationwide anti-gun violence campaign financed by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The Mets were rallying behind the campaign through a team photo designed to promote gun safety.

A current, more publicized series of anti-gun violence videos featuring several NBA players prompts this thought: Shouldn’t the MLB players union be using its clout to spread similar worthwhile messages? And while it decides which issues to get behind – gun control, saving the environment, prison reform, etc. – shouldn’t the union be speaking out in defense of fellow members of the union movement, a team now in danger of being driven from the field for good?

The argument for steering clear of what looks to be a losing battle is this: to do otherwise risks alienating fans with short memories who’ve forgotten how much working people owe unions. Here are a few dozen reminders:

:Weekends without Work All Breaks at Work, including your Lunch Breaks Paid Vacation Sick Leave Social Security Minimum Wage Civil Rights Act/Title VII (Prohibits Employer Discrimination) 8-Hour Work Day Overtime Pay Child Labor Laws Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA) 40 Hour Work Week Worker’s Compensation Unemployment Insurance Pensions Workplace Safety Standards and Regulations Employer Health Care Insurance Collective Bargaining Rights for Employees Wrongful Termination Laws Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 Whistleblower Protection Laws Employee Polygraph Protect Act (Prohibits Employer from using a lie detector test on an employee) Veteran’s Employment and Training Services (VETS) Compensation increases and Evaluations (Raises) Sexual Harassment Laws Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Holiday Pay Employer Dental, Life, and Vision Insurance Privacy Rights Pregnancy and Parental Leave Military Leave The Right to Strike Public Education for Children Equal Pay Acts of 1963 & 2011 (Requires employers pay men and women equally for same amount of work) Laws Ending Sweatshops in the United States

The big picture (familiar to many older fans in the national ballpark: Union protections helped lift working people and their families into the middle class and a secure existence.

P.S. During a strike of parcel delivery workers a few years ago, a young journalistic teammate watched an update of the standoff between the union and management: “I hate unions,” the teammate said. “I wish I had a union.” P.P.S: Only one of the three Team Dem presidential nominees mentioned unions and their importance in the debate Sunday night: outsider Martin O’Malley.

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Beefing-Up Time in Detroit: Tigers stock is rising with signing of Justin Upton to a six-year, $132 million deal. Added reason why AL Central is going to be a competitive fracas. Dombrowski-departed Detroit has the studs.

On the Royals’ Risky $70 million signing of Ian Kennedy: “Guaranteeing five years to a 31-year-old pitcher with so many question marks — and surrendering a draft pick, to boot — is a puzzling move at best, and one that many may point to as a turning point for a franchise currently on top of the baseball world.” – Rob Rogacki, SB Nation

Joke of the Weekend: Reported renewal of Mets’ hopes to sign Yoenis Cespedes to a short-term deal. Why? Because the Orioles finally reached a seven-year, $161 million deal with Chris Davis, which apparently takes a substitute long-term offer to Cespedes off the table. The theory in Mets-land: Cespedes could now be receptive to a one- or two-year deal, which is as far as the team is prepared to go. The comment from MLB-TV’s Eric Byrnes: “After the peak season he had, Cespedes would be crazy to sign a short-term deal.”

Baseline Velocity : As Statcast™ tracked baserunners throughout the season, the 21-mph mark emerged as a solid cutoff point for top-of-the-line speed. Nobody got there more often than Delino DeShields — not even more high-profile speedsters such as the Marlins’ Dee Gordon or the Reds’ Billy Hamilton, who finished first and second in the majors with 58 and 57 steals, respectively.” – Andrew Simon, MLB.Com

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((The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

The Power Game: Its Swagger and Frustrations

The White Sox fan in the White House got us thinking the other night about the importance of team power: “Let me tell you something,” he said, adopting the stance of a swaggering American abroad, “the United States is the most powerful nation on earth. Period. It’s not even close.” True enough, and, though many of us worry about overextending ourselves to become “the world’s policeman,” we find comfort in our clout.

While the Skipper broods about his global team’s lack of power-driven effectiveness in the Mideast, the White Sox have also let him down so far this off-season. They have not yet added the player or two they need to supplement the clout of Jose Abreu, newly obtained Todd Frazier, and (perhaps) Melky Cabrera, but they’re said to be in close pursuit of Justin Upton and/or Chris Davis. The neighboring Cubs are one of five power teams already set to go – the Dodgers, Nationals, Blue Jays, and, yes, the Astros, are the others.

The power-bat names are familiar enough to rattle off: the Cubs will have Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and, oh, yes, Kyle Schwarber: a special shout-out for him; had he played an entire 2015 season, he could have doubled his 16 HRs. More power-names: the Dodgers – Adrian Gonzalez, Ric Pederson, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig; the Nationals -Bryce Harper, and injury-recovered trio of Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmermann, and Anthony Rendon, the player who more than matched Schwarber’s 16 HRS in the 80 Nats games in which he appeared Who else? The Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki. And the Astros’ Colby Rasmus, Carlos Correa, Luis Valbuena, and Chris Carter.

The Cubs are the only one of the five power-laden teams almost sure to make the playoffs. In Baseball, we know, having a lineup of sluggers won’t get you far without pitching. Team USA, on the other hand, has nothing but self-imposed restraint to stop it from carpet-bombing or shocking and awe-ing its way into world domination. A half-century ago, Team Dem Senator J. William Fulbright, no isolationist, wrote a book called “The Arrogance of Power.” In it, he deplored both our belligerence and tendency to make adversaries of countries unwilling to play ball on our terms. History, he said, has shown that bending a resistant country to our will cannot be accomplished by force, at least, not over the long run. He added some advice that most of our presidents since his time, including Skipper Obama, failed to take to heart:

“If America has a service to perform in the world-and I believe it has-it is in large part the service of its own example. In our excessive involvement in the affairs of other countries, we are not only living off our assets and denying our own people the proper enjoyment of their resources; we are also denying the world the example of a free society enjoying its freedom to the fullest.” Words that resonate with many fans in the national ballpark today.

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Dubious Is the Word: A year ago, the professional prediction team called Pecota picked the KC Royals to finish last in the AL Central and the Red Sox first in the AL East. That’s the dubious background as we check out the first projected standings of 2016, from a different team, FanGraphs. The AL Central projection is again an eye-opener: Cleveland is predicted to win the division this time (the Tigers were the pick in 2015). The Red Sox are again projected to win both the AL East and the league’s top seed by the end of the season.

No Shame: Whether Buck Showalter’s weighing in on the Orioles contract standoff with Chris Davis will bring the O’s and their slugger closer together remains to be seen. But Showalter signaled to Davis’s agent Scott Boros that rejection of a $50 million, seven-year deal means the team is looking elsewhere for home run power. What Showalter said was this: if anybody thinks the team is desperate to re-sign Davis, and that his ultimate contract decision “makes or breaks our team, shame on us.” The Orioles are now reportedly angling to sign Yoenis Cespedes as an alternative to Davis.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

The Political Prospect on the Way to Being a Major Leaguer

By our count, six of 15 NL teams – that is, 40 percent of the league – have no shot at making the playoffs this season. Let’s tick them off: the Braves and Phillies in the East, the Brewers and Reds in the Central, the Rockies and Padres in the West. All are in undeniable rebuilding modes. It’s nice that three of five teams in each of the divisions will still be competitive. But, still, that roughly half the league’s fan base will be in the cold by this summer is embarrassing, or should be, to MLB bigwigs.

Between now and the season’s start, one of the six may have fortified its team so that fans can say – “Wait a minute, we have as good a right to be off the no-chance list as do the Marlins.” Such a change in the NL lineup would be welcome, just as in the Dem presidential playoffs fans would prefer a field of more than two candidates. Vox observer Matt Yglesias concurs in that preference, and notes that, owing to a narrow media focus, there’s been a miscount in the size of the primary playing field:

“Mainstream Democrats have not two but three solid candidates in the race. And of the three, in conventional terms it’s (Martin) O’Malley who seems the most solid, reflecting a more consistently liberal record than Clinton’s but not veering so far left that he’s spent the bulk of his career denying that he’s a Democrat, like Sanders. Under O’Malley, taxes on the rich went up. So did the gasoline tax. The state curtailed gun rights and expanded same-sex marriage rights. It passed a state Dream Act and capped college tuition increases… His candidacy got squashed by the Bernie Sanders steamroller. Sanders is not an extraordinary public speaker either, but his willingness to throw caution to the wind and fully embrace the idea of transforming the US into a North American Denmark excited millions of people and left zero market share available for a mainstream Democrat to run to Clinton’s left. Between Clinton’s establishment juggernaut and Sanders’s thrilling crusade, there was just no particular reason for anyone to care about O’Malley.”

That O’Malley chooses to stay in the game is a sign that either (a) he believes in miracles, or, more likely, (b) he seeks to transform his status from prospect to future major leaguer in the Dem lineup. He turns 53 this month.

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AL Anomaly: The Oakland A’s, the only apparent no-shot team among the AL’s 15, is the Baseball variation of O’Malley. Fans know that, if anyone can conjure a miracle out of the un-tried and castoff-ed, it’s A’s Svengali Billy Beane.

Hoping for a Chance to Rebound: Ike Davis, who lost the Mets’ first-base battle with Lucas Duda two years ago, is Oakland’s lone, non-tendered player languishing on the free agent list. Since leaving the Mets in 2014, Davis batted .235 with 10 HRs for Pittsburgh in 131 games; last season, a forgettable one saw him playing in only 74 games with the A’s, batting .229 with three HRs.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Baseball’s Luxury Tax and Bernie’s War on Wall Street Causing Agita

Why has the hot stove season turned so cold in recent weeks? Since the spate of early elite-player signings – Zack Greinke, David Price, Jason Heyward, etc – several big names, mostly outfielders, have been left dangling. Observers now are suggesting that the likes of Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, Chris Davis, etc.,will have to settle for less-than-long-term (three-year?) deals with less-than-hoped-for remuneration.

The sudden financial prudence by former spendthrift teams – the Dodgers and Yankees, to name two obvious examples – has become a transparent mystery. The Yankees have dispensed just under $300 million in luxury taxes since 2003; the Dodgers, newcomers to the big-spending game, at $81 million for three years, are on a pace to exceed the Yanks’ outlay. The luxury tax payroll threshold has remained at $189 million for the past three years. As noted previously, all the expansive-budget teams, including the recently splurging Red Sox, and Giants, seem to be re-allocating their extra cash to recruitment of prospects.

As the MLB prepares to revisit – and perhaps revise – the luxury tax, owners can be expected to rally for a reduction in the penalty over-the-threshold teams must pay, a percentage that (for repeat offenders) can reach as high as 50 percent of their payroll excess.

We were reminded of likely complaints to Baseball’s rule-makers at a political pitch we attended delivered in Manhattan by lefty presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The Vermont Senator’s complaint was directed at what have become our financial rule-makers on Wall Street. He said it was time to break up “too big to fail” commercial banks, and warned that executives caught in illegal banking manipulations would not be “too big to jail.” Sanders compared his call for a return to the separation of commercial and investment banks as had existed under the Glass-Steagal Act to opponent Hillary Clinton’s regulatory demand: “cut it out,” she said, to bankers guilty of destructive behavior.

“But in my view,” Sanders added, “establishment politicians are the ones who need to cut it out. Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street. Wall Street and their lobbyists regulate Congress.” That would change, he said, when he’s elected National Skipper. Bernie’s chances have taken a hit because his prime focus, economic inequality, has been relegated to a spot deep in the campaign dugout; meanwhile, terrorism and gun rights have taken the field and attracted most media coverage.

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“We Will Determine What Further Action to Take”: that MLB statement following the the guilty plea in the case of the hacked Houston Astros database may hit the Cardinals, as well as their accused former scouting director, hard. The team, already hurt by Yadier Molina’s injury problems and Jason Heyward’s defection to the Cubs, could lose needed draft picks as a consequence of the federal action. The scouting director could get as much as 25-year prison term for his role in the case.

Invisible Man: Alex Gordon, who landed a four-year, $68 million contract with KC – the franchise that originally signed him – is one of those invisible impact players. He goes unnoticed until there’s time for a key hit, or crucial defense play (usually spectacular). It’s then he shows why he’s earned the Royals’ record salary.

Shakes in Metsville: Attentive Mets fans know the significance of the departure of VP for Player Development Paul DePodesta, and it’s all bad. Besides losing DePodesta’s analytics expertise, the team has lost a key backup man to ailing GM Sandy Alderson. A more ominous consequence: there is now one fewer exec-layer to owner’s son Jeff Wilpon; fans with long memories remember how young Wilpon did not distinguish himself for decision-making when arranging player moves with then-GM Jim Duquette more than a decade ago. Jeff will likely be tempted to try again when Alderson leaves in a year or so.

Another Sign(ing) Giants Mean Business The Mets have dropped out of the competition for free agent Denard Span, who’s going to the Giants for three years and $34 million. Span and Angel Pagan give Bruce Bochy solid centerfield options. The Dodgers, meanwhile, think enough of Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda to sign him to a provisional eight-year, $102 mil contract. The money could drop to $25 mil, if nagging injuries intervene.

Getting Only Slightly Ahead of Ourselves: Pitchers and catchers begin reporting in a little over five weeks.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Taxing Our Political and Baseball-Watching Patience

Pitchers – Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees, Scott Kazmir and Japanese Cy Young-level Kenta Maeda to the Dodgers: interesting stories, but not nearly as widely reported as the non-story about the interest of the White Sox, Orioles, Giants and Rangers in signing Yoenis Cespedes. At the end of the year, Baseball scribes are desperate to show they’re still on the job, Thus, speculative “Whither Cepedes?-like stories appear, over and over again.

Still, the prize example of non-news, end-of-‘15 reporting goes to the NY Times, which led its entire Wednesday paper this way: “By Molding Tax System, Wealthiest Save Billions.” The story provides familiar details of how, with political help, the wealthy manage to protect their fortunes through tax loopholes. One new fact: tax-avoidance game is becoming known as the “income defense industry.”

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Overdue: We sensed two years ago that Fox Sports was making a bad choice in the way it replaced Tim McCarver as Joe Buck’s color man on network broadcasts. The choice was to have Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci and ex-player Harold Reynolds share the backup chores. The arrangement didn’t work because the three didn’t mesh – Verducci came close with statistical info,, but couldn’t develop a comfortable rapport with Buck; Reynolds, whose insider comments on game action often smacked of smugness, didn’t come close. Hall-of-Famer John Smoltz, newly named to replace the two, should fit perfectly.

Tradition: Yesterday (as we track every year), marked the beginning of the last of three non-baseball months. Reason enough to welcome 2016.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Great to be Young and a Ballplayer or Presidential Candidate

As the 2015 renewal of the hot stove season ends, many of us will remember it as a tipping point in the assessment of player value: never before have teams embraced the concept that youth will be served. The evolution of analytics, whereby player abilities – offensive and defensive – can be measured and compared – has refined the recruitment game. The Braves, Phillies, Reds and Brewers, obvious rebuilding teams, are prospect-focused examples. But even big-spenders like the Dodgers and Yankees are also part of the obsessive youth-oriented trend.

The most youthful member of Team GOP’s presidential playoffs is 44-year-old Florida Senator Marco Rubio. The latest polls have Rubio running third in that contest behind Donald Trump and his only slightly older Senate teammate, Ted Cruz of Texas. But a CNN survey, matching GOP candidates against Hillary Clinton, shows Rubio performing best, beating her by a 49-46 margin. Campaign observers give two main reasons for his vote-getting potential: one, depicting himself as the “candidate of tomorrow,” and 68-year-old Hillary as the “candidate of yesterday”; equally important to scouts is his ease with talking sports on the stump – from Marlins ace Jose Fernandez to former Miam Heat – now Cleveland Cavaliers – hoop star, LeBron James.

Rubio’s working class roots and Latina wife widen his vote-attracting strike zone. He is adept, too, at responding to the many fans’ desire for at least as much non-political pitching as for the wonkish kind. Rubio may be a Fernandez-like ace in that regard.

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Psychological Boost: John Smoltz (on MLB-TV), on what Aroldis Chapman means to the Yankeess: (“Against most teams), he gives them an edge…With him, Dellin Bettances and Andrew Miller in the pen, they can keep their starters fresh, on a six-inning routine.” Smoltz also likes the possibility the three will be used in alternate two-inning stints.

Occupational Boost: Dan Plesac (on the Chapman deal): “The happiest man when he heard was Kenley Jansen. He was about to lose his closer role with the Dodgers when they looked to be getting Chapman.” That was before the domestic violence charge against Chapman, now under MLB investigation. He, and two other offenders, Yasiel Puig and Jose Reyes, faces suspension for indefinite periods.

Doubt: From New York, we hear from Brian Cashman that, “none of the four players traded to the Reds for Chapman was of premium quality.” On MLB-TV last night, a Reds beat reporter said Prez-of-Ops Walt Jocketty was much more sanguine about the potential of the new ex-Yankees. The reporter’s comment: “We kind of doubt it.”

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Daniel Murphy and Team USA’s Need to Play ‘Somewhere Else’

Mets fans were certainly relieved when the Nationals and Reds negotiated a still-on-hold deal that would bring veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips to Washington this coming season. Why? The Nats, likely to be the NL East’s main Mets competitor, has been rumored as ready to sign free agent Daniel Murphy to help fill their second-base hole. Murphy, a mediocre fielder at best, but the Mets’ best hitter (.281, 14 HR, 73 RBI in ‘15), is still expected to wind up with an AL team, where he can DH much of the time. He has reason, at 30, based, in part, on his seven-HR-in-nine playoff games against the Dodgers and Cubs, to attract a high-five-figure-per multi-year contract.

Here’s how New Yorker writer Ian Crouch included Murphy’s homer surge (and its aftermath) as part of a selection of 2015’s “Best 11 minutes in Sports”:

“2 minutes, 3 seconds: The approximate total time it took…Murphy to round the bases six times, after the home runs he hit in six consecutive playoff games, which tied a record. Murphy’s sudden homer binge helped the Mets reach the World Series and turned him into a folk hero in New York. In the Series, he hit no home runs, made two costly errors, and the Mets lost to Kansas City. Baseball can be strange and, as Roger Angell wrote this fall, full of pain. It’s also unsentimental: next season, Murphy, a free agent, will probably be playing for someone else.”

 

How nice, if next season, or the season thereafter, Team USA is playing somewhere else than in the Mideast. A rundown of the “Worst 25 years in Recent American Military History” would have to include the 13 in Afghanistan and the 12 in Iraq, where our special forces are still active. That’s not counting our year-old aerial offensive against ISIS in Syria. A Team Dem Congressman, Rick Nolan (Minnesota) reminds us that the regional time line of conflict runs well beyond 25 years, and despite our presence, shows no sign of ending:

 

“Despite our good intentions, our involvement in these thousand-year-old conflicts in which we have no real friends, and where we have been on every side at one time or another, has proved disastrous. The simple truth is that this strategy is bankrupting our nation and prolonging the conflicts….(Furthermore) the real truths intelligence experts have tried to communicate are sobering in the extreme. They’ve concluded that we have no strategy and no idea what ‘victory’ would mean in Iraq and Syria… that U.S. ‘boots on the ground’ would be totally unrealistic, and that U.S. bombings have done little to disrupt black-market oil sales funding ISIL; instead, they have left the region in a state of ‘perpetual war’.” (excerpted from the Minnespolis Star Ttribine)

 

Sounds like something one of Team GOP’s players – initials DT – said in the team’s primary debate last week. Ralph Nader says he’s confident there will be a combined lefty-righty protest movement before long, challenging both foreign and domestic policies that are dividing the country. If it happens, the long-shot “revolution” Bernie Sanders wants could come to far-fetched fruition.

 

More on the Mess Abroad: “Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office…has in recent years provoked… opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted…to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria” – Seynour Hersh, London Review of Books

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Why Heyward Chose Cubs Over Cards: Per Rick Hummel, St.Louis Post-Dispatch: “While recently departed Jason Heyward was high in his praise of the Cardinals’ organization as he forsook it to sign with the Chicago Cubs for eight years and $184 million, he made it clear that he was less comfortable with the Cardinals’ core in the long-term than he was with the Cubs. Chicago has a younger brand in position-player stars such as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell. The Cardinals’ well-over-30 core of Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Adam Wainwright isn’t going to be around that much longer, Heyward said. ‘You have Yadier (Molina) who is going to be done in two years maybe,’ Heyward told Chicago reporters. ‘You have Matt Holliday who is probably going to be done soon…Then Tony Cruz and (Adam) Wainwright are probably going to be done in three or four years …”

As If It Mattered: It’s almost a joke: baseball writers like Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, and a passel of other beat-covering scribes vying to be the first to report on hot stove deals. If there are no deals to report, they bombard media outlets with non-stories about teams “interested” in such-and-such a player. They seldom have a discouraging word to impart about team execs, lest they be removed from front office “cooperate-with” lists. The other day, Rosenthal defied the tradition. He called out White Sox exec VP Kenny Williams for treating him rudely at the Winter Meetings. A sign Williams is no longer a “go-to” front-office person who needs coddling.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)