The Nub

Great to be Young and a Ballplayer or Presidential Candidate

As the 2015 renewal of the hot stove season ends, generic sick 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, pharmacy 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.”


(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, sale sale likely to be the NL East’s main Mets competitor, buy 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.


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





Roster Shakeups and the Shaky Pitch for Regime Change

With the signing of Johnny Cueto by the Giants, six of the 10 top-tier free agents are off the board. Along with Cueto, remedy there have been these other premium additions (in alphabetical order): Zack Greinke (D’backs), Jason Heyward (Cubs), David Price (Red Sox), Ryan Zimmermann (Tigers), Ben Zobrist (Cubs). Orioles slugger Chris Davis, Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, the Padres’ Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes have yet to be signed.

A notable backdrop to the signings: owners are reinforcing the efforts of sitting managers, in whom they clearly have confidence. Conversely, on two of the teams whose rosters were diminished by the signings – the Dodgers and Nationals, losers of Greinke and Zimmermann – managers Don Mattingly and Matt Williams were let go. Skipper shuffling, overall. involved three other teams – the Marlins, Padres and Mariners. Miami replaced interim Skipper Dan Jennings with Mattingly; the Padres dropped another interim leader, Pat Murphy, in favor of Andy Green; the Mariners fired Lloyd McClendon, naming Scott Servais new manager.

Newly hired skippers seldom have better luck with teams than did their fired predecessors. But there were four recent exceptions – John Farrell, who replaced 2012 last-place finisher Bobby Valentine, led the Sox the following year to the World Series title. Jeff Banister replaced Rangers interim manager Tim Bogar this year; Banister not only skippered the team to the playoffs; he was named AL manager of the year. A.J. Hinch replaced Astros interim manager Tom Lawless this season and also led the team to the playoffs. And, of course, Joe Maddon went to the NLCS with the Cubs after replacing Rick Renteria, whose team finished last in 2014.

Skipper- replacing on the political field, a popular Team USA game called “regime change”, has been an ongoing disaster in the Middle East. It began shortly after 9/11/01, when Presidentr George Bush decided to invade, first, Afghanistan, then Iraq, with the declared intention of removing that country’s leader Saddam Hussein. Jeb Bush was asked during the CNN debate the other night if he still thought his brother’s Iraq adventure was a good idea. “Yes,” he said, then quickly moved on to attacking whom he called the “chaos” candidate, Donald Trump. Easily dismissible by Dem team members, Trump made this surprisingly strong comment on what George Bush started:

“We’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that, frankly, if they were (still) there and if we could have spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems — our airports and all the other problems we have — we would have been a lot better off, I can tell you that right now.

“We have done a tremendous disservice not only to the Middle East — we’ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity. The people that have been killed, the people that have been wiped away — and for what? It’s not like we had victory. It’s a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized, a total and complete mess. I wish we had the 4 trillion dollars or 5 trillion dollars. I wish it were spent right here in the United States on schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart!”

Still dismissible (perhaps), but not always worth tuning out.

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Dodger-Watch: The Dodgers, we know, must soon embark on some catch-up, hot stove deal-making. Many observers expect team Prez Andrew Friedman to offer some prime trade chips to his former team, Tampa Bay. The Rays’ middle-of-rotation pitcher Jake Odorizzi (9-9, 3.77) .is reportedly Friedman’s prime target. The guess here, however, is that Friedman has bigger game in mind – namely, TB’s allegedly untouchable ace, Chris Archer.

The Rookie: Yesterday was the anniversary of Ty Cobb’s birth (1886). Here is part of a tribute posted by The Writer’s Almanac:   Cobb was furious at the hazing he received from his teammates; he said, ‘I was just a mild-mannered Sunday-school boy, but those old-timers turned me into a snarling wild-cat.’ Cobb became one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Nothing stood in his way — legend has it that he would sit in the dugout where the other team could see him and sharpen the spikes on his shoes, then slide feet-first into each base. He was so mad when he thought the spring training field wasn’t in top condition that he beat up the groundskeeper, then choked the groundskeeper’s wife when she intervened. He attacked a heckler in the stands and almost killed him, and was finally hauled off the man by an umpire and a police officer. The Detroit Free Press described Cobb as ‘daring to the point of dementia.’ He still has the highest lifetime batting average of all time.” (.366 over 24 seasons)


(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 Games of ‘Going Far Afield’

We caught two celebrity introductions on TV late last week – one in Phoenix, canada pilule AZ, remedy the other in San Francisco. The Diamondbacks proudly presented their $206 million (for six years) addition Zack Greinke to fans. That came a short while before the Giants organized a similar greeting for newly signed $90 million pitcher (five years), Jeff Samardzjia. Neither free agent talked about the money that lured them to their new teams. For Greinke, it was the D’backs’ potent offense and highly regarded fielders: “I looked at that lineup and thought there’s none better.” For Samardzjia, the key was simply that he interested in the Giants: “I couldn’t believe that they wanted me.”

Our first thoughts: the NL West could now emulate the 2015 Central’s achievement of having three – D’backs (who’ve also added Shelby Miller), Dodgers and Giants – of its five teams in the 2016 post-season. But, the reinforced Cubs make it likely that at least two, if not three, NL Central teams will qualify for the playoffs. Where does that leave the NL East? Right, for the moment, like a one-playoff-team division again.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves, of course (and will do so later, re the AL), but not as far afield as the 186 nations who, on Saturday night, approved a landmark deal to lower global warming. Scientists who monitored the climate talks said that without unanimous international follow-through, the deal would be nowhere near sufficient to save the planet. And, as the NY Times noted: “Th(e) system depends heavily on the views of the future world leaders who will carry out the policies. In the U.S., every Republican presidential candidate has (either) questioned or denied the science of climate change…(Thus) the great ice sheets remain imperiled, the oceans are still rising…people are dying by the tens of thousands in heat waves and floods.”

It was William Sloane Coffin who said “Despair is not an option.” Perhaps not; but the global climate outlook seems close to being one.

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The final AL 2016 standings are harder than the NL’s to guesstimate with even faint confidence. The Astros and Rangers look ready to duke it out for top dog in the West. Houston’s chances of winning the division got stronger last week when it obtained fireballing Phillies closer Ken Giles. The Central can complicate things with three prime playoff contenders: the defending champion Royals, of course, plus the Twins and Tigers. The AL East could further cloud the crystal by producing two post-season teams, the Blue Jays and Red Sox.

Not very instructive? Many years ago, legendary liberal-turned conservative Irving Kristol addressed the informational worth of stories at a televised round-table on the press. He said readers of foreign news have, by and large, to accept as accurate what is reported: “The reporter is there, the reader is not.” He said, similarly, a reader has little recourse to challenge commentaries by physicians, scientists, lawyers, etc. who write with expertise about their particular fields. When, however, it comes to sports reporting, the reporter is the one challenged: “the reader (that is, fan) knows as much as he does.”


(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 ‘A…’ Game, as Played in More Than One Pastime

A New Yorker article this week, generic referring to Michael Jordan, find reminded us of the basketball star’s brief, barely memorable baseball career. In 1994, when he was 31, Jordan decided to see if his hoop skills were transferable to the national pastime. He signed with the White Sox, who sent him to the Birmingham Barons in the double-A Southern League. If he had his supreme self-confidence at the start of the season, it was gone by the end: In 127 games, he batted .202, with 51 RBIs and three HRs. Michael’s swagger returned as he resumed his brilliant NBA career with the Chicago Bulls.

“What made Jordan so great,” TNT analyst Reggie Miller (who was pretty great himself) is quoted as saying, “was that he could get the ball way up in the air, and finish it.” Comparing Jordan’s dunking heroics to current NBA long-shot star Stephan Curry, Miller said “You don’t have to be like Mike anymore.” Then, noting the trash-talk, so common among round-ball players, Miller added: “Mike was an asshole. I was an asshole, too.”

Baseball, a spaced-out, rather than a one-on-one game, offers less occasion for showing off by players. Fans would be hard-put if asked to identify present athletes who act out to excess. Two extroverted Latin Americans – Houston’s Carlos Gomez and the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig – might be named (without allowing for the spontaneity of their behavior). And, during the period of the PED scandals, we remember how the unrepentant off-field attitudes of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez exasperated the media and many fans.

If we scan the political field for assholes, one stands out: For pitching controversial views deemed outrageous by many (and welcomed by many others) Donald Trump clearly wins in that category. Our sense is that members of the Dem team shake their heads over Trump’s comments, thinking “He’s their problem.” They can’t imagine his winning Team GOP’s presidential nomination, nor, should the unimaginable happen, his defeating, say, Hillary Clinton for National Skipper. Now, however, as we stand in the on-deck circle of the election year, it may be time soberly to recognize Trump as, at least, a contender. After all, the Mets, a sub-.500 club in late July, went on to the World Series.

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A Losing Card Game: The Cubs have trumped their top division rival twice, with the signing yesterday of Cardinal free agent outfielder Jason Heyward a few days after landing the Cards’ near-ace John Lackey. The Heyward tab: $184 million for eight years. Could it be that Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon are setting up a Dodger-like empire at Wrigley Field?

The Long View: Asked which team he thought “won” the winter meetings – after colleagues chose the D-backs and the Cubs – NY Post-man Joel Sherman replied: “the (newly prospect-rich) Braves of 2019.”

The View from New York: “The Mets and Yankees each left the winter meetings with a few new players and the hope that their roster is a little bit better. To have felt more encouraged would have required greater risk. Neither team was really up to it.” – Tyler Kepner, NY Times

Silent Surprise: The supposedly coveted free agent whose name was virtually unmentioned at meetings: Johnny Cueto, who helped pitch KC to its world championship.

Comings and…While the Mets said goodbye to early-retiring Michael Cuddyer, the Giants introduced pitcher Jeff Samardzija, whom they hope will help neutralize the impact of new D-back Zack Greinke (simultaneously introduced to fans in Arizona).


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


On Diamondbacks’ and ‘Overcome ISIS’ Dreaming

After a scouting trip to football-focused Arizona, buy troche we can report that the Diamondbacks’ landing of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller this week have left most D-back fans only mildly enthused. They’re happy about the likelihood of, hospital at least, a third-place finish in the NL West; at the same time, they are bracing for further moves by the already formidable Dodgers and Giants.

Meanwhile, many Americans – in Arizona, and elsewhere – attentive to our military adventures are similarly restrained in their response to Skipper Obama’s expressed determination to “overcome” ISIS. Watching his TV appearance from a desert resort outside Tucson, we met his rallying cry with an unpersuaded shrug. What caught our attention was something other than the Skipper’s predictable tough talk. Instead, we noted the absence of any mention of Syrian President Assad, the designated “must-go” villain as seen by the U.S.-led side the anti-ISIS team, the deserving-of-support leader to the Russian/Iranian side. If the bench-jockeying over Assad’s future can be removed from the war-making field, we can be grateful that making sense of what’s happening on that field will be a little easier.

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With the addition of John Lackey, Adam Warren and, especially, Ben Zobrist, the Cubs seem to be “winners” of the MLB’s GM meetings period. Pending moves by the Cardinals, the Theo Epstein-Joe Maddon operation has staked a persuasive claim to the former Redbirds role of NL Central “team to beat.” The D-backs, with Greinke and Miller, are runners-up in the early hot stove going…for the moment. The Yankees are on the board with their deal for the Cubs’ Starlin Castro. The Mets are being themselves, penny-pinching and cautious.


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

Greinke, Assad and the Thrill of Armageddon

Kershaw and Greinke, usa diagnosis or Bumgarner and Greinke: Which top of a West Coast rotation will it be? Fans in California believe there are no other options. They see the Giants determined to stretch their alternate-year string of world championships to four, and to offer Greinke a longer term deal than the Dodgers are willing to do. LA can outspend the Giants, if Dodger Prez Andrew Friedman wants to lock up a 32-year-old ace for, say, six years. How the face-off plays out will be an eagerly watched hot stove drama. Both teams have 2015 seasons to forget: the Giants saddled with an injury-prone roster, the Dodgers allowing the overmatched Mets to beat them out of the NL pennant.

Thus the media view: a rivalry, whose intensity has grown through whole or part of three different centuries, now a classic in competitive resentment. That the teams truly don’t like each other is most tangible at times like this. The press says it’s so…but, maybe not.

The media – and inevitably the public – also thrill to the threat that Team Obama’s mano-a-mano with Team Putin could lead to Armageddon. A dissenting view from an unlikely source – that of sometime hawk Zbigniew Brezezinski (former adviser to Jimmy Carter) – may help rally a return to reality. His pitch was published last week in Politico:

“On Syria, there is no great national benefit for Russia in (President Bashar al-) Assad remaining indefinitely in office, and there is no great national benefit for the U.S. in forcing him to quit instantly, and there is also a shared interest in avoiding a major U.S.-Russia collision…I think this is one of those situations in which the stakes are not that dramatic…Russia and the West share an interest in stability. As far as Assad’s ‘transition’ is concerned…I don’t think that either party thinks its vital interests are dependent on him …I think (Putin) very quickly realized there would be no payoff to him for escalating unless he is very eager for a war. But in that case, with whom and with what consequences for him?” – (interviewed by Michael Hirsh)

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On Jordan Zimmermann’s 5-Year, $22,000-per Deal with Tigers: “The real question Zimmermann will have to answer in Detroit: What did the Tigers get? Did they get the guy who, from 2012-14, was twice an all-star, posted a 2.96 ERA and a 1.109 WHIP, and proved himself in the playoffs? Or did they get the guy who, in 2015, was just a tick off? His ERA (3.66) and WHIP (1.205) were the highest of any of his five full seasons, and he allowed a career-high 24 homers. One-year blip or downward trend?”- Barry Svrfuga, Washington Post


Young’s Lives: When, in mid-summer a year-and-a-half ago, the Mets released Chris Young and his disappointing .205 BA, we thought it would be the last of him in the majors. But, after a short stint in Triple-A, Young came back to bat .282 in 22 games with the Yankees. His ability to hit lefthanders earned him a 2015 contract with the Yanks, a season in which he played in 140 games and batted .252 with 14 HRs. A non-tender for 2016 from the Yankees seemed to put his MLB future in jeopardy again. Wrong again: the Red Sox are signing him, reportedly, for more than just one season. The deal could help the Sox clear an outfield logjam, using one of their attractive extras –Jackie Bradley, Jr., perhaps, in a trade for a top-of-rotation pitcher.


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