Friday, August 06, 2004
I Got Nothin'I know a lot of you hate it when I publish something over at The Hardball Times instead of putting it here (a feeling I will never understand, by the way), but in today's case, hopefully you will cut me some slack.
I wrote up my "Minnesota Twins, by Month" article as I have done each month this year, but I realized that the lists and tables I used have literally gotten too wide (now that they have four months to show) for this blog. So, rather than post it here and make some weird edits to make it readable, I'm just going to give you the link to the article over at The Hardball Times, where you can it in its full, wide-tabled beauty.
The Hardball Times: The Minnesota Twins, by Month (Through July)
Two quick notes ...
- For some unknown reason, I found myself watching Baseball Tonight on ESPN last night, featuring Karl Ravech, Harold Reynolds and Jeff Brantley. As I've said before, I've become so frustrated with Baseball Tonight that I rarely watch the show that was once a nightly ritual for me.
Anyway, in the 15 minutes I was able to stay with the show last night, I heard a particularly amusing and frustrating exchange between Ravech and Reynolds that took place during the Los Angeles/Pittsburgh highlights. After showing the Dodgers' three first inning home runs on the way to an 8-3 victory, this took place ...
RAVECH: So much for all that talk about the Dodgers losing their chemistry, huh?
REYNOLDS: Well, winning does a lot to create chemistry.
I nearly bashed my head into the wall. After the Dodgers made the big trade with the Marlins, Harold Reynolds was on every ESPN show you can think of, every day, talking about what a horrible deal it was for the Dodgers, how they just handed the Marlins the pennant, and how trading away Paul Lo Duca, the "heart and soul of the team," was going to make their "team chemistry" disappear and lead to them playing poorly down the stretch.
In response to that, and similar thoughts expressed by other members of the mainstream media, I wrote:
Chemistry, along with winning, is always a "chicken or egg" issue, as in which came first, the winning or the chemistry? This trade makes the Dodgers a better team and whether you want to call that the chicken or the egg, the chemistry will follow. You see, it has to, because as most mainstream baseball writers and TV personalities will tell you, time after time after time, all good teams have good chemistry. And the Dodgers are a good team.And now, less than a week later, Reynolds has completely changed his tune. Last week they were doomed because they lost all their chemistry, and now this week they are just fine because, wouldn't you know it, they can just regain it all by winning a few games in a row. Funny how that works.
- To those of you who have sent me e-mails over the past week or so and haven't heard back from me, I'm sorry. I've been trying to be better about responding to e-mails, and I think I was starting to make some progress, but my mailbox is extremely backed up this week, for whatever reason. My plan is to get to them all over the weekend, so please be patient.
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Thursday, August 05, 2004
Closing TimeThe Minnesota Twins, thanks to a 14-5 record since the All-Star break and Chicago's 8-12 record during the same span, are getting very close to running away and hiding from the rest of the American League Central. Now, those of you who have experienced my incredible pessimism in regard to the Twins over the last two years know that I'm the last person in the world to say something like that, but I think it's true.
The Twins are now six games ahead of the Chicago White Sox with 56 games left to play. They do play the White Sox six more times, which means anything can still happen, but Chicago has been decimated by injuries and are fading fast, while the Twins have won six straight series, including three in a row against above-.500 teams.
If the Twins play .500 baseball from here on out (they've won 57.5% of their games thus far), they would finish at 89-73. For the White Sox to catch them, Chicago would have to go 35-23 to from here on out. Anyone think that's happening with Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas out of action for at least half those games?
I know this is going to anger a lot of White Sox fans and even some Twins fans who believe in idiocy like me being able to jinx baseball teams, but I'm starting to get more worried about Cleveland than I am about Chicago. The Indians are eight games behind the Twins, so they have an even tougher task ahead of them, but they play the Twins an incredible 13 times in their remaining 54 games. Of course, when you're more worried about a team eight games back than you are about a team six games back, you know your team is in pretty good shape. Which is my entire point, I guess.
As for last night's game, it was a pretty good one. Aside from nearly imploding in the fourth inning, Kyle Lohse actually pitched well, going seven innings while allowing three runs. Lohse did allow nine hits, but at least he actually got some strikeouts (four), didn't walk everyone in the building (one) and threw plenty of strikes (68.3%).
He's still not anywhere close to the pitcher he was last year, but last night's performance was at least a step towards being a pitcher you can actually put on the mound every fifth game. After Lohse finished up his seven innings, he handed the ball off to the Twins' 1-2 combo of Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan, who slammed the door on the 6-3 win.
Nathan now has 31 saves with a 0.91 ERA. The saves are the sixth-most in baseball and the ERA is the best for any major league pitcher with at least 25 innings pitched this year. I still expect Nathan to, at some point, have a rough patch, but if he can avoid that he has a chance to finish with one of the all-time great seasons by a relief pitcher.
Nathan is on pace for 75-80 innings pitched on the year. Here's a list of all the pitchers who have had an ERA better than 0.91 in at least 70 innings pitched since 1900 ...
PITCHER YEAR IP ERAThat's it, that's the whole list.
Now, I wouldn't bet on Nathan finishing the year with a 0.91 ERA, just because pitching another 20-25 innings with an ERA under 1.00 is really hard to do, but it's something to keep track of over the next two months. If he pitches a scoreless inning in his next appearance, Nathan would move ahead of Ferdie Schupp with a 0.89 ERA on the year.
Basically, Nathan can afford to give up three more runs this year and still stay on track to rank third all-time if he is going to pitch 75+ innings. To rank ahead of Dennis Eckersley's 1990 season, Nathan would have to finish the year with 25.1 scoreless innings. That might seem outlandish, but Nathan is currently working on a 24-inning scoreless streak.
New article at The Hardball Times: The Magic Twenty (Third Base)
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Wednesday, August 04, 2004
10-Run RuleIn honor of Aaron's Baseball Blog's second anniversary, the Twins beat up on the Anaheim Angels by a score of 10-0 last night.
It was a great game all around, one of those wins that raises the level of optimism and confidence a few notches. Carlos Silva pitched well, giving up zero extra-base hits in his first career complete game shutout, and the defense was outstanding behind him, getting an amazing six double plays (thanks in part to the fact that Silva gave up 11 singles).
And, of course, the offense exploded for 10 runs. Everyone in the starting lineup except Cristian Guzman got a hit, Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Henry Blanco and Justin Morneau all went deep, and Luis Rivas and Jacque Jones even drew walks.
A few thoughts on the game, which put the Twins at 60-45 and kept them five games ahead of the White Sox in the AL Central ...
- The hype surrounding Silva was completely out of control after he started the season 5-0, and then everyone jumped off the bandwagon and actually turned against him when he went 4-7 over his next 15 starts. Add it all up though, with the ups and downs, and Silva is now 10-7 with a 4.23 ERA on the year.
Silva has made 22 starts, after starting just one major-league game before this season, and he's averaged 6.4 innings per start. He hasn't been quite the ground ball machine I thought he would be, giving up 18 homers and allowing quite a few more fly balls than he had with the Phillies, but he's still keeping the ball on the ground and, most importantly for a guy who isn't overpowering, throwing strikes.
Silva is never going to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, mostly because he doesn't strike anyone out, but he's strong and durable, he throws strikes, and he should be a very nice back-of-the-rotation guy for the Twins for quite a while.
Oh, and remember all the people complaining that the Twins traded away Eric Milton for Silva this offseason? Well, Milton has a nice record because of extremely good run support in Philadelphia, but his ERA is 4.64 in 130 innings, while Silva's is 4.23 in 140.1 innings. Milton makes $9 million, Silva makes $340,000. Milton is a free agent after the season, Silva is under the Twins' control for several more years. Great trade.
- Morneau has really been struggling since all the Doug Mientkiewicz trade rumors started swirling around, so it was great to see him deposit a pitch over the fence in straightaway center field last night. He now has 10 career home runs and 34 career RBIs in 201 at-bats, which works out to about 30-35 homers and 95-100 RBIs over the course of a full season. Over the last 10 years (1994-2003), no Minnesota hitter has had as many as 30 homers in a season and only five have driven in at least 100 runs.
The more and more I watch Morneau, the more and more I see Jim Thome. Now, obviously he's nowhere near as patient as Thome, but there are still similarities. For one thing, Morneau takes that same, all-or-nothing, come-out-of-his-shoes, turn-into-a-human-corkscrew cut on any pitch he thinks he can drive. He's shown more of an ability to take the ball to the opposite field than I expected, but he still completely uncoils when he makes his mind up about pulling a pitch.
Beyond that, Morneau seems to have a lot of patience on pitches thrown away, but struggles quite a bit laying off anything up and inside. That is exactly the situation with Thome; throw him something off the plate and he'll spit at it, but throw him something up and in and he'll try to hit the ball 500 and, most of the time, he'll miss. Morneau has looked silly on quite a few balls up and in that are way out of the strike zone, but, like Thome, he has shown what he can do when a pitcher tries to come up and in and misses.
Basically, if you try to come "up and in" and you end up only coming "in," Morneau will make you pay. You might call that a mistake hitter and you might say that's an exploitable weakness, but Thome has hit 412 mistakes in his career and hasn't been exploited very often. If Morneau can ever learn to simply lay off half of the pitches that come up, in and out of the strike zone, he's going to be one hell of a hitter.
- After going 1-for-3 with a walk last night, Rivas is hitting .255/.283/.399 on the year. During the two years of this blog's existence, I've spent countless words on bashing Rivas, but because I haven't done a lot of that lately, I get quite a few e-mails wondering why.
Here's why ... If I haven't convinced someone that Rivas stinks yet, it's a lost cause. He stunk in the minors, he stunk in 2001, he stunk in 2002, he stunk in 2003 and he's stinking in 2004. Sure, he's young, but he's made absolutely zero improvements in his game in five years, and you could make the case that he's actually regressing as a player.
If you want to read some anti-Rivas stuff, you have two choices; you can either look at his statistics, which do a marvelous job bashing him all on their own, or you can do a search for "Luis Rivas" in the archives of this blog or The Hardball Times. Have fun.
- Henry Blanco has to be one of the streakiest awful hitters in baseball history. He started the year by hitting .313/.411/.604 in his first 15 games, before hitting a ridiculously awful .145/.185/.242 in May and an equally ridiculous and equally awful .154/.214/.192 in June. And now, since the start of July, he has hit .298/.312/.511.
The end result is still a horrible offensive season -- he's hitting .219/.274/.378, which makes him one of the worst hitters in baseball -- but it sure is amazing when he gets on one of his hot streaks and does an impression of an actual hitter. Blanco has also thrown out 53.3% of attempted steals, while Matthew LeCroy is 1-for-15 throwing runners out, which is why, if Joe Mauer isn't back for the playoffs, you'll see Blanco behind the plate an awful lot.
- This thing about starting Shannon Stewart in left field while Lew Ford is the designated hitter is really beginning to bug me. Ford is a better leftfielder than Stewart, plain and simple, and Stewart just came back from missing several months with a foot injury.
Ron Gardenhire has said that Stewart is in charge of saying when he wants to play in the field, but that appears to me like an example of the inmates running the asylum. If you have one guy who has a foot injury and is a mediocre (at best) defensive leftfielder and you have another guy who is injury free and an above-average defensive leftfielder, who really cares who wants to play where? If I see one more bloop single fall in front of Stewart or one more double shoot by him on its way to the gap, I think I might punch my TV, and that's not good for anyone.
- I have very high hopes for Jason Bartlett, in part because he represents an opportunity for me to no longer have to watch Guzman or Rivas, but he looked really bad last night. Of course, he deserves to be given some slack considering he hadn't played a single inning since being called up on June 28, which means last night was his major-league debut.
My hope is that, during this offseason, Terry Ryan comes to Ron Gardenhire with a hat and three pieces of paper with the names "Punto," "Cuddyer" and "Bartlett" printed on them, and says, "Ron, just pick two of these three and they'll be your starting middle infield next year."
- Is Anaheim's infield of Darin Erstad, Adam Kennedy, David Eckstein and Chone Figgins one of the most powerless ever for a legitimate, contending team in this era? Those four have combined to hit 13 home runs in 1,348 at-bats this year.
Even with Erstad missing time with injuries, the Angels have gotten a grand total of four home runs in 419 at-bats from their first basemen this year, which is by far the worst total in the American League. Every other team -- including the Twins and, up until recently, Mientkiewicz -- have at least twice that many, and the White Sox lead the league with 30 long balls from first base.
The Angels rank ninth in the AL with nine homers in 371 at-bats from their second basemen (the Twins have 10) and are the only team in baseball without a homer from their shortstops (the Twins have seven). They rank a respectable ninth in the AL with 15 homers from third basemen, thanks mostly to the damage Troy Glaus was able to do before going down with an injury.
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Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Two Years and Still BloggingBelieve it or not, two years have passed since I first started this blog. Actually, two years and two days have passed -- the Mientkiewicz deal sort of stole my thunder.
On August 1, 2002, after reading an entry by David Pinto over at Baseball Musings that suggested his readers start up blogs of their own, I decided to give it a try. My first entry was entitled "A.J. Burnett and Jeff Torborg" and featured my first of what would be many rants about A.J. Burnett's abused right arm.
I concluded the entry by saying:
Burnett has been great this year and he looks like he will be a stud for years to come. But the way he is being treated makes me think he is in line for some arm troubles.After a couple stints on the disabled list, Burnett had Tommy John surgery in 2003.
Later that same day, I wrote an entry entitled "Player of the Month!," in which I talked about the incredible July that David Ortiz, then on the Minnesota Twins, had.
In perhaps the biggest understatement in the history of this blog, I wrote:
You'll soon find out, if you visit this blog more than a few times, that I am a huge Minnesota Twins fan.Ortiz, of course, left the Twins after that 2002 season, hit .288/.369/.592 with the Red Sox in 2003 and is hitting .310/.377/.617 with the Red Sox so far this year. But I try not to bring that subject up, because it makes me sad.
After writing those first two entries, I remember wondering if anyone would ever actually read them. I used to constantly check the "site meter" on the blog, which was supposed to tell me every time a new visitor came by to check it out. I say it was supposed to tell me, because for it to work there apparently had to actually be new visitors. Or visitors, period.
For some reason I decided to keep writing for a while, even without an audience of any kind. So on August 2, I wrote about Jose Offerman's release from the Red Sox ("You're full of (expletive)") and commented on how awful Kansas City's lineup was for a game against the Twins ("Yuck!"). Then on August 3, which was a Saturday, I wrote about Darin Erstad's new contract ("Erstad's new deal") and also looked at what everyone was on pace for with about two months left in the season ("On pace").
I was writing 2-3 entries per day, I was posting on weekends, I had absolutely zero audience whatsoever ... I'm not even sure what I was thinking.
On Sunday, August 4, I wrote my first anti-Bud Selig entry, entitled "The Devil." On Monday I came back with an ode to Pedro Martinez ("Pedro"), and on Tuesday I made my picks for MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year ("Drumroll please ...").
It was somewhere around this time that actual people who were not in my family began reading my blog. I don't remember where the very first link from another site came from, but I suspect it was from David Pinto, who I remember e-mailing to say, basically, "Remember how you said we should start blogs? Well, I did, but now no one is reading it!"
By the time I wrote about Mike Mussina's struggles on August 7 ("Moose") and Chris Woodward's offensive explosion on August 8 ("Woody"), there were literally a dozen or more people coming to the blog each day. A dozen! I was in heaven.
I ripped into Phil Rogers for the first time on Friday, August 9 ("Somewhere there is a village missing its idiot"), and also tried to tell the world what a horrible defensive shortstop Derek Jeter was for the very first time that same day ("Send those angry e-mails to ...").
Slowly but surely, the entries kept piling up, the words kept flowing, and the audience actually began to grow. And now it's two years and 869,039 words later and I'm still doing this blogging thing.
It amazes me sometimes that I've stuck with it for this long, mostly because I've rarely stuck with anything in my life for anywhere close to two years. There's no real reason to do it every day (no one is forcing me, no one is paying me), but there's something about it that remains fun and interesting, like a mix between entertaining an audience and going to a psychiatrist.
Of course, some things have changed since those first couple weeks. For one thing, there are actual people coming here each day. Lots of them; I've even met some of them! For another thing, somewhere along the line I decided the multiple-entries-per-day thing just wasn't for me, and I also decided that I'd better take the weekends off if I wanted to retain some semblance of sanity. The blog has also moved from its original blogspot address to its current home here at AaronGleeman.com.
But other than that, it's the same as it was two years ago. If I see something interesting in the news, I comment on it. If I'm watching a game and something strikes me as noteworthy, I comment on it. If I think of a joke or a story that might make some people laugh, I tell it. And, of course, if something bugs the hell out of me, I rant about it.
From A.J. Burnett, Joe Morgan and Johan Santana to Luis Rivas, Joe Mauer and Barry Bonds, it's been fun. This blog, from the people I've met to the experiences it has led to, has honestly been one of the most enjoyable things in my life.
To interact with baseball fans on a personal level each day -- nothing can beat it. I've had a chance to talk to and even meet some of the guys I "grew up" reading and watching, I've had my name mentioned in all sorts of cool places, and I've had a chance to make some great friends (and even a few good enemies).
In March, I launched The Hardball Times with a bunch of great guys and that has become the place for much of my writing that used to be found here. Since then, this blog has sort of become my place for Twins talk, and rants about stuff that, for better or worse, just didn't seem right to publish anywhere else.
Through it all, you guys keep coming here to read what I have to say each day, and that makes me extremely happy. Going from watching the site meter all day while three people showed up to surpassing 650,000 total visitors sometime next week is almost unbelievable to me.
It's been a great two years and I just hope you will all keep coming back for as long as I keep blogging.
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Monday, August 02, 2004
Dealing MientkiewiczThe Twins took two out of three from the Boston Red Sox over the weekend and Johan Santana out-dueled Pedro Martinez in the third game, but that wasn't the big story. The biggest news of the weekend was that Doug Mientkiewicz, after 643 games with the Minnesota Twins, actually played against the Twins Saturday night, after he was traded to Boston Saturday afternoon.
Mientkiewicz's departure was far from a surprise. The rumors of a trade have been swirling around Minnesota for a couple weeks now. Still, I think a lot of Twins fans were legitimately shocked when it became a reality.
I was at a St. Paul Saints game on Saturday night, watching a little outdoor baseball, when someone behind me asked out loud if Mientkiewicz had been traded. I turned around and told him that he was sent to Boston just a couple hours earlier. "Wow," the guy replied. "They really traded him?" He then turned to his wife and said, "Grandpa isn't going to be very happy."
You see, Doug Mientkiewicz was never a great player, but he, along with Torii Hunter and Brad Radke, was the face of the Twins as they went from consistent cellar-dwellers to contenders, seemingly overnight. He was part of a wave of young players who, unlike waves of young players the Twins had before them, actually developed into solid major leaguers.
They led the division for most of the year before collapsing down the stretch in 2001, and then bounced back to win the division in 2002 and 2003. Mientkiewicz hit .290/.382/.437 in those three years, playing great defense at first base every day. He had some great stretches, like when he hit .380 in April and .370 in July of 2001, but also had some terrible cold streaks, like when he hit .177 in September that same year.
He had good seasons (.306/.387/.464 in 2001, .300/.393/.450 in 2003) and bad seasons (.261/.365/.392 in 2002, .246/.340/.363 before the trade this year), and he was absolutely one of the Twins' most valuable players during that time.
Perhaps the ironic thing about Mientkiewicz being traded now, as the team goes for a third straight division title, is that he was once the young, inexperienced player trying to put the team on the map and now he has been pushed aside by Justin Morneau, a 23-year-old prospect with huge potential.
That's the cycle of baseball and that's definitely the cycle of the Minnesota Twins. Young becomes old and old becomes expensive, and then old gives way to young again. A.J. Pierzynski came up through the Twins' system just like Mientkiewicz, helped the Twins become respectable again just like Mientkiewicz, and was traded away to clear room for someone younger and cheaper just like Mientkiewicz.
Latroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado tell a similar story and the same thing will probably happen to Corey Koskie and Jacque Jones soon. And, if my prayers are answered, with Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas too.
The problem with Mientkiewicz was two-fold. The biggest issue is that, while he has been a good player, he is a flawed player who plays an offensive position. At his best, he does things -- hit for average, draw walks, play defense -- that can make up his his lack of power, but when he's not playing at his peak level he's a sub par player.
Having a first baseman who plays good defense and hits .300/.380/.450 is just fine, but having a first baseman who plays good defense and hits .250/.350/.350 is unacceptable, particularly when he makes $3 million a year on a team where that accounts for 5% of the total payroll.
All of which brings us to the second problem with Mientkiewicz: Justin Morneau. Morneau is everything that Mientkiewicz is not. He is young, he is cheap, he is a highly thought of prospect, he has incredible potential, and he has big-time power and a lack of defensive skills.
When Mientkiewicz is hitting .300, smacking doubles and getting on base, you can make the case that he shouldn't have been pushed aside for Morneau. But as his average dipped and his lack of power production was magnified, the Twins had little choice but to move on.
Aside from those who are simply upset that Mientkiewicz is gone, many Twins fans seem dismayed that the team did not get a major-league pitcher in return for him. Instead, they got a 19-year-old pitching prospect.
While I am generally not one to take anything local columnist Sid Hartman says seriously, I think something he wrote yesterday perfect summarizes the thoughts of many fans who I have spoken to about the deal. Hartman wrote:
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan didn't want to trade Mientkiewicz. But he felt that the relationship between the first baseman and manager Ron Gardenhire was so bad that he didn't have any choice, even though he received little in value. The Twins got Class AA pitcher Justin Jones from the Cubs in the trade.Setting aside the fact that Jones is at Single-A, not Double-A like Hartman wrote, the idea that they received "little in value" in the trade is simply wrong.
Justin Jones is young, he is inexperienced, he is at Single-A, he is not major-league ready, and he is not someone who is going to help the team this year. But he is or is not all of those things because he is a prospect, not because he doesn't have value.
While I understand the skepticism most casual fans have in regard to prospects, the fact is that every major-league player, Doug Mientkiewicz included, was once a prospect. If the Twins had traded away Doug Mientkiewicz back when he was hitting .291 at Single-A Fort Myers in 1996, would Mientkiewicz have been someone of "little value"?
Perhaps, but Justin Jones is a far better prospect than Mientkiewicz ever was. Jones is a 19-year-old lefty with good stuff and good numbers, and he was ranked as Chicago's #2 prospect by Baseball America before this season.
If all goes well, he'll start the season at Double-A next year, advance to Triple-A in the second-half, and perhaps make his major-league debut in September. Then, in 2006, when Morneau has been established as the Twins' cleanup hitter and the sadness of trading Mientkiewicz has long been forgotten, Jones will compete for a spot in the Twins' rotation.
And that never-ending cycle will just keep going. Maybe Jones will be a bust. Maybe he'll get injured or flame out and never pitch an inning for the Twins. But maybe he'll fulfill his potential and become one of their best starting pitchers and maybe, someday, they'll trade him for a prospect when he gets too expensive and everyone can wonder how in the world the team could do something like that after all the good years Jones has given them.
Doug Mientkiewicz was a very nice player for the Twins and I think there's a good chance he'll turn things around with the Red Sox and play more like he did in 2001 and 2003. But he's going to make $3.75 million in 2005 and another $3.75 million in 2006, and he turned 30 years old this past June.
Some teams, like the Boston Red Sox, can afford to pay him for his defense and on-base skills and hope he can improve his offense a bit, but the Twins, with a low payroll and a steady supply of quality hitters coming from the minors, are not one of those teams.
I'll miss Doug Mientkiewicz, but if Twins fans let him, Justin Morneau will make them forget all about Mientkiewicz.
If Terry Ryan had unloaded Mientkiewicz for a bag of baseballs, it would not have been a poor trade. He's provided value to the team, he's helped them become contenders again, and he's gotten too expensive to keep at a position where they have other, better options. The fact that Ryan was able to cash him in now, in the middle of a poor, injury-plagued season, and get a prospect as good as Justin Jones is a huge credit to his ability as the team's GM.
Ryan has flaws as a decision-maker, just as anyone in his position would have, but the one thing he has consistently been able to do is find quality minor leaguers through trades with other teams. Right now Justin Jones is just some 19-year-old kid no one has ever heard of, but if you wait a few years he might be David Ortiz or Joe Mays or Lew Ford or Cristian Guzman or Eric Milton or Kyle Lohse or Johan Santana -- all players Ryan plucked from the minor-league systems of teams in trades.
Good luck in Boston Doug, and thanks for the memories. Now, let's start the Justin Morneau era.
New article at The Hardball Times: Analyzing the Deadline Deals
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