What a fun and wild Winter Meetings week this was, with trades and signings, all of which are of interest to us all. The proverbial dessert of the meetings is the Rule 5 draft, which took place Thursday.
The Rule 5 draft involves signed players who have been property of a team for five years who have never been to the Majors and who are not protected on the 40-man roster. Such players can be drafted by another team (draft order is worst record to best for teams participating). The selecting team pays the player's original team $50,000. The caveat is said player must remain on the active Major League roster for the entire season or be offered back for $25,000.
Still, drafted players can make at worst a cheap place holder in deeper fantasy leagues (they usually fetch no more than a dollar) and sometimes surprise, a la Geronimo Berroa. However, the notion that the player must stick with the roster all season makes for a gamble that promises the allure of a full season in the Majors (note, though, that doesn't always happen thanks to the DL and other tricks).
Anyway, let's take a look at this year's Rule 5 spoils (unless otherwise noted, picks are out of high school).
Tyler Goeddel (3B/OF, from Rays to Phillies): First round pick in 2011, Goeddel has a .262-31-244 line over four years with 108 swipes and a .337 OBP (172 walks to 388 strikeouts) and goes into next year as a 23-year-old with a pretty good mark at Double-A last year of .272-12-72 with 28 steals. Goeddel is big (6'4", 186 lbs.) and played a lot of outfield last year, and a lot of third the year before because the outfield would likely be his home. He has some interesting skills, but nothing earth shattering. Fifth outfielder at best for 2016.
Jake Cave (OF, from Yankees to Reds): The Yanks sixth rounder in 2011, like Goeddel, Cave had a nice enough season at Double-A Trenton last year (.269-2-37 with 17 steals) but like Goeddel, doesn't have much to offer but a cluster of pretty good lesser skills, suggesting a bench role at best. Whether you like Jay Bruce or not, Cave is not a replacement.
Evan Rutckyj (P, from Yankees to Braves): A 16th round pick in 2010, Rutckyj, (would he challenge for the "eyechart" nickname?), became a reliever in 2013 and has 365 punch-outs over 377 innings. The problem is the 373 hits and 191 walks (1.496 WHIP), although those numbers got better once the 6'5" lefty moved to the pen. Over 111.3 relief innings, he earned 140 strikeouts to 58 walks with 101 hits (1.426 WHIP) with a couple of saves. Set up and situational are the words that come to mind, but you never know. Not worth a roster spot.
Luis Perdomo (P, from Cardinals to Rockies, then to Padres): The Dominican import has questionable 16-31, 4.16 totals over 316 minor league frames. The righty has whiffed 270 over that span, but allowed 351 hits and 94 walks (1.408 WHIP), so it was hard to see how that could work at Coors. However, the Rocks moved Perdomo to San Diego right away for the ubiquitous "future considerations,' although I am not sure Petco helps much either. Per Brian Walton, the expectation is Perdomo winds up back with St. Louis.
Colin Walsh (2B, from Athletics to Brewers): Mostly a second baseman, though he played a chunk of third and left over his career, Walsh was originally drafted by the Cardinals (13th round) in 2010, out of Stanford, meaning at 26 he is much longer in the tooth. The Cards flat out released Walsh in 2013, and the Athletics picked him up, only to lose the prototype Oaklander to the Brewers. The middle infielder has a modest .278-16-377 line over 564 games, with a solid .395 OBP (377 walks to 439 strikeouts), 51 swipes, and 351 runs. Over 191 Triple-A games, Walsh held his own over 47 games in the PCL, hitting .272-2-18 at Sacramento last year, and he could be just fine as a cheap middle infield crapshoot in an NL-only format.
Jabari Blash (OF, from Mariners to Athletics): At 26, Blash is another older selection, one who was drafted by the White Sox (29th round) in 2007, the Rangers (9th round) in 2008, and finally the Mariners (8th round) in 2010 out of Miami-Dade. With a solid .870 OPS over 551 games, Blash's bottom line is .256-109-340, but the whiffs (303 walks to 614 strikeouts) are the issue. Not sure what the Athletics will do with him, but they did judge Mark Canha well enough last year, so who knows?
Josh Martin (P, from Indians to Padres): Matriculated at Samford University in Alabama, and selected first by the Pirates (25th round) in 2011, then for good in the tenth round a year later. He is big (6'5", 230 lbs.) and a potentially dominant reliever with 265 strikeouts over 258.3 innings, with nine saves and an excellent 1.008 WHIP (74 walks, 207 hits). Martin does give up the dingers (25) but he is certainly worth tracking, if not a stash in a deep format.
Joey Rickard (OF, from Rays to Orioles): Selected in the ninth round in 2012 out of the University of Arizona, Rickard is now 24 and had a very good line of .283-13-139 over 359 games, with 209 runs and 73 swipes. Rickard played 29 games at Durham last season and posted a solid .360 average and .390 OBP. He is another who could be a good stash.
Deolis Guerra (P, from Pirates to Angels): Maybe the most interesting pick, Guerra fared well on my Top 250 Prospect List following his 6-7, 2.20 record at Hagerstown in 2006 as a 17-year-old. But alas, very little came to fruition for Guerra, who was signed by the Twins in 2007, re-signed in 2013, and the Pirates inked the 6'5" right-hander in November, 2014, and now Guerra goes to the Angels. His career has shown flashes, but few, so as much as I would like Guerra to succeed, I doubt he will.
Joe Biagini (P, from Giants to Jays): San Francisco grabbed Biagini in the 26th round of the 2011 Rule 4, out of UC Davis (my partner Diane's alma mater), and he has posted the okay stats of 29-30, 4.06 with 365 whiffs over 448 frames. He did comport well at Richmond last year with a 10-7, 2.42 line, but as a 25-year- old at Double-A, that is to be expected.
Matthew Bowman (P, from Mets to Cardinals): The Metropolitans' 12th round pick out of Princeton in 2013, Bowman logged 176.3 innings at Triple-A the past two years with a 10-18, 5.10 line with 109 whiffs and a 1.599 WHIP. It is easy to see why the pitching rich Mets would not need to protect Bowman, but I am not sure what the Cardinals see in him.
Daniel Stumpf (P, from Royals to Phillies): A lefty, Stumpf was Kansas City's ninth round pick in 2012 out of San Jacinto College, and he functioned primarily as a reliever in the Royals system, posting ten saves under a 20-23 record with a 3.21 ERA. He struck out 308 over 311 innings, and notched an excellent 1.182 WHIP. He has only pitched as high as Double-A, and did okay there (5-4, 3.21, 76 whiffs over 71 frames), so I would be leery.
Chris O'Grady (P, from Angels to Reds): The Angels' tenth round pick in 2010 out of George Mason, O'Grady is another big guy (6'4", 220 lbs.) who is also a lefty. Another reliever, O'Grady bagged four saves at Arkansas over 49 innings before moving up to Salt Lake for 8.6 innings. He has pretty good control with 198 strikeouts over 210.3 innings with just 52 walks and 195 hits (1.174 WHIP) and, well, anything might go with the Reds and their pen this season.
Zach Jones (P, from Twins to Brewers): Kansas City drafted Jones in the 24th round in 2009, but Jones continued to San Jose State where the Twins nabbed him in the fourth round in 2012. Another reliever, the 25-year-old has the best resume of the Rule 5 picks with 33 saves and 186 whiffs over 130.3 innings to go with a 9-7 record and 2.83 ERA. Jones has not hurled past the Double-A level, but he does have pretty good credentials.
Blake Smith (OF/P, from White Sox to Padres): The Dodgers drafted Smith out of UC Berkeley in 2009, where he played in 515 games as an outfielder but really has worked as a reliever since 2013. During the 2015 season, L.A. traded Smith to the Pale Hose for Eric Surkamp. Blake makes the third Rule 5 who landed with San Diego, which should mean some interesting roster decisions, but as for Smith, the 28-year-old throws hard with 137 whiffs over 134 innings but has control issues with 75 walks over that span.
Ji-Man Choi (1B, from Orioles to Angels): Hit .302-35-211 over 335 minor league games, with a .280-8-52 line over 109 Double-A games. Choi has 180 walks to 222 strikeouts (.404 OBP) and an excellent .886 OPS in the Minors. With C.J. Cron and Albert Pujols in tow, it is hard to figure where Choi fits in (remember, the Angels picked up Guerra as well), but Choi is an interesting reserve stash in Ultra Leagues.
If you are a Packers fan, life did not get any better than the final play of Thursday Night's game.
If you are a Lions fan, well, it doesn't get any worse.
If you are a football fan, you have an opinion about the last sequence of plays--and maybe others--which have you upset with officiating and match-ups and so on. At least that is what I get from the chunk of tweets I saw after the "Rodgers-Squared Magic Catch."
As a Raiders fan, I have endured the Immaculate Reception. As a Dodgers fan when I was young, I endured the team's 1962 meltdown against the Giants, and later, as an Athletics fan, I endured Kirk Gibson's homer.
Sports are funny things. So are rules, and to complicate matters, referees are human and cameras don't lie. Well, cameras don't lie for the most part.
To me, though, the reality is that the Lions were not victimized, nor were the Packers being rewarded by the league or any such nonsense. I don't think the facemask was a bad call, though I do think Rodgers-squared, as fantastic as it was, was largely tinged with luck.
The thing is, the Lions had numerous opportunities to put the Packers away, and they couldn't do it. This is nothing new. Aaron Rodgers is good at late game winning drives.
That is right. There is no room in competitive sports for sentimentality. If you want to win, you must step on the throat of all challengers until you have no more. Because, if allowed an extra pitch, or play, or shot, irrespective of the contest, that really gives just more chance for things to go wrong.
It is well known--well, I hope it is--that I am not a fan of instant replay. And, it is not that I don't want the refs to get the calls right, but as often as not, it is hard to definitively read the disposition of a play with instant replay. (Although to be fair, the slo-mo replay clearly showed Taylor's hands giving a tug to Rodgers' helmet.)
But, after the penalty, Green Bay still had to complete a 70-yard Hail Mary when everyone on the planet knew that play was coming. Despite that, the Pack pulled it off.
So, the bottom line on Thursday was that Detroit was neither cheated, nor robbed. Per Wash, the Lions didn't "finish the fucking play."
Where do I start?
With the two most exciting sporting events I have witnessed live?
With the fact that in the early 90's I was a season ticket holder for the Golden State Warriors for three years. It just so happened that the Warriors had Billy Owens, Mitch Richmond, Chris Mullin and a chunk of great young stars that made it look like Golden State would be the team of the decade going forward?
With the fact that bad management and coaching destroyed that team for the next 20-plus years so that in frustration I gave up my tix and vowed never to watch or attend another game?
With Stephen Curry and his mates?
Ok, so I started, and indeed I have to admit baseball and football have always been my first loves, hoops being at best marginal. But in 1993, my friend Mark Berenberg (a serious hoops aficionado) talked me into a quarter share of Golden State tickets for the coming season.
It was great. I knew the Warriors were not that strong at the time, but I knew they had Run TMC (Tim Hardaway, Richmond and Mullin) and were a sellout every game. I also knew the team traded Richmond for top pick Billy Owens in 1991, breaking up the high-scoring troika, but adding a big power forward to the team would push the team towards a championship.
After adding Chris Webber, with Mark, and our friend Richard Kweller, we bought in, and 1993 seemed too promising to believe when the Warriors swapped Penny Hardaway and three future first rounders (sigh) for the rights to the big (6'10") Michigan sophomore who, when drafted, did not like playing center.
However, the Warriors beat the seemingly invincible Knicks, and later the Orlando Magic, who featured Shaquille O'Neal.
That game with Orlando was easily the most exciting and intense sporting event I have ever seen, and that includes a lot of baseball games, featuring a perfect game, a pair of All-Star games and a bunch of post-season affairs. I saw Willie McCovey's final hit, Rickey Henderson break the stolen base record and Dallas Braden's perfect game.
But, nothing matches the final ten minutes of that game. Actually, it was the final minute, which stretched into ten minutes, and saw the Warriors, down by five, return to win after Shaq fouled out and Latrell Sprewell blocked the final shot (that almost looked like goaltending).
The fans inside the Oakland Coliseum were on their feet the entire time, screaming and stomping such that it felt the mezzanine level of the Arena was moving with each bounce, shot, and pass.
However, after that the wheels fell off. P.J. Carlesimo was hired. Sprewell choked him. Owens never panned out. Mullin and Webber and Richmond were traded. And, it just seemed unconscionable to me to keep watching such awful mismanagement, so I swore off basketball in person and on TV. Period.
I stayed away, faithfully, at least till a guitar lesson in the middle of last year when Steve (that would be Steve Gibson, my teacher) told me I really had to check out Stephen Curry.
It was not until the final game against Cleveland was starting up last June, principle sort of went out the window, at least for a game. That is till the other night, for in the discipline of blocking basketball from my psyche, it has not occurred to me to look till it was noted the other day that Golden State was on the verge of going 16-0.
So I watched, kind of in amazement. Maybe this team is as good as the one I discarded could have been? Maybe better, but certainly Steve was right when he said Curry was good. So is the entire team.
I guess what I am saying is, when I said, "I would never watch you again, Golden State, I did not really mean never, and I am back, if you will have me?"
By the way, the second most exciting sporting event I ever attended was a high school championship basketball game that pretty much ended the same way as the Warriors and Magic.
As the winter meetings approach, the big league teams have already been busy trading parts and tinkering with rosters, so let's take this nice little pre-Thanksgiving lull to take a look at the Hot Stove (where maybe the stuffing is warming) and think about the impact.
Leonys Martin (to the Mariners from the Rangers): Seattle is trying to retrofit a bit to a younger lineup after going in that direction and then being waylaid in the wake of the Robinson Cano signing. Martin, who has pop and speed, and fell flat in Texas last year, should benefit from a new start, and the Northwest could be a nice place to start. Martin looked like an AL verson of Starling Marte until last year. A new scene might bring some of that back.
Aaron Hicks (to the Yankees from the Twins): Interesting acquisition for a team sitting on Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran, among others, ready to chase flies. I am guessing Hicks winds up getting the playing time while Gardner or Ellsbury is swapped, and Beltran plays 87 games.
Craig Kimbrel (to the Red Sox from the Padres): Arguably the best closer goes to the team seemingly most obsessed with finding a closer, Kimbrel should be a fine addition in Boston. However, the cost was two very fine prospects in outfielder Manuel Margot and shortstop Javier Guerra, both of whom should figure in the Friars 2016 mix. Kimbrel will be a top AL closer as well in a deal that does help both teams, it seems.
Francisco Rodriguez (to the Tigers from the Brewers): Detroit's search for a closer has been much more futile than that of the Red Sox. K-Rod turns 34 next year and has been pretty steady over the past 14 years, so this could steady the slot until someone home grown appears in the Motor City. Expect 30 saves and remember, he is easier to watch than Fernando Rodney.
Jose Pirela (to Padres from Yankees): For young (18) but untested Ronald Herrera, the Pads now have more infield possiblities than just about anyone, and some of those involved (Jedd Gyorko, Cory Spangenberg, among others) could evolve into a solid infield. The question for Pirela is where can he see daylight.
Jonathan Villar (from the Astros to the Brewers): Villar, with 42 big league swipes, is sort of the American League's Dee Gordon, with good numbers as a minor leaguer (.261 average, .337 OBP and 252 steals).
Erick Aybar/Andrelton Simmons (Angels to Braves and vice versa): Everyone knows how much I like Aybar, who is consistent (.276-6-55 with 19 steals over 162-game career mean) and, well, Simmons is a defensive whiz who has a little pop (17 homers in 2012) but not much else (.666 career OPS). The Angels are good at scoring runs, so the pressure should be off both guys to do their thing. I like this both ways.
Cameron Maybin (Braves to Tigers): Maybin is so tempting but still never puts it all together. But, he is now on a team with Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez, so much like Simmons, he will need to just settle in, play some defense and get on base, letting his mates drive him in. He is still just 28, so time to step into those peak years at the right place and time.
Jesse Chavez (A's to Blue Jays): Chavez did everything that was asked of him in Oakland, and filled the gaps, but whether anyone likes it or not, he is not a 200-inning starter. He is great as a spot starter, fill-in and long pitcher but gives the impression he is more than that. Liam Hendriks (whom Oakland got in exchange) has a lot more upside. Chavez will not remain in the Jays rotation, no matter how much we like him or want him to.
I always kind of crack up when my friends suggest that with the baseball season over, with the fall comes some down time. Surely, there is football to distract me from the respite suggested. But, those of us in the industry know that the span between now and the crazy culmination of travel and drafts that accompany spring training and the start of the season is not long.
Aside from writing profiles (if you ever want to prep for a draft or auction, try writing a few hundred!), this is the time of year that articles and projections and analysis and mock drafts with comments are all coordinated and sent off for publication. So far, I have participated in a couple.
Since we are essentially four months from the chaos of March, there have been surprises in the mocks I have witnessed. So, in order to whet your appetite a bit, as well as get your brain moving for the spring, here are indeed some of the surprises.
Carlos Correa (SS, Astros): Correa was a top five pick in both mocks, which makes him the hottest rookie I can remember. (Yes, Mike Trout did make a splash, jumping to being a top pick in 2013, but remember he lost some luster with a rugged first show in the Show in 2011). Such is the path of a 21-year-old shortstop with an .857 OPS. I guess we better get used to it.
Charlie Blackmon (OF, Rockies): Two mocks, and in both Blackmon was grabbed in the second round. Huh? It was Rotowire's Derek Van Riper who pointed out the .797 OPS with 31 doubles, 43 swipes, 17 homers, and 93 runs that make Blackmon pretty good across the board. Seems like he is getting better, too.
Kris Bryant (3B, Cubs): Not a big surprise, but Bryant is now more sought after than Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Not sure if that makes sense just yet, but for sure he is a first rounder thus far.
Kyle Schwarber (OF/C, Cubs): Qualifying at backstop boosts Schwarber some, but he was grabbed by the third round in both leagues, ahead of picks like Brandon Crawford (20 homers at short is not bad) even though steals are not out there in Schwarber's crystal ball. I do love the guy, and have no issue with this in a way, though I would like to see a full season before I can figure out whether Schwarber is Matt Stairs or Adam Dunn (neither meant as an insult at all).
Miguel Sano (DH, Twins): Again, taken in the second round in both mocks, which is a lot of stock and upside faith to put on a kid with just 80 games under his belt, but what can you say?
Mookie Betts (OF, Red Sox): If Betts and his .291-18-77-21 line warrants a first-round selection, suddenly Blackmon, maybe a round later with equal power and extra steals, seems to be a steal.
Xander Bogaerts (SS, Red Sox): 196 hits last year, and nowhere to go but up, in theory. Bogaerts did slip to the third round. But again, that is a nice jump from last year.
Brian Dozier (2B, Twins): Dozier was a third-round pick last year in at least one mock, and repeated that with his return to mid-20's homers out of the keystone slot. Call me doubtful, but that looks like drafting out of scarcity to me, but reality is reality.
George Springer (OF, Astros): With Springer, as with just about everyone listed above not surnamed Dozier or Blackmon, a lot of stock in drafting early on is rooted in upside.
Since no wave of prospects like those who emerged in 2015 has ever occurred in baseball with the volume of last season, it is hard to assess which of these young guns will earn their draft price. They all could, but my guess is some will fall, suffering the Sophomore Jinx.
However, if you are indeed looking for some bargains as you begin to think about drafting in the spring, nominating the young guns early might leave some solid cheap vets for you to feast upon.
For the 15th year, I find myself in Phoenix participating in the BaseballHQ First Pitch at the Arizona Fall League for a long weekend's worth of seminars, fall baseball, and even some golf this year. But the best part is seeing dear friends, most of whom have grown up in and around the fantasy industry that has now taken hold of our culture.
It is pretty amazing to me, and I suspect to all of us. But here we are, and yesterday, for the 12th time, the participants of the XFL assembled to draft our 2016 teams.
The XFL has a $260 salary cap, allows for 15 keepers, and to compensate for the nebulous nature of rosters at the end of the season, we hold a 17-round expansion draft within a week of the season beginning. At that time, we can acquire prospects, who if retained have an initial $1 salary that increases by $3 a season indefinitely. As examples, I have Yoenis Cespedes at $13, now in his fifth year, and Matt Kemp at $31, in his 11th.
That combination of constraints makes for some interesting auctions, with generally strange and expensive runs of backstops, and peculiarities that found both Jhonny Peralta and Pablo Sandoval costing just a buck as part of the end game.
A few weeks back, I did list my keepers in prepping for the draft, but since I now have a team, here are the results. Note the bold F indicates the player was frozen, and I left the comments made in the earlier article.
Robinson Chirinos ($4, C): Hit ten homers over 273 at-bats last year, and I was keenly aware just how goofy the catcher costs can go, so I was happy to break the ice for my team, nominate Chirinos early, get him cheap, and move along.
Ryan Zimmerman ($13, 1B): I wanted Adrian Gonzalez, but $42 was more than I cared to spend, so I adjusted and grabbed Zimmerman, hoping he is settled at first and maybe healthy for the first time. And, Zimmerman did hit .311-11-39 over the second half, so maybe that mojo is back for the 30-year-old.
Jedd Gyorko ($10F, 2B): At value, but Gyorko salvaged a lot with his strong second half (.259-13-43) and since he qualifies at both second and short, it's worth the power gamble for a guy who could bang 30 big flies.
Kyle Seager ($21F, 3B): Pretty steady power source at third. Close to value, but still can squeeze a few bucks profit, and Seager might still have a monster year in his bat.
Marcus Semien ($4F, SS): Cheap gamble for a little speed and some power. Will look to kick his totals up next year.
Rob Refsnyder ($4F, MI): Another prospect gamble, but like Semien, Gyorko and several others on my team, their salaries only increase $3 a year as they were drafted as minor league prospects and promoted through the league.
Nick Castellanos ($10F, CI): Another former prospect, Castellanos is like a lot of the players on this list: great minor league numbers, lots of potential, but I need it realized, ideally this year.
Matt Kemp ($31F, OF): Again, close to value, but there have been big years in Kemp's stick, and he has certainly been very hot the second half of recent seasons. Kemp was another guy whose salary advanced to the tune of $3 a year and I am just not ready to let go yet (maybe that is the problem?).
Yoenis Cespedes ($13F, OF): Another salary control, if Cespedes can come close to his 2015 numbers, he will be a bargain and a half.
Gerardo Parra ($1, OF): Don't ask me. I hadn't planned on getting Parra. In fact, I nominated him for a buck and heard crickets. I don't expect another .291-14-51 season with 14 steals, but for a buck, I suspect Parra will give me a profit.
Jacoby Ellsbury ($10, OF): Don't ask me, redux. I needed speed, and Ellsbury was nominated for a buck, so I bumped it to $10. I hoped maybe I could grab Ellsbury for $15, but again, crickets with Ellsbury falling to me for $10. And, with the die cast, there were a few mumbles of "damn, I should have bid more."
Alex Rios ($5, OF): My last player acquired. If I can get 450 at-bats, that will be good for the price.
Prince Fielder ($26, UT): Almost as much of a shock as Ellsbury and Parra, after A-Gone went for $42, I just figured Fielder was too much to imagine. That was one reason I went for Zimmerman, who was nominated a lot earlier than the Prince. But, I guess money was tight later in the draft, and that Utility slots had been mostly populated, and that combo allowed me to grab Fielder at a more than modest price. My team's struggles in this very difficult league have been well- documented over the past few years, but if I have a ticket out of the cellar this year, the bargain prices I got for Fielder, Parra and Ellsbury will be the ticket.
Zack Greinke ($32F, P): Easy to justify based upon his 2015. At least I have an ace going into the draft.
Marco Estrada ($6F, P): A cheap endgame pick last year, Estrada certainly showed his stuff. The question is can it carry into 2016? I hope so.
Hector Santiago ($7F, P): Pretty much the same as Estrada, but younger.
Edinson Volquez ($9, P): I have always liked Volquez' stuff (I scored him at ATT his rookie season) and he has been pretty good for the last two years. Now 31, and a cog of a championship team, I am guessing Volquez is going to have a fine season as an experienced veteran.
Brandon Finnegan ($3, P): I couldn't freeze Finnegan, but I was happy to get him back. A hard-thrower and part of the Johnny Cueto trade spoils, Finnegan will go right into the Reds rotation barring something goofy. I think the first-round pick in 2014 is going to be really good.
Rubby De La Rosa ($1, P): Last pitcher, had a buck, deep draft, worth a gamble. With 14 future picks in March (I froze three minor leaguers in Hunter Renfroe, Billy McKinney and Aaron Blair), I can probably cover a few of the above slots as necessary.
Diane and I spent last weekend with the rest of the family at our Soda Springs house, taking in our last chance at the Tahoe-area weather before the cold--and hopefully rain and snow--pelt us this coming winter.
As noted before, the house has no TV (we do have a couple of flat screens and a store of DVDs), nor do our cell phones work, although we do have Internet so we can work and track ball scores and other important aspects of the digital age.
I was sitting at the dining room table when the e-mail from the MidWest Strat-O-Matic league came in, announcing the final season standings, and lo-and-behold, my Berkeley Liberators grabbed the second National League Wild Card spot, meaning I got to face my friend Steve Belmont's Tempe d'Mets squad.
2015 has been a rugged year for my season-long and keeper teams. I finished near or at the bottom in Tout Wars, LABR, and the XFL, and my Scoresheet team completely melted down for the first time in the six years I have played in the Murphy League.
But, in Strat, the sim league that lets us play out last year's totals in a head-to-head fashion this year, the Liberators squeaked 94 wins to grab the second Wild Card spot in a 30-team format that plays the same schedule and basic schedule and guidelines of Major League Baseball (save some standard usage rules).
Needless to say, a 30-team league is very tough with the only time I have made the post-season previously being in 2008 when Jason Grey's team brushed me aside on the way to a title. From 2009-2011, the Liberators won 263 games (no playoffs, though), but then the team began getting old, so I gutted them and began the rebuild process which was indeed brutal for the next years until now.
So, when I read the e-mail that I did make the playoffs, I was not only excited, but blurted it out to the bulk of family members who really had no clue what I was talking about. (They know I am in the Fantasy industry, but as for what I do, I might as well be a rocket scientist for NASA.)
I do think the XFL offers up the toughest competition within any league in which I play, but Strat-O-Matic, which I started playing in 1977, is my favorite.
Strat, for me, is a lot like listening to baseball on the radio, which is something I grew up with in a less enlightened electronic age than we have now. And, listening on the radio is still something I really love because a good announcer (the Bay Area is truly blessed there) will paint such a vivid picture that as listeners, we can truly visualize what is being conveyed in real time, making our imaginations as powerful, if not moreso, than watching a game on the tube.
When a Strat game is played out, the hitter does indeed step into the box, and we roll the dice, which is analogous to the pitch being delivered. That is followed by the results of the dice roll, which is tantamount to the batter swinging the bat, and then we move to the respective pitcher's/hitter's card, which tells us if the ball was fielded or booted or hit out of the yard or any of the million possibilities that lead to the final disposition of the play.
So, just like on the radio, I could see it tTuesday when my Marcell Ozuna clubbed a Garrett Richards pitch deep into the PetCo night, only to have the ball snagged by Justin Upton as Steve and I duked it out in my mind's eye just as clearly as if the late Bill King was calling the action.
While Strat is indeed my favorite of all formats, I do get the same kick and feel from playing in Tout Wars and the XFL and all the other formats of baseball simulations I have been playing since I got my very first Cadaco game in the early 1960's.
I do love baseball, and I do love playing games. I do love figuring things out as well, and I like running things, meaning pretending to be a Major League GM, assembling a squad for the long or short term, and then outwitting my league mates is so perfect that it is why I play.
I do love daily games too, mind you, but the bottom line is I don't play for money, and the incentive for me in any contest is that I want to win (though I try not to be obsessive about it) and the incentive to not finishing last is just that: I never want to be last in anything.
But, as fantasy sports grab attention and have become so mainstream, now causing issues concerning fine lines between gambling and skill, and what is better, daily or season long, the truth is for me the game and the play transcend all of that. Much like watching Game 1 of the World Series the other night told all of us why we watch and follow the goofy and wonderful game of baseball.
Steve and I did play our game out against the backdrop of the epic Tuesday contest between the Royals and the Mets, and in the end, my Liberators could not muster enough offense to whip Richards and d'Mets, and we lost 3-1.
It was tough, but I don't care, for I made the post-season and successfully rebuilt my team into a winner, outsmarting at least 22 other teams in the MidWest League.
Next week, I draft my XFL team for next year, and in a few months the spring cycles of leagues start all over again.
I cannot wait, because like I said, I love baseball and I love playing sim games. And THAT is the bottom line for me.
The success of my failure in the XpertsFantasyLeague is becoming legendary.
Years of teeth-gnashing, and attempting to strategize into a winning team against the toughest across-the-board players in the fantasy universe (IMHO) is no easy task.
To tell the truth, the format--mixed, 5x5, 15 teams, 40-man rosters, 15 freezes, $260 cap--is one in which I excelled enough in the early 90's to give me the confidence to get into this industry in the first place. And, in a league where Yu Darvish was drafted a year before he was signed by the Rangers, there is no hiding anyone from anyone.
Clearly, building via the Minors is the way to go, as the 2015 winner, Steve Moyer, was able to pull Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant out of his reserves at an aggregate cost of $2 (they will be a cumulative $8 next year) and win by 17 points. The strong past winners, however, have all built from this basic formula, and after spending close to two seasons house keeping, grabbing prospects and low-priced deals for stars, my team moved to sixth place in 2014, and I felt I was ready to really make a charge at the title.
Tell it to David Wright, Kenley Jansen, Leonys Martin, Yan Gomes and the various injury-prone under achievers I managed to acquire, finishing with 26 points, my worst finish anywhere ever (and only 103 points behind the leader).
The XFL holds its auction at First Pitch Arizona, making the whole affair essentially the first draft of the next year (for most of us anyway, rumor has it Lord Z just finished an NFBC draft that started the day after the regular season ended). This timing makes projecting who will be starting, in the Minors, on the DL, or on another planet in March mere speculation.
A few years back, I made a dump trade for Francisco Liriano when he first came up, and was happy to freeze the young flame thrower for $10 according to the rules of 2006. Then, after I announced the freeze, Liriano and the Twins announced that their lefty would be missing the entire 2007 season after arm surgery. Or worse, Peter Kreutzer and Alex Patton froze Oscar Taveras for $4 going into 2015, and as we all know, Oscar unfortunately had his career cut short.
Aside from those roster risks, there is also the difficulty of playing against the likes of Patton and Kreutzer and Moyer, Ron Shandler, Greg Ambrosius, and my mates Todd Zola and Brian Walton, among others.
So, following a miserable showing, I do need to rebuild, but I similarly managed to salvage some decent bargains in a league with a somewhat shallow reserve pool, but one that can only be accessed monthly during one free agent draft.
So, who did I keep, and why?
Jedd Gyorko ($10, 2B): At value, but Gyorko salvaged a lot with his strong second half (.259-13-43) and since he qualifies at both second and short, worth the power gamble for a guy who could bang 30 big flies.
Kyle Seager ($21, 3B): Pretty steady power source at third. Close to value, but still can squeeze a few bucks profit, and Seager might still have a monster year in his bat.
Marcus Semien ($4, SS): Cheap gamble for a little speed and some power. Will look to kick his totals up next year.
Rob Refsnyder ($4, MI): Another prospect gamble, but like Semien, Gyorko and several others on my team, their salaries only increase $3 a year as they were drafted as minor league prospects, and promoted through the league.
Nick Castellanos ($10, CI): Another former prospect, Castellanos is like a lot of the players on this list: great minor league numbers, lots of potential, but I need it realized, ideally this year.
Matt Kemp ($31, OF): Again, close to value, but there have been big years in Kemp's stick, and he has certainly been very hot the second half of recent seasons. Kemp was another guy whose salary advanced to the tune of $3 a year and I am just not ready to let go yet (maybe that is the problem?).
Yoenis Cespedes ($13, OF): Another salary control, if Cespedes can come close to his 2015 numbers, he will be a bargain and a half.
Zack Greinke ($32, P): Easy to justify based upon his 2015. At least I have an ace going into the draft.
Marco Estrada ($6, P): A cheap end draft play last year, Estrada certainly showed his stuff. The question is can it carry into 2016? I hope so.
Hector Santiago ($7, P): Pretty much the same as Estrada, but younger.
That gives me $115 for some speed and power and relief to fill things out, but that is easier said than done.
In the Minors, I still have:
So, as with any league and season, I go in with optimism. We shall see, however, in the toughest Rotisserie league in which I play.
Baseball is a beautiful game. It is pretty to watch, whether we are viewing Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner going at it for eight innings without allowing a run, or Bud Norris and Jeremy Guthrie just lasting two each, and getting pulled with the score locked at eight apiece.
It is a game that takes our breath away when played well, and forces a Homer Simpsonesque "Doh" with a slapped forehead when we see a miscue. But, one of the beauties of the game is that it is indeed the same game, whether played by six-year-olds in T-Ball, or the for now defending Champion Giants, across the bay from me at ATT Park.
I do remember going to watch my friends George and Julie's son Zach--then around six--play in a game once. Julie knew I wrote for the same paper as she at the time (USAT) and that I scored games, but she cautioned me as we approached the stands, advising that the skill of play in the Lafayette fields of green was not like that where the Giants roam.
I told Julie I knew this, but as noted above: baseball wherever played and among the game's wonders is that at every level, you can see something equally brilliant, or bonehead.
Julie sort of nodded but I suspect she did not necessarily agree. Sure enough, as we sat down a kid hit a seed to first base, where there was a runner. The first baseman stuck out his mitt and the ball found it, the first sacker stepped on first, and poof, an unassisted double play in T-Ball.
On the other hand, Wednesday night gave us a Toronto/Texas game that I will never forget. Ever. There were miscues coupled with luck, both good and bad (though I challenge you to name just one aspect of your life that didn't involve said luck), and the baseball gods of the highest order, observing the scene and meting out justice appropriately.
I sent a bunch of Tweets out about just how much crazy fun the whole thing was, and mostly got pushback about the sloppy and terrible play. I do understand wanting to see perfect play, especially at the Major League level during the playoffs.
But, let's face it, we are watching human beings, and well, human beings tend to be imperfect. As in baseball, which specifically has a category known as "errors", suggesting perfection is as elusive in baseball as just about every other aspect of life.
And, the truth is, the craziness of the Choo/Martin blocked run-scoring toss back was nutso territory previously unencountered by the bulk of us during regular play, let alone the playoffs. And, the three straight errors the Rangers made right after (four in the inning total, if you count the pop Rougned Odor could not track down) pushed the inning into the Twilight Zone, with Jose Bautista's home run/bat flip moving the game towards some kind of 2001-type transmogrification. (Note, we do need to remember that Willie Davis did indeed commit three errors in one inning in 1966.)
I have indeed seen and tracked a lot of games at this point in my life, but I have never seen anything quite like Wednesday, including a 53-minute half inning with just four runs scored. It was fantastic, and high drama and good fun most of us can relate to rather than a Max Scherzer no-no.
It did seem to me, though, that there was a large contingent of fans who were particularly dour and condescending regarding that crazy silly inning, which is too bad, because the chances are indeed that none of us will again see the likes of the Jays and Rangers game the other night. As time passes, I suspect hindsight will prove the game to be much more a funny nostalgic piece of trivia than anything that will make too many folks other than maybe the Rangers involved too skittish.
The game did remind me, though, of my favorite pieces of insanity that I ever witnessed on the ball field. Mind you, these were all live, and professional, though I do remember some killer local amateur plays, like the unassisted double play in Zach Anderson's game, or my friend Jeanne Schuman's and Bill Pollock's daughter Zoe running down a fly ball in left center field during a Berkeley High playoff game in Willie Mays/Vic Wertz fashion.
Anyway, just to keep the levity as we move into the Championship series, I thought I would list my five favorite plays I have seen in person. Note that I have seen three no-hitters, and scored one perfect game (Dallas Braden's) and saw Rickey Henderson break Lou Brock's stolen base record along with some other great stuff. But, these are my all-time favorite plays. And, I apologize in advance for being a bit long-winded this time, but if you love the game, I think it will be worth the read.
July 22, 1999: The New York Penn League, and I am watching Auburn playing St. Catharines. With the Stompers losing 5-4 in the top of the seventh, Victor Morales hit a ball with one out that shortstop Donaldo Mendez booted. Morales got greedy and made an ill-advised attempt to take second. He would have been out, dead to rights, but a funky throw and fumbled catch allowed Morales to safely touch the bag even after over-sliding. So, his team is down by one, and he is in scoring position. with the three and four hitters due up. Undaunted by the benevolence of the baseball gods, Morales inexplicably took off with the first pitch, trying to steal third, and this time third sacker Luis Dominguez applied the tag. St. Catharines lost.
November 1, 2001: At the Arizona Fall League, Yankees hopeful third sacker Drew Henson made an across-the-body Brooks Robinson-type spear of a screaming bouncer before it passed the hot corner, stepping across the bag into foul territory. It was an incredible snare, and Henson set, and threw to first. Unfortunately, Henson's arm had also been that of Michigan's collegiate QB, and that is what took over as Henson did not only throw over the first baseman's outstretched glove, and the stands. The ball sailed over the fence and park too, landing somewhere in the parking lot. Henson made three errors that game, walked once, struck out twice, and hit a double.
August 23, 2011: With Pablo Sandoval on third and Aubrey Huff on first, in the bottom of the sixth, leading the Giants 4-0, San Diego's Jesus Guzman cleanly picked a hard bounder hit by lefty Brandon Belt. Guzman was playing back, and off the bag, and the Panda took off from third with contact, but then slowed a quarter of the way as he saw Guzman pick the ball. Pablo danced, staring Guzman down, while everyone in the pressbox was mumbling "tag the fucking bag." But, Guzman did not take his eyes off Pablo, who kept edging to the plate until Jesus could no longer take it. Pablo broke for the dish, and Guzman uncorked a rocket to catcher Nick Hundley. Unfortunately, the throw went into the dugout, allowing Huff to score and Belt to park his heels at second. Meaning zero outs were recorded, the batter went to second, and two runs scored.
August 29, 2001: In what may be the wildest scoring game I ever saw (Diane and I saw a pretty good one at the old Yankee Stadium in its last year, when Johnny Damon went 5-for-5), the Cardinals beat the Padres 16-14 following a nine-run second inning. I remember the night at old Busch Stadium well. A full moon seemed to be rising under the arch from where I sat as Gerry Pagano, the bass trombonist of the St. Louis Symphony, played a lovely solo National Anthem. which set the tone for such a memorable evening that featured a 4-for-5 night from Ryan Klesko that included two homers and two doubles that were almost big flies. There were a ton of crazy things in the game, but the best was following a bunt single in the bottom of the fifth by Edgar Renteria, Eli Marrero hit a line drive single to right, moving Renteria up a base. With none out, St. Louis invoked a double steal with a pair of strikes on Bobby Bonilla, who threw his bat at the ball and sent the club flying towards third sacker Phil Nevin, who sidestepped the bat and in the process the throw from catcher Ben Davis. Both the bat and ball landed sort of together in left and Reneria scored on the E2 (error charged to Davis, not Nevin, though the throw wasn't so bad, rather Nevin abandoned post) with both bat and ball landing at the feet of a puzzled Rickey Henderson, who looked up and spied Marrero now chugging to to the plate and let go of a more than errant throw, meaning two runs. The call--or lack of--of interference regarding the projection of the bat forced the Padres to make a protest to no avail. By the way, the pitchers, Chuck McElroy and Jose Nunez, struck out the side that inning, meaning without the errant bat the two runs likely would not have scored as there were only five batters that frame.
September 27, 2008: At ATT, with one out in the sixth inning, Pablo Sandoval singled, and Bengie Molina followed, hitting a shot off the top of the right field wall. Bengie hit it hard, and was not fleet afoot, so he was held to a single, with Sandoval moving to third. With the Giants trailing 5-3, Bruce Bochy sent Emmanuel Burriss in to pinch run for Molina, but just before the next pitch, Bochy called time. He got the ball Molina had hit, noticed there was a green splotch, and asked the umpires to look again, suggesting the green meant the ball hit the copper at the top of the wall, and if that was so, it was a home run. The umps looked, and sure enough, Molina was granted a homer in what was the first overturn of a hit to a homer after the invocation of the instant replay use for such calls. Molina got a homer and two RBI, but Burriss, who was announced and on the field, got the run scored. When Burriss finished rounding the bases and trotted into the dugout, Bengie said "nice hit" to him.
It was kind of hard to believe, watching MSNBC's "All In" Wednesday when the lead to the story in the next segment was last week's Draft Kings/FanDuel miscue where it was revealed that employees of those two companies have access to data not privy to the public when playing DFS contests.
It made me think of 1988, when I played in my first local league, and then of 1993 when John Benson hired me to write in and edit his annuals (it is where I met Steve Moyer, in fact), three years before I went live on the Web with CREATiVESPORTS.
As we largely know, those were the days of the "USA Today" posting weekly team and individual statistics on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and shortly thereafter one could expect his or her league's weekly standings.
In '96 I did launch the site that merged with Mastersball a number of years back, and that got me the notice of a real pioneer in the industry, Rick Wolf, for Rick hired me to be the first minor league and fantasy analyst for the fledgling CBS Sportsline (my boss back then was another name known to all, that of Scott Engel).
It was good fun in those early days; a tight and small community that bonded during the .com boom, but just before blogging and tweeting and Facebook became the norm. In those days, we did bear the scorn of fans and the industries--primarily baseball and football--that we loved and modeled, who said we destroyed fan loyalty and were just a bunch of geeks who embraced the clear brilliance of Daniel Okrent's Rotisserie model, and ran with it.
AL-only and NL-only expanded to mixed leagues, then to ultra leagues, and now to daily contests, showing the game has certainly evolved in the 27 years I have been part of the wave.
And, now as we all know, being a fantasy geek is among the coolest things one can be on earth, and there are commercials for games and especially DraftKings and Fanduel on the tube, all the time.
Everyone plays fantasy something. There are shows on all over the place, and when you think about our virtual universe, it kind of makes sense. It also proved that as counter-intuitive as broadcasting games over the radio in the 30's, and on TV in the 50's, that rather than limit the focus of fans who listened to, or played games, the fan base actually grew.
Fantasy has grown such that every major sport now owns a chunk of some kind of game, show, vendor, or some combination thereof, and that means there is a lot of money involved in all of this.
And, that means potential problems in a lot of ways as witnessed by last week's fracas.
In the wake of the initial charges, and pending investigation, it is easy to be judgmental and act superior, just as it is easy to get uber-defensive about both the problem (privileged access to information for employees) and the subtext (is it gambling or not, and save five of our 48 contiguous United States, the answer is "no, it is not gambling").
The truth is we can all have a myriad of ideas and theories and opinions on the above, but to me the reality is they don't really matter. What does, is that the eccentric little industry that Wolf, and Engel, and Greg Ambrosius, Ron Shandler, John Hunt and so many others (and amazingly me included) started to push publicly 27 years ago has indeed made it as a powerhouse game and market, and what that means is, like it or not, those of us who play and provide games and content for fantasy have to act like objective grown-ups about this, and work as much as we can with the powers that be to keep the games we love to play as straightforward and above board as our local league would be.
If you think this "scandal" has let you and the industry down, remember that the bulk of the crazy growth that has put fantasy commercials on a visibility par with those of car insurance and Viagra, has really just been over the past four-to-five years, and that, to quote Yegraf (Alec Guinness), about the post-WWII technological advance in the Soviet Union in Dr. Zhivago, "we have come very far very fast."
For some reason, within all of this, I think of cell phones and their ridiculous impact and intrusion into our lives as analagous to fantasy's suddenly loony explosion into the mainstream.
In 1988--the year of my first league--think of what kind of cell phone you owned? Probably none, but then the first few giant clunky ones that came in a sort of plastic looking shoe box were produced. The phones did start getting smaller, but then there were reports and studies that the phones might be emitting radiation and causing brain damage to the users holding the receiver near their heads.
So rules and policies and procedures and guidelines emerged, but nothing like the fallout from the 2006 accident in which a Utah youth, while texting and driving, ran into a pair of nuclear scientists, killing both (see the book A Deadly Wandering, by Matt Richter for information on this and other like cases), for that was the start of the rules and laws and campaigns around texting and driving.
Now, I am not trying to say that texting and playing fantasy are the same, nor is the death of a pair of innocent scientists comparable to cutting corners to win a Sunday fantasy contest. But, note as well it took almost 20 years within the growth of the cell industry for texting while driving to simply become a campaign, something we all think now should have been built in from the start.
I am suggesting that there are not always said rules and guidelines to govern new and burgeoning industries because we are largely unable to foresee potential fall out until it hits. And, for the fantasy sports industry, now is this big public test of endurance and viability.
I do realize the investigations that are now taking place are working at a level far beyond that of meager site operators like me, let alone luminaries like Greg and Rick, but, it is similarly true that all politics really are local, whether we choose to admit it or not: rather, it is whether or not we choose to engage as individuals. That means supporting our products with integrity, being open and honest, and maybe even contacting our Congressmen/women and Senators, letting them know that we support reasonable patrolling of the fantasy game.
It doesn't matter whether you think in terms of games of skill, or hate daily, or mixed leagues or Strat-O-Matic (though that is so hard for me to understand): the issue is, if you like to play sports simulation games, and want to keep the industry growing and alive, rather than bitching, or questioning, or saying "I told you so," how about working at making fantasy, which for now is as legit a concern as there is, work so we can continue to play in the broad daylight, away from the cloaked shadows and basements of nerdom.
Either that, or in the words of Larry (fantasyhead Robert Wuhl) as noted in the great "Bull Durham," it might be time to find a job at Sears selling major home appliances.
Patience has not come easily to me in this life.
I was pushed ahead two grades when I was in grade school (in addition to having a late October birthday), meaning I was always two-plus years younger than all my classmates. And, no matter how I may have been able to compete intellectually with those older and wiser, emotionally I was still just that much behind.
As we know, the subtleties of age dissipate with said commodity: that is, as we get older, the gap of understanding and experience between years doesn't matter so much. However, the difference between being eight and ten as far as the sophistication of worldliness is huge: so unlike that say, between being 48 and 50 years of age.
I like to think I have slowed down over the years. I attribute a lot of my ability to quell the reactive portion of my nature to my late son, Joey, who endured some serious birth anomalies, and a limited existence of external abilities. Joey couldn't walk or talk, and was in diapers and a wheel chair for all of his 22 seasons, but the reality was you could only go as fast as Joey as in you will only go as fast as your slowest component can go.
If we were ready to go out, and Joey had a sysout in his diaper, everything stopped until that was handled. Those of you who have dealt with babies know exactly what I am talking about, the difference being Joey's body stayed in the perpetual baby state for all of his life.
What this did, however, was force me to slow down, and take a deep breath, take a look around, and not necessarily react to things in life.
OK, laugh if you will. Sure, there are other more important aspects of my life that Joey, and the patience he dragged in his slipstream provided, but, one of the sweet byproducts of this learning was to make me more patient with my players and teams and rosters in fantasy games.
Sure, I do fall victim to that urge we get when our closer gives up eight runs with two out in the ninth, not just blowing a save, but our collective WHIP and ERA in the process.
But, thanks to Joey, I can hang onto the likes of Mark Trumbo, as the season and a few games usually are not so much to stir my desire to cut players from my teams.
Obviously, while this is good in some ways, being active over the first few weeks of a season--baseball and football, anyway--but, especially in football, it is so hard to get a feel for who is going to do what after just three games.
For example, I find myself the owner of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Carlos Hyde and Matt Jones, in some form of every league in which I play and for the most part, I have been unable to play any of them at the right time, let alone know they will pick it up as the season goes forth.
I look and see all the transactions my football league mates make, and other than little tweaks like dumping Mohamed Sanu for Eric Ebron wherever I could, I feel better just letting the guys I have see what they can do.
I do remember that last year I drafted Tre Mason around the 19th round of my Kathy League Gifford draft, but he did little those first weeks and it was bye week and I dumped him. In the end, my team was lousy and I dropped Mason, whom I would have been able to freeze in the 16th round this year.
So, this year, I am trying to remember what I learned from Joey. Take a breath.
The fact that Trumbo has posted a .266-13-41 line for my $82 in FAAB doesn't really help. But, it doesn't hurt, either.