Thursday, January 27, 2011

Some Ships Should Remain Sailed

I’d like to start off by making the announcement that despite the last two weeks feeling like a Linkin Park song and having David Tennant’s regeneration scene from Doctor Who playing over and over in my head since Monday, I am still going to be in Lakeland March 5-10 to give you a Tigers Amateur Analysis report from on the scene. I had seriously considered cancelling the trip, given that a primary reason for going this year (as opposed to two years from now, which is the next opportunity I might have to go; I can’t go next year because I’ll be on clinical rotations) is now gone, but I’d already bought tickets to the games for that week, and even though the only pitcher remaining that I get excited about is Justin Verlander (and I do get really, really excited about him), there’s still plenty of position players for me to cheer on. I’m still hoping to broaden my “six degrees of separation” potential and actually meet some of these guys (which I’m not good at), and it seems like it’s easier to do that in spring training than during the regular season. And hey, if I run into Dave Dombrowski, I can at least try real hard to make him feel very, very guilty.

Speaking of Dave Dombrowksi, he told Tom Gage that the Tigers were “open” to bringing back Jeremy Bonderman on a minor league deal. I’m not sure that really indicates anything about their level of interest (since we’ve already seen this month that honesty isn’t necessarily a strong point of the front office), but nevertheless, this little tidbit has taken root and spread like crazy all over the internet. It’s almost to the point where they might sign him purely out of a sense of obligation from fan pressure (which I think was at least part of the reason they went after Brad Penny). However, I am not as enthused by this idea as the rest of the blogging community seems to be. First, I find it extremely irritating that the Tigers are all of a sudden worried about depth/insurance when a few days ago, it didn’t seem to be that much of a concern to them. Second, while one of my mantras is “success is repeatable,” I fear that Bonderman’s injury may have taken too much out of him and he might not get used to the reduced velocity. Third, he’s a poor excuse for a consolation prize. Seeing him again would just rub salt into the wounds. There’s this certain level of sentimentality that several Tigers fans attach to Bonderman that I just don’t understand. Maybe it was respect for having endured the 2003 season, or maybe it was his shutdown performance against the Yankees in the 2006 postseason, but I didn’t become cognizant of him until after both those occurred. Mostly what I got from him was the 2007 season, which started off good for him and then went downhill after the All-Star Break. And though I would certainly appreciate it any time he got the Tigers a win, I never really enjoyed watching him pitch. I just don’t know how much he has left to give, and he would probably be better served with a team like Baltimore or New York that still has rotation questions.

And speaking of people who endured 2003, I would like to give best wishes to Mike Maroth, who announced his retirement this week. My experience with Mike Maroth is pretty much limited to the first two and half months of the 2007 season, but of course he’s remembered for losing 21 games in 2003. I never understood that. He was never a superstar, but he seemed like a decent enough pitcher. Then again, I suppose you had to have lived through the 2003 season to know precisely what it was that made that team so bad, because the two remaining survivors of that team (Inge and Santiago) certainly aren’t 119-loss material. Anyways, I wasn’t really that familiar with Maroth, but he wasn’t a bad pitcher and he seemed like a nice guy. Then he got traded to the Cardinals and fell apart, and I don’t know why. It’s a shame that he could never bounce back from that. Still, I wish him all the best and I hope his retirement goes well.

Monday, January 24, 2011

One Last Good-Bye

I’m going to try to keep this keep this short, as my last two posts have essentially been eulogies of Armando Galarraga already, but I can’t promise anything. I’m also not going to analyze the return, because frankly, I don’t care. I love Armando Galarraga to bits but I harbor no illusions about his trade value, or anyone else’s, for that matter (It’s been that way ever since someone decided that Pudge Rodriguez was “only” worth Kyle Farnsworth). Those two pitchers probably won’t amount to much, and either way, they’re not going to mean much to me.

Most of you have heard the expression “live and die with your team.” I’m definitely one of those types of fans, but I think the saying can be applied to players, too. There are some players that I love more, but I don’t think I’ve lived and died with any of them quite as much as I have with Galarraga. I’ve liked him from the first start he ever made with the Tigers, which was an absolute beauty of a performance. I’ve seen plenty of pitchers make their first starts with the Tigers, both good and bad, and I’m normally fairly skeptical of them, even when it was a good start (Andrew Miller, Luke French, Alfredo Figaro, and Yorman Bazardo come to mind). But for some reason, something about Galarraga’s performance just stuck with me. The only other pitcher to whom I’ve reacted that way after his first start was Jair Jurrjens. I may well have developed the same sort of enthusiasm had he not been traded so soon after I first saw him. With Galarraga, I quickly realized that this was someone who maybe didn’t have the most awesome stuff, but was very smart and was certainly capable and I just liked the air he projected when he pitched well. The fact that he had such a pleasant personality didn’t hurt matters, either. And as wonderful as he was to watch in 2008, 2009 was rather gut-wrenching at times. I don’t know what precisely happened to make him lose his confidence (although I do think injury played a large role in why his pitches weren’t moving the way they should), but I really felt for him. And the more his detractors and critics got on his case, the more I felt sorry for him and the more I wanted to stand up for him (so in a sense, you naysayers kind of made me this way).

And of course, we all know how 2010 was a long, strange trip for him. Did it really boil down to three bad starts near the end of September? That would be tragic if it did. I badly wanted things to work out for him in Detroit, and now that’s never going to happen. I said in my last post that he always seemed to be the victim of something, and I guess he kind of feels the same way. He showed up on a Venezuelan radio program today, which I knew nothing about, but the show’s Twitter page had a bunch of quotes (Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Most of it is standard “I’m excited to join my new team” type stuff that every traded player says. He does talk about how he thinks Detroit is a good team (I’m guessing he means in terms of the organization), but he always felt like he had to fight for his job all the time and was never secure. Now, whether that’s a byproduct of the Tigers’ opinion of him or his own confidence issues, I’m not sure. He did tell Jason Beck that he doesn’t hold anything against the Tigers, and I hope he’s being honest about that, because with the way Detroit badly handled his situation, it would be very easy to hold a grudge. At the same time, I hope his legacy in Detroit will be a positive one, and the Tigers fans will remember him with the same respect and fondness that they have for guys like Pudge and Granderson and Polanco. I can’t be the only one who feels that way.

And so now the time comes to say good-bye for good. Right now, I can’t bear to watch his old Tigers games, and I can’t bear to watch him in any other uniform. Someday I will be able to. The wounds will heal, just as they did with Pudge. This season will always be bittersweet, but it is still baseball, and baseball is a beautiful thing. And so I say adios, Armando. May you find the success you deserve, wherever that may be.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

There Will Be No Happy Ending

Something told me not to comment too early on the news of the day, and unfortunately I was right. By now you know all about the Tigers first signing and then designating Armando Galarraga, so I won’t rehash it. There’s virtually no chance of him making it through waivers to Toledo. The Tigers are going to try to trade him, but even if they don’t find anyone, someone will claim him. With that in mind, I might as well post this now as opposed to when the true end comes (though I will probably mark the occasion with a brief farewell). Even if I look at this situation from a completely detached, objective perspective, the timing of this move makes little sense. This leaves the Tigers with no backup plan for their rotation. What happens if they get into spring training and one of the five starters gets hurt or royally sucks? Is Andy Oliver as a fallback option really that good an idea? Is Clete Thomas really that important to the team that you can’t DFA him instead? The only thing I can think of is that it increases his chances of landing a starting job on another team, so am I supposed to take it as the Tigers doing him a favor? That might benefit him, but I don’t see how that benefits the Tigers.

However, as you are well aware, where Armando Galarraga is concerned, I am not detached and unemotional. There are only two guys on this team that I like more, and one of the things I was most looking forward to was seeing him pitch in the Olde English D for one more season. Any more than that would have been too much to hope for, but as I’ve frequently pointed out, falling for an underdog leaves the door wide open for being burned, and it finally happened. I have gone through the baseball grieving process before with Pudge Rodriguez. Most of you didn’t know me back then, as my blog was at a different site and I had a much smaller audience, but believe me, the enthusiasm I’ve displayed for Armando is nothing compared to what I felt (and still feel) for Pudge. I accurately predicted that 2008 would be his final year with the Tigers, but even so, when he was traded away, I was devastated. I was infuriated, grief-stricken, and heartbroken, and I still miss him very much. It was one of the two occasions where baseball actually made me cry (losing Game 163 was the other). But I got through it, and now I can watch old games from his Tigers days and enjoy watching them without the heartbreaking pain I used to feel. Just as I got through losing Pudge, I will get through losing Armando. But knowing that isn’t going to make it any easier.

From a personal standpoint, this particular player-fan relationship is always going to be tinged with regret. I was lucky enough to see two of his starts in person (both good ones), but I never met Armando, and I wish I had, particularly before the perfect game. The frustrating thing is that I had plenty of opportunity to do so. After all, he was in Toledo for almost two months last year. Fifth Third Field is only about a ten minute drive from my house. Yet I didn’t go to a single Mud Hens game in April or May last year, and now I really wish I had. I wish I had gone to Tigerfest last year. This year I had been planning a trip to spring training in March. I had hoped to make that announcement on more exciting terms, but a big reason why I was planning to go this year and not wait until after I had graduated (when it would make more sense financially) was that I knew Armando wouldn’t be with the Tigers that much longer and I wanted one last chance. Now I’m not sure if I’ll go or not. I’ve already bought game tickets, but I haven’t made flight or hotel reservations yet. You guys are welcome to talk me into or out of the trip if you want to. But what’s more, I still feel this nagging voice in my head telling me that I personally could have prevented this recent course of events, but I never figured out exactly how I could do that. And for all these things, I am truly sorry and I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.

Another thing that will haunt me is the uncertainty over what might have been. Back in my offseason preview, I made the prediction that Armando would be traded. However, I thought it would happen a LOT earlier in the offseason. The fact that we made it so close to spring training before he lost his starter role is extremely frustrating. And it hurts because now we’ll never know what would have happened if he’d been allowed to compete in spring training. If he had gone through spring training and not been effective or had more confidence issues and the Tigers had designated him then, I wouldn’t have liked it, but I could have rationalized it. There would have been no sensible argument I could make in favor of keeping him beyond my own psychological quirks and eccentricities. But he could have just as easily outpitched Brad Penny and/or Phil Coke. He has brilliance in him. We’ve seen it before, when he’s not getting in his own way. But it seems like Armando is always being victimized by something, whether it’s blown calls, lack of run support, roster crunches, or his own insecurity. Still, I would give anything to know what would have happened had be been given one last chance. We’ll never know.

I’ve been immersed in baseball for almost four years now, so I’ve seen plenty of pitchers come and go, and I’ve liked most of them well enough, but there are only two pitchers that I passionately enjoyed watching pitch: Verlander and Galarraga. And I liked watching them for different reasons. Watching Verlander is watching an awesome display of power. You feel extremely pumped up when it’s over. Armando provided a different sensation. Yes, it was painful to watch him nibble around the strikezone, but when he believed in himself, he projected such an air of calmness and intelligence, and watching the way he attacked hitters was so beautiful that it made enduring all the struggles totally worth it. That’s what intrigued me so much about him when I first saw him pitch. I doubt I’ll get the same thrill from watching Brad Penny. Pitching just became a little less exciting. Still, Armando managed to defy all his critics and detractors for at least one night, and he has a permanent place in Tigers’ history. He will be noted in almost every book about the Tigers from here on out. He’ll be in Ken Burns’s next baseball documentary, thanks to his actions both on the field and off. I just wish the story could have gone on a little bit longer. And I hope he can find it in his heart to forgive the Tigers for any slight they may have given. I don't want them to part on bad terms.

Again, I don’t need anyone to rationalize the situation to me. I can do that myself. And I don’t need mere sympathy. If anything, I need you to understand how I feel. And yes, baseball will go on, and so will the Tigers Amateur Analysis. I’m not putting it on hiatus like I did when Pudge was gone. I don’t know what I’ll talk about next week (or whenever more news comes, but I do know that the blog will miss Armando too, because posts about him got twice as many pageviews as posts about anyone else). For now, I’ll conclude with a song. I don’t usually do Mood Music for players, but if any of you have seen the musical Chess, that’s where this song is from, and if you think about it, there are at least four songs from that musical that could be used to describe various points in the history of Armando Galarraga. So let this be my swan song to him, I suppose. I guess I’ll be saying good-bye for the last time at some point in the next few days.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Starters and Lies

Now I know just how far wishing and hoping alone can take you. It takes you to January 11th, and no further. Seventy-nine days short of the goal. I told you January was a dangerous month. Back when I did my offseason preview, I said I would be willing to take on starting pitchers if and only if they were a clear upgrade to what was already in place. One of the types of pitchers that I specified as NOT being a clear upgrade was an aging veteran. Another was an injury reclamation project. Brad Penny fits both these descriptions. I’m not saying that he wouldn’t be an upgrade (The 2006/2007 Brad Penny would be. I can’t argue with that). He’s just not a clear one (though I still don’t like his numbers against AL teams, and I’m not talking about his stint in Boston; I’m talking about his entire career). Things might work out and they might not. Even if they work out, however, I’m just not sure he’d be enough to get the Tigers over the top (if there is one). And I don’t feel like he’s worth the turmoil that’s happening now. We won’t know the full fallout until tomorrow at the earliest, but it stands to reason that Armando Galarraga gets the short end AGAIN. Precisely what will happen is yet unclear, but it’s obvious that at the very least, he’s going to have to pitch like a Hall of Famer if he even wants a chance at a rotation spot, which I think is asking too much of anyone. Now, I know there is actually a rather sizeable population on the blogosphere that think Phil Coke won’t pan out as a starter, but Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland are so married to the idea that Coke would probably have to have an ERA of seven in July before they’d even consider removing him from the rotation.

Beyond that, opinions as to Galarraga’s fate are all over the place (I hate the fact that he’s out of minor league options because it’s making it so frustrating and complicated). Some writers are just ignoring him. Some think he will compete but someone would have to pitch horribly or be injured in order for him to take a spot. Several people on Twitter are making jokes about it, which I find distasteful. Most of the people at Bless You Boys think he’ll be shifted to the vacant long relief slot in the bullpen (This is undignified, but it does keep him with the team. At the same time, long relief seems to be the kiss of death for Tigers starters. Usually when a starter goes down with injury or ineffectiveness, they bypass the long reliever and just call someone up from the minors), with a few here and there believing he’ll be traded. Jason Beck doesn’t seem to be subscribing to either of these theories, though he does list them as options for what the Tigers can do with him. He says that Galarraga has no trade value right now, and he’s skeptical of the long relief idea because the arbitration raise he’s due to get would be that of a starter’s salary and therefore it would not be cost effective to have him pitching out of the bullpen (This really doesn’t make sense; I can’t imagine he’d get that much more than a million, which is what Brad Thomas is being paid, and it’s not as if the Tigers don’t have payroll flexibility). Beck doesn’t say it outright, but he strongly hints that he thinks Galarraga will be released sometime during spring training because his contract is not guaranteed. That would be devastating to me. One scenario that isn’t addressed by anyone (except very briefly by John Wagner, who covers the Mud Hens for the Toledo Blade) is trying to sneak him through waivers and outright him to Toledo. Since it would be the first time he was outrighted, he’d have to accept the assignment. Now, I say that, and yet I don’t think that would work. I just don’t think he’d make it through waivers without someone claiming him, unless he was injured or his spring training was terrible. Anyways, I don’t know who to believe. I know not to believe Dave Dombrowski. Remember, last Monday he proclaimed that the rotation was “pretty well set.” I was skeptical of that comment, and I was right to be skeptical about it because the Brad Penny rumors started up the very next day, which means he flat-out lied about the rotation, and I don’t appreciate that. I’m not asking him to be completely transparent and honest, but there’s a difference between lying and being non-committal. What he should have said was something along the lines of, “We’d be comfortable with the rotation we have now, but we’re exploring our options.” I wouldn’t have liked hearing that, but at least it would have been closer to the truth. Right now I’m just hoping for some sort of miracle to happen and for Galarraga to find himself back in Detroit’s rotation. As bad as I feel right now, he’s got to be feeling ten times worse. I know you all think I’m silly for empathizing with him, but when you’ve fought so hard for so long and put so much energy into supporting someone who’s constantly on the bubble and being torn down by critics and naysayers that when he doesn’t get a fair chance at redemption, it’s like your goddamn heart’s been ripped out. The only time I’ve felt worse than this was when Pudge got traded away (and to this day, that experience has left me extremely skeptical of guys who “replace” players I like, though I will admit that Austin Jackson worked out well; however, I like Galarraga better than I liked Granderson, and that’s saying something because I was very fond of Granderson). Whether I feel better or worse tomorrow depends on what happens once this signing is official.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Overanalyze Much?

As stress-inducing and boring as the offseason is, January is probably the worst month to get through. I mean, you’ve at least got holidays to distract you in November and December (not to mention the GM and Winter Meetings), and February’s a short wait because spring training starts about two weeks in. January’s just a vast expanse of dullness. And this year comes the added element of worrying that since the Tigers pretty much don’t have any glaring needs left, they’ll resort to picking at stuff that doesn’t need to be picked at. Since my entry into the baseball world (2007), I have yet to experience an offseason where a player I like isn’t under constant threat of getting traded or axed. Anyways, since it’s January, there isn’t a whole lot of big news for me to analyze (which is good and bad). However, as I can’t drop off the face of the earth until spring training starts (because that’s bad form), I’ve got to comment on something, which leads me to discuss a couple stories I wouldn’t really mention under ordinary circumstances.

Yesterday we got a fresh batch of quotes from Dave Dombrowski in an article about how the Tigers’ long relief will be different this year now that Eddie Bonine and Zach Miner have signed elsewhere. The story isn’t anything we haven’t already heard, but the final line intrigued me. In reference to the possibility that the Tigers could covert a starter into long relief (which was dismissed as remote), Dombrowski was quoted as saying, “We feel our five guys are pretty well set.” Now, I think that would be wonderful if it were true, but this front office is so enigmatic and tight-lipped that I’m not sure whether to believe him or not. Jason Beck makes it even more confusing in his blog, where he repeats the quote and immediately contradicts it by saying “That doesn’t mean the rotation is set going into the season,” in the very next sentence. He points out that at this time last year, Jose Valverde and Johnny Damon were far from entering the picture. He also repeats that they’re going to let Andy Oliver and maybe some non-roster invitees compete for a spot, and he mentions Brad Penny again. I normally like Jason Beck, but I’m not sure what he’s trying to do here. I can’t figure out if he’s trying to subtly hint at his own opinion or if he’s gotten so much negative feedback about the rotation that he assumes that everyone disapproves of the rotation and he’s trying to…reassure them or something (Does this mean I have to start sending him emails approving of the rotation to balance things out?). Either way, I don’t really appreciate whatever it is he’s trying to do. I’m having an extremely tough time getting a feel for how the Tigers stack up against the other teams in the AL Central, and I think that’s because the White Sox and Twins have had quite a bit of turnover, especially in their bullpens. The White Sox rotation can be good, but went through some bipolar phases last year and it’s largely the same guys, while the Twins’ rotation just doesn’t seem that intimidating, with or without Carl Pavano (but they never seem intimidating and yet somehow they magically win games all the time). What I feel is that either the Tigers are good enough to win the division the way they are right now, or they are so far behind that a marginal one or two game improvement (which is pretty much all the remaining free agents have to offer) isn’t going to make much difference. Also, most of the Tigers’ core group are set to be around for at least a few more years. With those two things in mind, I don’t think it makes much sense to gamble on an injury case/aging vet or rush a prospect who might not be ready. I think it would be much more productive for them to pour their time and energy into figuring out how to get the most out of the starters they already have. But I feel as though my arguments might be falling on deaf ears (or blind eyes, since I’m actually writing them).

Shortly after Christmas, had yet another article about Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. It’s nothing you haven’t already read before (although it does have some new quotes form Galarraga and Leyland), and I actually wouldn’t be bringing it up if not for the fact that the MLB At Bat app on the iPod makes a rather strange choice of accompanying photo. It’s not even a picture from the game, but rather another start that Galarraga made at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. Specifically, it’s a picture of him reacting to having been hit in the ankle with a line drive (Remember that?). What does that have to do with the perfect game? I realize that the photos are probably automatically generated by some computer program, but they should still have a human look at it and fix it when stuff like that happens. As a side note, what is it with Venezuelans and ankles? Galarraga had the line drive off his ankle, Miguel Cabrera sprained an ankle, and Magglio OrdoƱez fractured his ankle (Carlos Guillen bucked the trend and had surgery on his knee).

Finally, file another one under “Things You Learn From Venezuelan Tweets.” A few nights ago, Enrique Gonzalez (who I believe is the only Tigers-connected player still playing winter ball, at least in Venezuela) was pitching in one of their playoff games and the writers on Twitter kept referring to him as “Fresita.” “Fresita” is Spanish for “Little Strawberry,” and apparently it’s Enrique Gonzalez’s nickname. So between him and “Big Potato,” the Tigers’ bullpen is starting to sound like the produce section.