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An Oriole Fan’s Early Lament by The Hot Stove League Fires

Baseball has never seen a week like the first one in December. Especially when you consider that the annual “winter” meetings are not taking place, appropriately in Disney World in Orlando, until the second week in December. That was when the big action was supposed to occur. But with every team loaded with at least $25 million of new television cash, the owners couldn’t wait to dish it out.

Free agent signings galore – the biggest being Robinson Cano bolting from the Yankees to the Seattle Mariners for a 10-year contract worth reportedly $240 million. Never mind that the long-term contract never works out – see under Angels, Los Angeles of Anaheim, Pujols, Albert and Hamilton, Josh. Seattle has been a loser for so long that it just felt it had to reward the fan base with a big splash.

The Yankees have not been inactive. Shortly before Cano left, they signed free agent catcher Brian McCann away from the Braves on a five-year deal. For seven years Jacoby Ellsbury took his center field/base stealing talents from the Red Sox to the Yanks. And now word comes that Carlos Beltran, the former Met who starred in the last two post-seasons for the Cardinals, will fulfill a dream to play for the Yankees while Curtis Granderson moves crosstown from the Bronx to the Mets.

Meanwhile down in Baltimore, a disturbing quiet settles in. My Orioles are doing nothing except losing less prominent but useful free agents like pitcher Scott Feldman who went to the Astros (who after successive 100-loss seasons have nowhere to go but up). And outfielder Nate McLouth is going down the Beltway to the Washington Nationals.
The Birds instead offered a far cheaper contract to the always-injured left fielder Nolan Reimold.

Even worse, the Orioles traded its erratic but often effective closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland A’s for yet another minor league second baseman Jemile Weeks. This move cut into the emotional core of Oriole fandom. A home-grown Oriole like Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, Johnson had lived through the worst of the Oriole bad years and his 51 saves in 54 chances in 2012 were a big part of their great comeback season.

He even moved his permanent home from upstate Endicott NY to Sarasota where the Orioles have at long last established a great spring training and all-season base. Johnson took the high road when learning the news. He expressed deserved great pride in being a part of the Orioles turnaround.

“Baseball is a business,” we hear that endlessly but the loss of Johnson for so little in return was a blow to me almost as severe as seeing Manny Machado on that gurney after injuring his knee in Tampa Bay late last season.

Machado is reportedly recovering well from his surgery and could be ready for Opening Day. But it will be a far different Oriole team from the 2013 squad that finished out of the playoffs yet still eight games over .500. I am nervous when general manager Dan Duquette says publicly that he is happy with his starting rotation that still lacks an ace and durable pitchers and now has a huge hole at the back end of the bullpen.

Branch Rickey liked to talk about addition by subtraction, i.e. getting rid of a player who
would not be missed and allowed opportunities for others to step up. Oriole manager Buck Showalter is talking that brave game publicly. But it is hard not to feel uneasy about what the future holds for a young fan base (and a youthful curmudgeon like yours truly) that brimmed with hope in the last two seasons after nearly three decades in the darkness.

In the meantime, here’s a plug for a very interesting read: Jamie Moyer and Larry Platt,
JUST TELL ME I CAN’T: HOW JAMIE MOYER DEFIED THE RADAR GUN AND DEFEATED TIME (Grand Central Publishing). The book is dedicated to the late Harvey Dorfman, the sport psychologist who rescued Moyer’s career (and many others like Roy Halladay).

Dorfman is a prominent figure in the book. His penetrating epigrams begin every chapter. "Hoping you will do something means you don't believe you can" and "When we fail to learn, we've learned to fail" are two examples of his tough-love method.

Moyer also provides revealing profiles of other unknown helpmates. He livens up the read with good anecdotes about pitching for the 116-win 2001 Seattle Mariners and his home town 2008 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. He also adds in stories about his life as the son-in-law of basketball's Digger Phelps.

In short, JUST TELL ME I CAN'T is a detailed often inspirational saga that both baseball fans and general readers should enjoy.  Read More 
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End-of-April Thoughts on AL East + Noteworthy Events in Early May

Thoughts on Baseball’s Adventurous AL East April + Notes on Noteworthy May Events

April proved a deliciously unpredictable month for Major League Baseball. The old saying remains very valid: “You cannot win a pennant in April but you sure can lose one.” Branch Rickey used to say that a win in April means two less you have to win in August and September.

The trendy AL East pick Toronto Blue Jays have already dug themselves a big hole. After being swept in four straight at Yankee Stadium to close out April, they languish eight games under .500. They have a lot of work to do to catch up with the high-flying Boston Red Sox and the surprisingly strong Yankees who swept the Jays though wracked by injuries. Good pitching and new life for veterans TRAVIS HAFNER, LYLE OVERBAY and VERNON WELLS will do that. Not to mention the return of MARIANO RIVERA.

Those expensive Toronto acquisitions from the downsizing Miami Marlins don’t look so good now. An awkward slide into second base by shortstop JOSE REYES led to a severely sprained ankle that will sideline him until July. Southpaw MARK BUEHRLE is showing his age and oft-injured righthander JOSH JOHNSON has already missed a start. Knuckleballing Cy Young award-winner R.A.DICKEY has been OK but not great and now he is complaining of assorted injuries.

Expensive free-agent acquisition MELKY CABRERA has been mediocre at best.
It may be too early to bestow the dubious Gary Matthews Jr Impetuous Bad Contract (hereafter cited as the GMJIBC) Award upon Melky but he better turn up his production soon.

What is the GMJIBC? Late in 2007 before the ink was dry on the [former U.S. Senator George] Mitchell Report that explained in detail PED abuse in baseball, Matthews Jr. was signed to a 4-year $50 million contract by the California Angels. He produced very little with that largesse.

This past off-season, the moment Melky became a free agent after the end of his 50-game suspension for PED abuse, the Blue Jays rushed to bestow upon him a 2-year $16 million contract. Let the buyer beware and yet another sign that all it takes is one owner to go bonkers in the free agent auctions.

On the plus side of the AL East, early returns from Boston indicate that new manager JOHN FARRELL, Bosox pitching coach in their recent glory years, has evidently worked wonders in reviving southpaw JON LESTER and righty CLAY BUCHHOLZ. Another nice story in Boston is the power of first baseman MIKE NAPOLI who always hit well at Fenway as a visiting player and is keeping it up in the home whites.

As someone who wishes more players were on one-year contracts so their determination to produce every day could not be questioned, I am pleased with Napoli’s year so far. He was set to sign a multi-year free agent contract when physical examinations revealed a chronic hip condition. After much negotiation, he and his agents settled on a one-year deal and so far so good for both sides.

My Orioles remain right in the mix as the two players who made all the difference late last season, 20-year-old third baseman MANNY MACHADO and 32-year-old left fielder NATE MCLOUTH, are picking up right where they left off.

The poise of Machado has astonished everyone in baseball except probably himself. He has responded to manager Buck Showalter’s installation of him as the number 2 batter in the lineup with consistently good at-bats and he continues to sparkle in the field.
Often hitting leadoff, McLouth is reminding people of the player who made the 2008 All-Star Game as a Pittsburgh Pirate.

The Orioles’ starting pitching remains a cause for concern. They have no ace but JASON HAMMEL and the Taiwanese southpaw WEI-YIN CHEN are generally reliable. The unsung MIGUEL GONZALEZ has been inconsistent this year though CHRIS TILLMAN is showing signs that he might emerge as a reliable starter. But when he loses his release point, it is not a bad idea to reach for the channel clicker.

JAKE ARRIETA, the Hamlet on the rubber, has pitched himself back to Triple-A yet again. Maybe he needs a change of scenery into another organization. Onetime major league stars, aging FREDDY GARCIA and the younger JAIR JURRJENS, are waiting in the wings at Norfolk. Gritty STEVE JOHNSON, a righthander with average stuff who gets the most out of his ability, could be up before any of them. Once-heralded southpaw ZACH BRITTON gets a chance tonight in Seattle to show he belongs in the bigs.

In spite of all these question marks which are already putting a strain on the Orioles’ vaunted bullpen, the O’s are watchable again after years and years in the wilderness far from contention. God Bless Showalter and general manager DAN DUQUETTE who is proving that his success in Montreal and Boston were no flukes.

No assessment of the AL East would be complete without a shout-out to the Tampa Bay Rays. Though they are still a couple of games under .500, they are fun to watch. And manager JOE MADDON knows how to loosen them up when he senses they are trying too hard.

Before successive games at home after a tough early season road trip, Maddon brought into the clubhouse a cockatoo, a DJ spinning hip contemporary records, and two penguins. It is a long season and no one knows better than Maddon how to keep an intense team from being too tense.

Though the Rays traded mound stalwarts JAMES SHIELDS and WADE DAVIS to KC (the young heralded outfielder WIL MYERS they received in return is still polishing his skills at Triple A), any team that can throw out a rotation of reigning AL Cy Young award-winner DAVID PRICE, JEREMY HELLICKSON, ALEX COBB and the youngest sensation MATT MOORE should ultimately contend.

NOTEWORTHY UPCOMING EVENTS OF MAY:
**On FSa May 3-4, Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame opens its “Diamond Mines” exhibit devoted to the life and work of baseball’s most underappreciated people, the scouts.
Among the notables attending will be Hall of Famer PAT GILLICK, the general manager who brought World Series championships to Toronto and Philadelphia and contending teams to Baltimore and Seattle, and Buck O’Neil Award winner ROLAND HEMOND, who has championed scouts throughout a career that now stretches over six decades.
Watch this space for a report about this celebration later this month.

**On SaSu May 4-5, Dartmouth invades Columbia for a best two-out-of-three series to determine the Ivy League entry into the NCAA baseball tournament starting later in May.
Both the Big Green and the Lions feature dominant pitching and timely hitting. They are beginning to send into pro baseball some of their stars - for example, shortstop JOE SCLAFANI from Dartmouth and outfielder DARIO PIZZANO formerly with the Lions.

I’m keeping an eye on the development of Columbia’s dh/cleanup hitter JOEY FALCONE. Nearly 27, Falcone is the oldest player in Division I. After high school in Louisiana, Falcone joined the Navy as a corpsman. He served with the Marines in two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He is the son of former major league southpaw PETE FALCONE.
His stats in 2013 - .303 AB, .525 SA, 5 HR 24 RBIs in only 101 at-bats - only scratch the surface of what might be ahead for this left-handed hitting slugger.

**Here’s notice of another fascinating exploration into international baseball.
In November 2013, a group of six American coaches and scouts are heading to Kenya to provide free clinics in baseball and softball for the boys and girls of that area who are interested in the sports but have limited access and resources.

The team is headed by White Sox scout JOHN TUMMINIA who has previously led
groups to Monte Plata, Dominican Republic, and the Pine Ridge, South Dakota Native American reservation. Among those joining him in the Kenyan trip will be the former major league pitcher ROB BELL, now working in the front office of the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League, and JEFF TAYLOR, special assistant to the Cincinnati Reds’ general manager.

The trips are guided by the Christian relief organizations, Bethlehem Tessema and the Bread and Water Foundation. Contributions are welcome to defray some of the travel expenses to Kenya. Please contact John Tumminia at jtumminia@chisox.com or call 845/742-8772

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
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