Showing posts with label Nelson Cruz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nelson Cruz. Show all posts

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Robin Ventura's strict adherence to lefty-righty matchups costs White Sox in Baltimore

Anyone who has ever watched a game with me knows my biggest pet peeve in baseball is walks. I hate pitchers who walk people. I hate giving hitters a free 90 feet. Just throw the damn ball over the plate, will you?

But, a close second on that list of pet peeves is the way modern-day managers adhere strictly to lefty-righty matchups at all times. Robin Ventura's belief in lefty-righty matchups played a significant role in the White Sox' 5-4 extra-inning loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night. Ventura is hardly the only manager in baseball guilty of this sin -- all of them do it these days -- but the bottom of the eighth inning of Wednesday's game is a good case study in why this lefty-righty stuff drives me absolutely bananas.

The Sox were leading 4-0 going into the fateful eighth inning. Starting pitcher Hector Noesi had been sailing along until that point, but he gave up back-to-back singles to start the frame. With runners on first and second, the middle of the lineup was due for Baltimore. Ventura likely didn't want Noesi to face Steve Pearce, Adam Jones or Chris Davis for a fourth time, so he correctly went to the bullpen and brought in reliever Zach Putnam.

Putnam did a fine job. He retired Pearce and Jones on fly balls to center field, and his stuff looked good. The runners were still planted at first and second with two outs, and Putnam looked poised to work out of the jam and keep the Sox ahead by four runs.

Alas, Davis is a left-handed hitter, and by golly, we can't leave the right-handed Putnam in to face a left-handed hitter, can we? No. That would be dangerous. So, Ventura summoned his washed-up lefty reliever, Scott Downs, who by the way failed to retire Davis when he faced him on Tuesday night.

The Sox are lucky Downs didn't give up a three-run homer to Davis during the course of the at-bat. He hung Davis two breaking balls. Fortunately enough, Davis fouled off both of them. Eventually, Downs walked Davis to load the bases (did I mention I hate walks?), which brought Nelson Cruz to the plate.

Cruz, a strong right-handed hitter, ranks second in the American League in home runs. You can't leave Downs in to face him, so Ventura had no choice but to go to the bullpen once more. He summoned Javy Guerra, which is probably as good a call as he could have made under the circumstances, but I trust Putnam more than Guerra. It would have been nice to have Putnam on the mound in that high-leverage spot, but he had already been relieved of his duties.

Guerra fell behind in the count and eventually served up a game-tying grand slam to Cruz. Baltimore went on to win the game in 12 innings.

I firmly believe that if Putnam had been allowed to face Davis, he would have retired him, and the Sox would have taken a four-run lead into the ninth. More than likely, the outcome of the game would have been different.

Why do managers insist on removing an effective right-handed pitcher from the game just because a left-handed hitter is at the plate? Why do managers feel they need to burn through three or four relievers in the seventh or eighth inning? To me, if you bring in enough relievers, eventually you are going to stumble on a guy who doesn't have his stuff.

Putnam had his stuff. What excuse is there for not sticking with him? There is none.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ronald Belisario's cold streak coincides with his promotion to closer

Remember back on June 12 when the White Sox were only 2.5 games out of the AL Central lead? Some were talking about this team potentially making a surprise run at the division title. Yeah, that was fun while it lasted. Since then, the bottom has fallen out.

The South Siders have now dropped nine out of 11 and have fallen a season-worst seven games (35-42) below .500. They trail the Detroit Tigers by 7.5 games in the division, and they have lost five consecutive games after Monday's 6-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

This latest defeat should not have happened. Ace Chris Sale was in line for the win after allowing just two runs over six innings. He pitched out of a pair of bases-loaded jams to give the Sox a chance at victory. Jose Abreu hit his 22nd home run of the season and drove in three runs, and things were looking good with the Sox up 4-2 in the eighth inning.

Then, the wheels came off. The Orioles got a solo home run from catcher Caleb Joseph off Zach Putnam to tighten the score to 4-3 heading to the ninth. Sox "closer" Ronald Belisario then presided over a spectacular meltdown.

After jumping ahead of Steve Pearce 1-2 in the count, Belisario served up a fat pitch that Pearce hit for a leadoff single. Adam Jones was next hit by a pitch to move the tying run into scoring position and put the winning run on base with nobody out. After Nelson Cruz struck out, Belisario hung a 3-2 slider to Chris Davis, who hit a three-run home run to lift the Orioles to a come-from-behind win.

It's pretty hard to miss the fact that Belisario has been awful since being named closer following an injury to Matt Lindstrom on May 20. Since that date, Belisario has appeared in 13 games, going 7 for 10 in save opportunities. He's allowed 11 earned runs in 11 innings pitched during that stretch. That's easy math: a brutal 9.00 ERA.

Thing is, you can't fault Sox manager Robin Ventura for going to Belisario, because he was the hot hand at the time of Lindstrom's injury. Prior to May 20. Belisario had gone 12 consecutive appearances without surrendering an earned run.

But as soon as he was named closer, Belisario's effectiveness disappeared. Coincidence? I don't believe so. I think Belisario is one of those guys who is just more comfortable pitching the seventh or eighth inning. That's what he's done for most of his career, and he doesn't seem able to handle the responsibility of pitching in the ninth inning.

The closing situation has not gone well for the Sox this year. Lindstrom and Nate Jones, the two top candidates for the job coming into the season, are both on the disabled list. Daniel Webb was mentioned as a potential candidate by pitching coach Don Cooper in the spring, but he has been too wild (25 walks in 35.1 IP) to be trusted in any high-leverage situation - let alone closing.

Belisario is essentially the Sox' fourth option as a closer. It looks like they'll have to find a fifth option, because Belisario is not getting it done.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Baltimore Orioles take a flier on Johan Santana

The Baltimore Orioles continued their recent habit of shopping in the bargain bin on Tuesday, signing two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana to a minor league deal.

Santana, who missed the entire 2013 season, is attempting to come back from a second major surgery on his left shoulder. Reports indicate he had trouble getting his fastball over 80 mph when he threw a bullpen session for interested teams last week, but apparently Baltimore saw enough to take a flier on the former Minnesota Twins ace.

Since it's a minor league deal, it's not much of a gamble. If Santana is unable to regain his arm strength, the Orioles can just cut him and be none the worse for wear. If Santana impresses this spring, the Orioles can add him to the 40-man roster at a relatively low cost.

The 34-year-old lefty would get a $3 million, one-year deal if he is added to the roster and would have the chance to earn an additional $5.05 million in roster and performance bonuses. He would receive the full amount for 120 days and 25 starts.

Baltimore earlier added pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder Nelson Cruz to its roster late in free agency. I was critical of the Jimenez signing, but I can't blame the Orioles for picking up Santana. They still need pitching help, they don't have anything to lose by giving Santana a shot.

In his Minnesota heyday, Santana's out pitch was his changeup. He threw it from the same release point as his fastball, and there was such a wide variance between his heater and his change that opposing hitters had their timing completely disrupted. But if his fastball is going to top out in the low- or mid-80s, there isn't going to be enough variance between that pitch and his changeup for him to be effective.

The Orioles need to hope Santana can get his fastball back up into the 88 or 89 mph range. If he does, he might have some good innings left in his arm.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Orioles grab from the bargain bucket again

In another late maneuver, the Orioles signed outfielder Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million deal.

Nelson Cruz is taking a one-year deal
and will try again for a longer contract
next winter.
Baltimore had been quiet this offseason until signing pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year deal last week. The Orioles decided to wait out the market on Jimenez and Cruz, who reportedly was looking for a contract in the neighborhood of five years and $75 million. Cruz declined the Rangers' qualifying offer of one year and $14 million earlier in the offseason.

It's obvious now Cruz's agent misread the market for his client's services coming off a PED suspension and lacking much in the way of defensive ability.

The Orioles weren't reluctant to snag Cruz at this price, even while having to forfeit a draft pick to do so. Having already given up their first-round pick in the upcoming draft to sign Jimenez, Baltimore only gave up its second-rounder for this deal.

This might not be the end for the Orioles. Having already invested in two bargain free agents, they might also look to fill another gap in their rotation with Ervin Santana, who also languishes on the free agent market.

With the addition of Cruz, Baltimore's lineup looks like:

RF Nick Markakis
3B Manny Machado
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
LF Cruz
SS J.J. Hardy
2B Ryan Flaherty
DH Nolan Reimold/Steve Pearce
C Matt Wieters

That group could be pretty potent, especially if Reimold gets his bat back on track, or the Orioles replace him or Flaherty.

The rotation looks a little more suspect, with Jimenez leading a group that currently includes Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris. Baltimore is really crossing its fingers here, along with some key spots in the bullpen.

Still, give the Orioles credit for not submitting in what is annually a tough American League East. There's possibly a case that could be made that the Orioles are still no better than the third- or fourth-best team in that division. Every team there still has its flaws, and with a second wild card now in play, Baltimore is still good enough to be pursuing the postseason instead of joining the ridiculous race to the bottom some other organizations choose to run in the name of attaining marginally more valuable draft slots.

Don't get me wrong, draft picks are an important part of maintaining fiscal flexibility for teams in the face of exploding free agent contracts. The Orioles might be missing out on some cheap young talent by dipping into the free agent pool right now.

Still, if the point of keeping your picks is to reap millions of dollars in savings, it's hard to say Baltimore isn't also saving millions of dollars by vulture-picking players to bargain contracts now late in the offseason.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Does anyone want these five MLB free agents?

Ubaldo Jimenez
Does your favorite team still need a starting pitcher? Well, there are two free agents out there who might interest you. Both of them had ERAs of 3.30 or better last season -- in the American League, no less.

How about a middle-of-the-order hitter? There are two free agents available who can almost certainly give your team 20 home runs and about 75 or 80 RBIs.

Need defense? The starting shortstop from last year's World Series championship team is available, too.

The Super Bowl is over, and it's almost time for spring training to begin. However, pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are without contracts. Also without a job are first baseman Kendrys Morales, outfielder Nelson Cruz and shortstop Stephen Drew.

All five players were given qualifying offers to return to their 2013 teams on a one-year, $14.1 million deal. All five declined and elected free agency. Here on Feb. 4, the waiting game continues for each player.

Why? Phil Rogers explained it in a recent column on MLB.com. Any team that signs one of these five guys would have to give up a first-round draft pick to that player's former team.

These days, teams are a little slower to part with those draft picks. Remember when the St. Louis Cardinals lost Albert Pujols in free agency? Don't cry for the Cardinals because they used the compensatory draft pick they received from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to select pitcher Michael Wacha, who was last seen helping the Cardinals to the 2013 NL pennant.

And don't cry for the Angels either. When they lost Mark Teixeira in free agency after the 2008 season, they received a compensatory draft pick from the New York Yankees and used it to select outfielder Mike Trout, who is probably the best young position player in the sport today.

So, if you're wondering why decent major league players like the five listed above are still looking for work, look no further than the rules about compensatory draft picks. GMs are now figuring the loss of a valuable draft pick into the "cost" of signing these free agents, and accordingly, they aren't willing to give as much money to guys like Ervin Santana. Clubs are going to wait until the last minute to sign these players, once the price comes down to bargain levels.

Eventually, these five players are going to get a contract with somebody. You won't need to cry for them either, because they won't go hungry. But they probably aren't going to get the money they believe they're worth, and they may not even get the $14.1 million they could have had by staying with their 2013 teams.

Most -- if not all -- of these players would already be signed if they weren't tied to draft pick compensation. But this is the gamble they took when they refused those qualifying offers, and here they sit on Feb. 4.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Nelson Cruz suspension is more interesting than the A-Rod circus

Major League Baseball finally lowered the boom on some cheaters Monday, suspending 13 players for their connection to Biogenesis, a now-shuttered Miami clinic that provided performance-enhancing drugs to baseball players and other athletes.

The suspended are (in alphabetical order): Philadelphia pitcher Antonio Bastardo, San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera, New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz (pictured), minor league pitcher Fautino De Los Santos, minor league pitcher Sergio Escalona, minor league outfielder Fernando Martinez, minor league catcher Jesus Montero, free agent pitcher Jordan Norberto, Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta, minor league outfielder Cesar Puello, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and minor league utility player Jordany Valdespin.

Twelve of the 13 players received 50-game suspensions. The notable exception being Rodriguez, who was suspended 211 games for being a repeat offender, reportedly recruiting other players to the Biogenesis clinic and impeding MLB's investigation into the matter.

Twelve of the 13 players accepted their punishment. The notable exception being Rodriguez, who filed an appeal that will allow him to continue playing until a judgment is made. Rodriguez, who just returned from a hip injury, went 1-for-4 in his season debut Monday night -- an 8-1 loss to the White Sox.

As expected, a media circus surrounded Rodriguez. My reaction to him is basically, "Who cares?" The guy is a liar and a cheater. His appeal is going to be denied. He's going to be suspended for the 2014 season, and we'll probably never seen him in a big league uniform after that. The Yankees are a fourth-place team in the rugged AL East, and the 38-year-old Rodriguez's return to the lineup figures to have little effect, if any, on the playoff race. It does not look like New York will be making the postseason this year.

The more interesting story is down in Texas. Cruz, 33, leads the second-place Rangers with 27 home runs and 76 RBIs. He is clearly the best run producer in a lineup that is struggling to score runs. Texas entered play Tuesday with a 63-50 record, two games back of Oakland in the AL West. Losing Cruz is a huge blow to the Rangers' pennant hopes. This is a guy who has been batting third or fourth in the lineup all year, an impactful player still in the prime of his career who plays for a contending team.

At the trade deadline, it was assumed Texas would acquire a corner outfielder in anticipation of Cruz being suspended, much like Detroit went out and acquired Jose Iglesias to play shortstop in place of the suspended Peralta. Instead, the Rangers stood pat, leading many to assume Cruz was going to appeal his suspension and play out the season.

On Monday, Cruz accepted his punishment and began serving his suspension. Some have called Cruz "selfish" for deciding to serve his suspension now, arguing that the "team-first move" would have been to appeal the suspension, play out the year, presumably help the Rangers win, then drop the appeal and serve the suspension next year when the games "mean less."

Do a Twitter search for "Cruz selfish" and you'll see plenty of people making this argument. From where I'm sitting, that's hogwash. Cruz is obviously guilty of using PEDs. If he was innocent, wouldn't he appeal? Obviously, he knows he did it, and he knows the evidence is stacked against him. Morally, isn't it the right thing to do to accept your punishment when you've done wrong?

If Cruz did something selfish, it was taking the PEDs in the first place. Putting himself in position to be suspended, that's how he hurt the Rangers. I don't see anything wrong with accepting the consequences for breaking the rules.

A-Rod, narcissist that he is, refuses to admit that he's done wrong and refuses to see the damage he's done to the game of baseball. Isn't that part of the reason we as fans are booing the crap out of him each and every time he steps to home plate? I believe so.

The other storyline around Cruz, of course, is that Texas still needs a right fielder for the pennant drive. Hey Rangers fans, I hear Alex Rios is available.