Bill James drawing from last year. It was also a convenient holiday greeting card for a few people. The Red Sox sure had a good season.
Bill James drawing from last year. It was also a convenient holiday greeting card for a few people. The Red Sox sure had a good season.
The Milwaukee Brewers seem to be in a holding pattern at the moment at baseball’s Winter Meetings, though hopefully that’s only on the surface. Tom Haudricourt reports the team is keeping an eye on veteran bullpen arms, but the main focus is how to answer that nagging question of who will be the club’s starting first baseman. Free agent Corey Hart reportedly has many teams interested in pursuit, and by association, many teams are said to have interest in Logan Morrison of the Miami Marlins and Ike Davis of the New York Mets, also first-base types. The Brewers have said they would like to hear whether they can work it out with Corey Hart before moving on to other options for the first-base bag, but they’ve talked in advance with the Marlins and Mets just in case Hart decides he wants to go elsewhere. The Brewers are in a precarious and vulnerable position in all of this, swinging by the whims of the Kentucky native Hart. GM Doug Melvin has flatly stated that the club doesn’t have the financial resources to solve several problems at once.
So, in the vacuum of developments on the Hart front, the situation begs a closer look at other first base options, which the Brewers may well have to utilize. Hart and James Loney likely headline the free-agent class, and Loney is said to be looking for a multi-year deal with an average annual value of around $8-10MM. That’s well out of the Brewers’ range, and one has to wonder if Hart sniffs a bigger payday than he may have dreamed of when he said he’d take a discount to stick around in Milwaukee.
There are other free agents available, but they are a mix of has-beens and question marks (Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey Kotchman, Casey McGehee, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Pena, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis), and then Kendrys Morales, who’s been more productive than most of the others recently but also has qualifying-offer-related draft-pick compensation attached to his future. So, the guys who are the cheapest AND most-promising options to fill an empty first-base slot appear to be Corey Hart, a guy who has been very productive when he’s been healthy, and trade candidates like Morrison and Davis who could be bounce-back, possible positive-WAR guys on low salaries and with team control. Morrison is slated to make around $1.7MM in arbitration and Davis around double that at $3.5MM, MLBTR predicts. It looks like they’re both eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2014, but Davis is a super-2 player. Both are eligible for free agency in 2017 at the earliest, according to Baseball Reference.
Morrison and Davis have pretty similar career trajectories in a lot of ways. Both debuted in the majors in 2010. Both players are 26 years old and have played in four major league seasons. Davis bests Morrison’s career numbers in terms of games played (442 to Morrison’s 363), AB’s, runs, hits, doubles, and walks. Davis has 25 more homers than does Morrison, though their slash lines are nearly identical for their careers: .249/.337/.427/.764 for Morrison and .242/.334/.434/.768 for Davis. Both players have missed time due to injuries and demotions. Overall, Davis has been more durable. Neither guy is going to win a Gold Glove at first base, but they could fill the position for the Brewers for the next year or two at least. Optimistically, the Brewers already have hit the floor in terms of first-base disasters and can only go up from here. It will be interesting to see how this narrative plays out. Will Hart forgo possibly better offers to return to the Crew? If not, do the Brewers find a better match in the more-validated Davis or the more-mercurial Morrison? Or: none of the above? And…will someone take Rickie Weeks? Ideally we’ll know the proposed solution to first base by Thursday.
(Image: newyorkmetsreport.com)no comments
(Image: Morry Gash/AP)
I would guess most Brewers fans think it’s a shame that the Norichika Aoki era came to an end earlier this week (unless he pulls a Betancourt). There are plenty of players that fans like to gripe about, but it’s hard to remember Aoki generating any animosity in his two seasons in Milwaukee. Even when he went through slumps or committed the odd error, it felt like Brewers fans appreciated the way Aoki handled himself. He seemed to have a good attitude, he made opposing pitchers work, and he produced in the leadoff spot of the batting order. It would have nice if the Brewers could have figured out a way to keep him.
Now that Aoki has moved on, it’s nice to reminisce about the good times. Feeling nostalgic, I went to MLB.com and perused Aoki’s video highlights. There are plenty of great plays and RBI hits, although not much in the way of big dramatic moments. I suppose that makes sense – Aoki was a solid, consistent player over the last two years, and didn’t have the high-highs or low-lows that guys like Rickie Weeks or Corey Hart have had. Also, leadoff hitters don’t have the same opportunities to impact a game offensively as hitters in the middle of the order. Still, there were plenty of moments to warm the heart. Here are five personal favorites.
April 20, 2012 vs. Rockies: Aoki’s first (inside the park) home run
Inside the park homers are always amusing, since they typically involve some kind of defensive misplay/poor judgment, and you’re thinking, “Can he make it? I think he’s going to make it.” Aoki made it.
Video highlight: Look at that guy go.
September 9, 2012 at Cardinals: Aoki blows Motte’s save
The Brewers would ultimately lose this game in the tenth inning, unable to complete the three-game sweep. (Seems strange to think the Brewers would ever be in a position to sweep St. Louis.) Even so, Aoki’s homerun in the ninth was as clutch as it gets, and it’s always nice to spoil the fun of the best fans in baseball, if only temporarily.
Video highlight: And the crowd went mild.
August 6, 2012 vs. Reds: Aoki says no extra bases for you
Aoki’s defense was consistently (there’s that word again) great in right field, and there are numerous video highlights of him robbing batters of hits and RBIs. This play stands out for me because it was another clutch situation. In the eighth inning of a three-run game, bases loaded with one out, Aoki had to make a diving catch, then pop up and get the ball back to the infield. The video also includes the Uecker call, which is always a bonus.
Video highlight: “Aoki with a beautiful back-handed diving catch!”
June 7, 2012 vs. Cubs: Aoki’s walk off
Aoki isn’t much of a power threat, but I suppose he’s a guy pundits would say has “some” pop – 18 homers in 1,117 at-bats. Going into this game, his only homerun was the aforementioned inside-the-parker against the Rockies. Aoki would explode with two homers against the Cubs, including the game-winner in the tenth. Just look at the smile on his face. If only the Brewers could play the Cubs every day.
Video highlight: “Who says he can’t hit ‘em over the fence?”
June 14, 2013 at Reds: Aoki gives fan a hand
I had forgotten about this little gem, and it’s just precious. During extra innings in Cincinnati, Aoki caught a foul pop right in front of the first row, coming face-to-face with a fan. The fan holds out his hands in a “Can I have that ball?” gesture. Aoki (kinda sorta) gives him five instead, and walks away smirking. The fans all have a good laugh, and it’s just one of those adorable moments that guys like Nyjer Morgan probably didn’t have a lot of on the road. Priceless.
Video highlight: Not yours.
I’m sure Brewers fans wish Aoki nothing but the best in his future endeavors. My only regret about Aoki’s Milwaukee career is we don’t know the origin of the “finger moustache” inside joke depicted above. It might be a you-had-to-be-there thing, but I’m still curious. It will be interesting to see if Aoki takes it to Kansas City with him.no comments
“The Milwaukee Streetcar will…establish a successful initial system that will allow for practical expansions in the future as funding allows and market demand dictates. Without this start, a modern, fixed-rail transit system that connects people to jobs and daily needs will never EXPAND CITY-WIDE.”
Debates on mass transit are always political, because they affect many people and everyone has an opinion on the feasibility, importance and cost of such projects. Usually, however, the biggest shitstorm regarding these projects is upon their startup and planning. Can you imagine New York City without a subway system? Of course not: it’s ingrained in the culture and functionality of that great metropolis. The first elevated section of the subway in New York opened way, way back in 1868, while the first underground section began operation in 1904. In 2012, the subway delivered over 1.5 billion rides on a system that translates to over 650 miles of revenue track. But even in New York, there was paranoia, fear and anger over the proposed subway system.
It’s no surprise, then, that a much smaller city like Milwaukee with its long-entrenched car culture would find the idea of mass transit systems, like streetcars, to be a volatile topic. I found it disappointing that the federal government in September declined to provide grant money for which Milwaukee had applied to expand the startup streetcar system, but perhaps more details need to be ironed out first. But really, a streetcar system would bring Milwaukee back to its roots. Milwaukee had a streetcar system from around 1890 until the late 1950s. Like many American cities, rail systems began to be phased out due to the fascination with cars and buses and the lure of the open and newly paved road. People wanted to drive themselves and go where they wanted, when they wanted.
The independence provided by the car culture is somewhat analogous with suburban sprawl. That sprawl found tens of thousands of people moving away from the vital urban cores where they’d once lived their entire lives, and as a result, a move also occurred away from the heavy use of the backbones of those cities, the streetcar lines. Sure, many factors came into play with this change in American culture, but in the last 20 years or so, transportation methods have sort of come full circle, back to fixed-track technology but now featuring efficient, modern light-rail trains or streetcars. In a country as broad as the United States it makes little sense to build a robust network of trains that would crisscross the entire continent like they have in Europe. The density of the country in terms of population doesn’t support that. It makes sense to have bullet-type trains between major population centers, but what I’m most interested in are localized, regional transit networks.
(Image: European railway map; Wikipedia)
In my opinion, Milwaukee is decades behind in this area, and I think there’s a direct, obvious connection between a lack of modern transit in Milwaukee and problems with the local economy. People who live in the Milwaukee area are less likely to come into downtown Milwaukee to party at bars, eat at restaurants or check out a Bucks game if they have to drive there, especially during the winter. People from Chicago or Madison are less likely to pop into Milwaukee when there is no easy transit system.
City buses are a less-than-brilliant alternative to trains because they have to stop so many times. In addition, the buses in Milwaukee are run on an antiquated system of paper transfers that can’t even be read electronically. Many cities provide more time for riders to use transfers and employ a system where a scanner simply reads a code on the card and the rider is on his or her way. This method bypasses time-wasting procedures like having to show your transfer to the driver.
Another thing about buses is that they have a bad reputation for not showing up on time or people perceive their clientele as of ill repute. Buses have to deal with traffic and weather problems much more directly. With trains, there’s a lot more room for people to sit and move about, and the train only stops at designated stations, providing a quicker, more comfortable and reliable ride. Many people tend to associate transit systems with ‘undesirables’ or low-income folks but the reality is that in most big cities, the diversity of the train ridership is deep and wide. People from all races, ethnicities and economic classes ride the trains because it makes common sense. Why would anyone drive when it is 10 times cheaper and easier to hop on a train? Trains are also typically run via electric current, and are thereby more efficient and less environmentally harmful that exhaust-belching buses and certainly less damaging than everyone driving their personal automobiles everywhere. On top of all that, you can drink and not have to worry about driving home. When you have rail backing you up, you’ll get home safely; no driving drunk. With rail there is less money spent on parking fees and less of a need to build more monolithic ugly parking structures. In addition, rail transit encourages walking, which would be good for everyone.
“Rail transport is an energy-efficient but capital-intensive means of
mechanized land transport.”
“[Rail transport] arrangements revalue city spaces, local taxes, housing
values, and promotion of mixed use development.”
Trains aren’t perfect by any means, but the biggest cost in instituting a rail system is the genesis of that system. Once it’s up and running, it can do wonders and the extension of it is then less expensive and audacious than the startup. I’ve encountered rail systems in Denver, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Chicago, Washington, St. Louis, New York, and elsewhere, and each and every time I’ve come across these networks I’ve been amazed at the vitality and movement they bring to the communities they serve. I live in Minneapolis, and the rail line here is soon to welcome a major expansion which will see the existing line, which runs between the Mall of America and airport area to downtown Minneapolis, connected with a new line that will run through the University of Minnesota campus and all the way to downtown St. Paul. In comparison to the fluidity and effectiveness of transit in many of these places, Milwaukee is disconnected, offline; a rail system could really bring a lot of great things in Milwaukee together, and make them more accessible to more people. I want that for my home town.
(Image: Paul Weyrich Photo; http://www.thetransportco.com/id8.html)
I’ve seen firsthand the extreme revaluation of property values around rail lines and the development they spur. Previously little-used plots of land are seeing major development and housing projects rise from the dust. I’ve seen the light-rail system here carry thousands of Twins and Vikings fans to and from games. I can take the train to the Mall of America, Target Field or to the airport without ever having to consider taking a car. Minneapolis also has a commuter rail line going north and is developing a major transit hub next to Target Field which will link many lines together. I’ve seen the ease and excitement with which visitors to the city gravitate toward the transit system BECAUSE simple and quick light rail is involved. It’s a heck of a lot more inviting for visitors to use a mapped-out, easy-to-understand fixed-rail system than try to decipher convoluted bus routes when they visit a city. Milwaukee’s intermodal station would be truly effective if it were hooked up to a city light-rail/streetcar system. Imagine a train line that would take people from General Mitchell Airport up through the Bay View neighborhood and into downtown Milwaukee, for example. I want Milwaukee to dream big things for its future.
Granted, what’s done is done and Miller Park sits in a giant concrete slab rather than somewhere in downtown Milwaukee proper. I respect the sanctity of the tailgating tradition for the Brewers. I also think it would do the city a lot of good to send train loads of Brewers fans into downtown Milwaukee and vice versa. Just think if people could jump on the train from over by Brady Street, for example, and ride a streetcar all the way to Miller Park….how cool would that be? Downtown Milwaukee would become a destination for Brewers fans before and after games unlike it is now. Visitors to the city could stay in downtown hotels and take the train easily to Brewers games and other destinations. Furthermore, visitors to the city would be much more likely to explore areas of the city that currently feel far away from the baseball action, including the Third Ward, Riverwest and East Side areas, to name a few. I applaud visitors who manage to see a lot of Milwaukee despite its lack of good transit. It takes some work, especially if you don’t have a car handy.
I’m not saying rail is the answer to everything. Of course it isn’t. It may bring complications and issues. It will scare some people for various reasons. The startup is expensive (but worth it). But does Milwaukee want to be a great city in this century, or fade into obscurity? Milwaukee needs to go bold again, think big again. Milwaukee needs to invest in its future and the future will invest in Milwaukee. Why wouldn’t Milwaukee want to be more connected with Chicago and Madison? Isolation is not the answer to Milwaukee’s woes. It seems a no-brainer to me that Milwaukee would want to connect to those places as well as institute its own people-moving system within the city. Just imagine how much more attractive the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette would be to prospective students if they knew they could get around town by simply jumping on the rail? Imagine how many folks from Chicago or visiting Chicago might head on up to Brew City for a day if it could be done cheaply and without a rigorous departure schedule.
(Image: "Route 10 car on the former joint right of way near Soldiers Home and County Stadium"; check out this site for more amazing images: http://www.thetransportco.com/id8.html)
The first planned route of the proposed streetcar system is nice, if extremely modest. And even that isn’t a sure thing yet. The Streetcar website notes that the City of Milwaukee Common Council “voted to authorize planning work” and the Federal Transit Administration “issued a Finding of No Significant Impact”. Much work remains to get this thing started for real. What I’m really excited about is the potential of an expanded system that would see a train running to Miller Park, perhaps the Milwaukee County Zoo, the Harley Davidson museum, Summerfest, to the north and west, whatever. Connect the city to itself for the first time in ages. Bring neighborhoods together, rather than separate them. Downtown Milwaukee would be revitalized with a rail system. My confidence in an eventual rail line to Miller Park is shaky…it could be a pipe dream or it could be 10 years away. Who knows. In any case, Milwaukee would be wise to invest in a rail system as soon as possible. Get it going, and horizons currently invisible will become seen.
(Image: "800 series car on Route 40, South Side"; http://www.thetransportco.com/id8.html)
(Image: TheMilwaukeeStreetcar.com)no comments
(Image: Gary Porter)
Last week, Ryan Braun made his first unscripted remarks to the press following his suspension and the revelation he had lied about PED use. Very little new information came out of it, and it seems clear Braun is unwilling to provide the juicy details most fans and pundits have been hoping for. Braun’s lack of candor prompted expressions of dissatisfaction from the likes of JSOnline editorialists, and a substantial number of Brewers fans still say they’re through with Braun – one-third of respondents to this poll indicated “No, Absolutely Not” will they forgive him.
It’s up to every fan’s individual judgment if they want to support Braun now that he’s an admitted cheater. In making these (perhaps hasty) judgments, it may be worth reexamining how arbitrary and elastic the idea of cheating really is.
Two days after Braun’s press conference, MLB and the MLB Players Association issued the annual report on the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Two points from the report exemplify the muddled definition MLB has established for cheating as far as using PEDs. First, eight tests that found banned stimulants – Adderall and Methylhexaneamine – resulted in discipline. Second, 119 players also used stimulants, but were not disciplined because they were granted exemptions for Attention Deficit Disorder.
Under MLB’s drug policy, eight players who used stimulants are cheaters, but the other 119 players using the same substances are not. Add to that three other players who have exemptions for hypogonadism – for which the treatment is testosterone replacement therapy – and the total number of non-cheating PED users in MLB is 122.
Surely, those 122 players would say their use of PEDs is legitimate because they have a doctor’s note. But the reality is that the medical judgment of someone who writes prescriptions for a professional athlete is not beyond criticism. Plenty of observers have noticed that MLB players are diagnosed with ADD at a much higher rate than the population at large:
The average age of a Major League Baseball player is around 27 years of age. It is estimated that 4.4 percent, or 10 million, US adults aged 18 to 44 have ADD/ADHD, far below the 14 percent average that MLB players are said to have a condition that should allow them to use banned substances that have stimulant properties.
Perhaps all those players really need stimulants for legitimate medical reasons, and wouldn’t be helped by anything else. It’s just suspicious that the number of ADD exemptions in baseball has jumped dramatically since amphetamines were banned in 2006, when only 28 players received such exemptions:
In 2012, MLB tightened the rules so that the league could investigate a player's need for an ADD prescription rather than just accept the prescription of an independent physician.
Nonetheless, the number of exemptions generally continued to rise, albeit slowly: 106 in 2008, 108 in 2009, 105 in 2010 and 2011, 116 in 2012, and 119 this year.
Even though Bud Selig has been a conspicuous drug warrior during his tenure as MLB commissioner, his administration has been relatively blasé about ADD exemptions. One year ago, MLB’s then-VP of Labor Relations Rob Manfred (currently COO) said it was “ridiculous” to compare MLB players’ rate of ADD diagnoses with the general public, and that “The incidents for Adderall use we see are not out of line with what you would expect with people in this age group.”
That’s the same Rob Manfred who has been leading MLB’s charge against Alex Rodriguez, and who was the first to condemn the arbitration process that overturned Braun’s original suspension in 2011. But as recently as one year ago, Manfred didn’t seem particularly troubled by the high rate of stimulant use by players.
That seems capricious, inconsistent, and it underscores how convoluted our thinking is when it comes to PED use by professional athletes. Even MLB officials who otherwise go to extraordinary lengths to find and punish some PED users are happy to look the other way for other PED users. One player who uses PEDs is a cheater and deserves discipline. Another player who uses the very same PEDs is not a cheater…and Manfred might even come to that player’s defense in the media.
Obviously, none of these findings change the fact that Braun used PEDs and lied about it. But if the question is about accepting an apology from a stranger who happens to be a well-known professional athlete, maybe it’s not so bad to forgive him for cheating when the definition of “cheating” is highly variable.no comments