Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Santana Trade Thoughts

The Twins have traded Johan Santana in exchange for four of Baseball America's top ten ranked Mets minor leaguers. They include Deolis Guera (rhp, 2nd), Carlos Gomez (cf, 3rd), Kevin Mulvey (rhp, 4th), and Phil Humber (rhp, 7th). While some of the players differ, I predicted this back in August. Based on what I've read so far, most seem to agree that the Mets got the better end of this deal, which is an obvious initial assessment. But we need to consider multiple factors when assessing this deal.

The Trading Market
The market for Johan Santana has been tepid since speculation arose that he was on the trading block. At first glance, this doesn't make sense for a 29 year old left-hander with two Cy Youngs on his resume (should have three) who many believe is the best pitcher in baseball. However, at second glance only a few teams could afford to make offers. Santana has a no-trade clause and is on the final year of his contract with the Twins. He made it well-known that he wanted to be shipped to a contender, specifically on the east coast, and he was seeking a contract in excess of 6 years, $20 million per. There aren't many teams that can meet those terms. Actually, there are only three, the Yankees, Red, Sox and Mets. So, Twins G.M. Bill Smith had very little negotiating leverage to begin with. This is why you cannot compare this trade to the Dan Haren trade or yet to be consummated Erik Bedard trade.

To make matters worse, there are indications that the Red Sox and Yankees never actually wanted Santana as badly as the media projected. Their main objective may have been to prevent the other team from acquiring the ace. The fact that the Yankees or the Red Sox did not even make a last ditch offer remotely resembling the offers made in December indicates they were satisfied with allowing the Mets win the Santana sweepstakes, because both teams had the prospects to best the Mets offer.

The reality of the situation is that market may have been composed of one team, the Mets, and the other two teams participating had very good reasons to get out. Namely, young stud pitchers who each team could control through their arbitration years: Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy for the Yankees, and Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester for the Red Sox. Plus, had the Yankees traded for Johan Santana and signed him to his asking price of $150 mil. that would have cost the Yankees $200 mil. real dollars given how much it would take them over the luxury tax.

The Small Market
When evaluating this trade we need to consider the limits of Minnesota's small market. Twins G.M. Bill Smith traded one year of Johan Santana (Smith was not going to resign him) for 24 years of big league service time. That's four players whose six-year arbitration clocks haven't started ticking yet. That is extremely valuable for a small market team.

Second, he received minor-league pitchers. It has become pretty evident that for small-market teams to remain competitive in the American League they must do so by developing young pitching. Small-market teams cannot afford to compete with the offensive firepower of the Yankees, Red Sox and the newly revamped Tigers by attempting to match them run for run. So, they must rely on good pitching to keep them in games against these slugging teams. Had Smith traded Santana for 4 position players, it would not have made the Twins anymore competitive, unless he was able to flip these prospects for young pitchers. Small-market teams in the American League must develop pitching to compete with teams in larger markets that have become offensive minded.

Finally, in acquiring Gomez, it's pretty clear Smith has refocused Twins baseball on the fundamentals: pitching, defense, and base-running. The premise of Michael Lewis' groundbreaking biography of Oakland A's G.M. Billy Beane, Moneyball was that in order for small market Major League Baseball teams to survive they had to invest their money where other's were not. Zig when others zag. Then, that meant that Beane invested in on base percentage instead of home runs or batting average. Today that means investing in defense. During this offseason, it has become pretty clear that Bill Smith is investing in defense and base-running with his signing of Adam Everett, Mike Lamb, and his trade for Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez. Eventually, an outfield of Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, and Micheal Cuddyer could make up one of the best outfields in baseball. He's zagging while others are zigging, an absolute necessity for a small market G.M.

The Prospects
Scouts vary on their opinions of the players involved in this deal. After surveying a lot opinions in various blogs and articles from "experts" the two players with the highest upside in this trade are Guera (18 yrs. old) and Gomez (22 yrs. old). Many seem to think both have been rushed through the Mets farm system (a testament to how shallow that system is) and could use some more seasoning in the minors. So, don't be surprised if the Twins sign a stop-gap center fielder like Kenny Lofton or Corey Patterson and a low-cost innings eater like Steve Trachsel or Tony Armas Jr.

Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey both project to be middle of the rotation starters. Humber was the 3rd overall draft pick out of Rice University where he won an NCAA title. He was derailed with Tommy John surgery in 2005 and has yet to regain his collegiate form. He still projects as a MLB pitcher, but does not have the stuff he had prior to surgery. Mulvey projects as a control artist who keeps the ball in the stadium and on the ground, similar to Twins youngster Kevin Slowery-a nice profile for a team that emphasizes defenses. (Learn more about the Twins new acquisitions here)

I'm not as down on this trade as many analysts because I like the way the Twins have spread the risk around four players. If they take the deal with the Yankees and Phil Hughes gets hurt, they end up with an average center fielder, Melky Cabrera, for Johan Santana, and that's it. Plus, the Twins have a history of identifying good prospects from other farm systems. Some examples:

Alexi Casilla (from the Angels for J.C. Romero, 2005)
Francisco Liriano (from the Giants for A.J. Pierzynski, 2003)
Jason Bartlett (from the Padres for Brian Buchanan, 2002)
Johan Santana (from the Marlins for Jared Camp, 1999)
Kyle Lohse (from the Cubs for Rick Aguilera, 1999)
Cristian Guzman (from the Yankees for Chuck Knoblauch, 1998)
Joe Mays (from the Mariners for Roberto Kelly, 1997)
David Ortiz (from the Mariners for Dave Hollins, 1996)

While the Twins were forced to give up the best pitcher in baseball due to the financial constraints of this small market, let's remember the context, and trust the scouts that have put the Minnesota Twins in contention for the last 5-10 years.

Update (01/31/08): A smarter person more effectively stating what I tried to say, using statistics and stuff (click here).

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"For me, it's all about KFC."

Before you watch this parody of the infamous Tom Cruise Scientology video, make sure to watch some of the real thing here.

(Thanks for the link Todd.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cruisin' the Web (01/22/08)

Random highlights from my most recent travels aboard the world wide web.

  • The Tom Cruse Scientology video. His stare is seriously spooky. At what point will this stuff effect his movie career? On a side note: How freakin' awesome was Tom Cruise as Maverick in Top Gun? Easily one of my Top Ten movies of alltime.
  • I am "The Rich" by Heather Koerner. With below zero temps, sky-high heat bills, and a child in day care, I sure don't feel rich. Of course, 'rich' is relative isn't it? Warning: Conviction looms behind click.
  • According to this economic evaluation of possible Johan Santana trades by Yahoo's Vince Gennaro, a trade to the Mets makes most sense because his possible future value to the Mets franchise matches that of the rumored Mets prospects the Twins are to receive. He believes the Yankees and Red Sox would not receive equal value in return for the ace.
  • Debunking myths about why so many young adults tend to leave the church. Surprise, it is not because of secular universities.
  • I've never heard of Chardon jeans, which is a shame, because they had the makings of a great ad campaign (see for yourself here): an arcade, roller skates, and Larry Bird.
  • In an interview with Beliefnet, Mike Huckabee tries to squirm out of his comments that the constitution should be aligned with biblical standards. Someone needs to reminds this guy of that high school civics lesson on the Bill of Rights, specifically the first amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
  • So much for Bill Clinton being the first black president. Hint: Don't fall asleep during events honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Steven D. Levitt analyzes the relationship between declining abortion rates and crime, "...legalization of abortion in the 1970s reduced crime in the 1990s. The logic is simple: unwanted children have an increased risk of growing up to be criminals, and legalized abortion reduces the number of unwanted children. Consequently, legalized abortion lowers crime in the future." So, what effect does the increased availability of contraception have upon this theory?
  • Kobe Bryant holds 4 of the top 10 spots for most field goal attempts in an NBA game, having most recently claimed the 6th spot, heaving 44 shots against the lowly Seattle Supersonics. FORTY-FOUR! See for yourself here, complete with shot chart. And you wonder why Shaq left town and nobody wants to play with this guy. Apparently even professionals don't like ball hogs.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr. (More Thoughts)

Just read Beliefnet's interview of Mike Huckabee. He answers various questions in it, but I want to focus on one answer specifically in light of this holiday.
Q. There’s something interesting going on now in the evangelical world – there’s a conversation going on about what the agenda ought to be that seems broader. There was a little bit of a sense that the religious conservative leadership, while emphasizing important things like abortion and family, had neglected issues like poverty and the environment. Do you think that’s true?

A. I’ve said that, that I’ve felt like as Christians and particularly even as Republicans, we needed to address issues that touched the broader perspective, and that included disease, hunger, poverty, homelessness, the environment. And it’s not a matter that we’re going to become left-wingers. I don’t think that at all. I think taking care of the earth is a matter of stewardship. It’s not about global warming, it’s about stewardship and responsibility. Things like hunger and homelessness. And it’s not about having a government program, it’s about simply reminding each of us as individual citizens that this is an area of our own responsibility. At my own church… our church is very, very engaged in everything from dealing with hunger, poverty, and we reach out to a lot of people. We don’t ask the government to do it. We do it ourselves as a church. It’s part of our ministry. The only reason the government would get involved would be that the other social institutions – primarily the family the church the neighborhood – failed. If the family or church does its own work and does it well, then there’s no reason for government to ever get into these things at all. The ideal is that they wouldn’t, that they’ll do a lousy job of it generally.
So, Huckabee gives the classic conservative response here--small government--leave social welfare to private institutions. Fair enough.

Juxtapose this quote with the USA Today article, "Why Christian's Should Seek MLK's Dream, Despite Gains" by Tom Krattenmaker. Krattenmaker argues that "Christians could be this country's greatest force by rejecting the temptation of complacency--and a me-first prosperity gospel--while leading the way to racial justice." The article begins by convincingly outlining the numerous ways blacks continue to suffer racial injustices, falling short of King's "Dream," and finishes by asking whether racial progress is the responsibility of the individual or society.

Americans err if we believe that it's only a black responsibility to right the social wrongs of racial inequality. It's a white responsibility, too — and a Christian responsibility. Why Christians? It's not that other faiths can't do their part as well, but Christians — by sheer number and religious tradition — could be our best hope.

History shows that the teachings of Christianity hold an undeniable power to inspire positive social movements and call Americans to conscience, as they did during King's time. Many Christians will be the first to tell you they should be held to a higher standard — because their religion insists on it.

As the distinguished columnist Roger Cohen recently reminded, it is on the matter of race where one finds the greatest gulf between American behavior and American ideals. Will history find the same gap between Christian behavior and Christian ideals?
Sociologists have recognized that Sunday is the most racially segregated day of the week, suggesting that the church is not as integrated as the rest of society. So, if Mike Huckabee's conservative philosophy is correct, and we are to leave social welfare up to private institutions, how are we to expect racial progress when the church has yet to integrate at the same pace as society on the whole? What makes us think the contributions of homogeneous churches will create a more equitable society?

I am a Christian, and I would like to believe that the church would create a more equitable society where all races are reconciled, but I am weary. Until Martin's "Dream" is fulfilled within the church, maybe the government should do what it can to maintain a level playing field for all people outside the church.

(Kind of a hopeless post for MLK Jr. day isn't it?)

Martin Luther King Jr.

Every time I watch this speech from the 1968 March on Washington it gives me goose bumps and brings me to tears.

I absolutely agree with Greg Boyd's take on MLK Jr.,
Before marching, King would always tell his audiences he didn't want anyone marching who could not genuinely say she loved her white oppressors and was marching not only for her own freedom, but for the freedom of her oppressors (for King saw that oppressing another is as much a form of bondage as being oppressed). Not only this, but King would tell audiences he didn't want anyone marching who couldn't commit to refraining from all violence, even in self-defense. King explicitly based all this on the teaching and example of Jesus.

This makes what King did not simply a good and necessary social movement. It makes what King did a Kingdom movement. Indeed, I'd argue that the early civil rights movement, led by King, was one of the clearest expressions of the Kingdom [of God] in history.
Beliefnet posted a series of quotes from MLK's sermons. One in particular seemed relevant for American's today,
"In the terrible midnight of war men have knocked on the door of the church to ask for the bread of peace, but the church has often disappointed them. What more pathetically reveals the irrelevancy of the church in present-day world affairs than its witness regarding war? In a world gone mad with arms buildup, chauvinistic passions and imperialistic exploitation, the church has either endorsed these activities or remained appallingly silent. ...A weary world, pleading desperately for peace, has often found the church morally sanctioning war."
It was at this point in history that the cuddly black King became a nuisance to white America. It is one thing to target bigots who sic dogs on black teenagers and use fire hoses on peaceful protesters, it is quite another to criticize a war against Godless communism in Southeast Asia.

The American church today would do well to reflect on the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. on more than just one day a year.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

One Difference Between the Quran and the Bible

You won't find a Muslim doing this to the Quran. Apparently, it's practical.

People Say Stupid Things

It was 45 minutes before game time. As I strolled into the locker room ready to focus my players on the task ahead of us I was appalled to notice three players wearing apparel from another high school--let's call it Abraham Lincoln High. Abraham Lincoln High had just one week prior whipped us by 50+ points, and these shirts were not available to the general public. They were only given to members of their student section.

So, one minute I'm focused on getting my team mentally prepared to win a basketball game, and within an instant I am speechless, quickly filling with rage. How could members of this team, who had just been publicly humiliated, wear those shirts into this locker room? The worst part: Nobody seemed to care. I lost it.

I quickly regained my capacity to speak. I sat kids down and began a lecture about pride. I told them that I had been part of a winning tradition in high school and we policed ourselves. There were somethings we would never let our teammates get away with. Then I said it, "If one of our teammates came in with an opponent's t-shirt on, it wouldn't matter if we won or lost by 50, we'd lynch him."

That was stupid.

Recently, Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman suggested that young players who wanted to challenge Tiger Woods should "lynch him in a back alley." Though she and Tiger are friends, the comments caused an uproar. She was suspended for two weeks, and issue of race and politically correctness has once again been thrust into the spotlight. Tiger issued a statement through his agent, Mark Steinberg, "Tiger and Kelly are friends, and Tiger has a great deal of respect for Kelly...Regardless of the choice of words used, we know unequivocally that there was no ill-intent in her comments.''

Others are not satisfied though. In his Page 2 column, Scoop Jackson thinks Tiger should embrace his legacy and do more than issue simple statements through his agent. Al Sharpton sees no difference between Tilghman and Don Imus, insinuating that Tilghman should lose her job.

For my part, I can relate to Tilghman. Sometimes, good people say stupid things. I let emotion get the best of me. I do not know what made Ms. Tilghman say this, but if her experience was anything like mine, she's learned a lot and has probably grown a lot personally through this.

I personally apologized to each player who wore those shirts. I explained that I was one-hundred percent out of line both in what I said, and in how I said it. Each of them accepted my apology. In fact, they all apologized to me for wearing the shirts, which, oddly enough, was not one bit satisfying given the circumstances.

I apologized to my junior varsity team and explained that lynching is not something to be used loosely because it is a racially loaded term. As a teacher of American History, I know that. I explained that my emotions got the best of me and that I set a poor example for them. I then publicly apologized to the the J.V. boys who were wearing the shirts.

Finally, I apologized to the entire J.V./Varsity team. Even though many of those players were not even present for the exchange, I wanted to make sure they heard an apology from my mouth.

That was easily one of the stupidest things I've ever said.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Walk 4 Unity

The divisions within Christianity are numerous. There are three branches: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Within the Protestant branch are some thousand odd denominations that have resulted from various theological differences since the Reformation--some minor, others major.

Add to these official divisions other problems that chip away at the church's call to unity: Sunday is the most segregated day in America; spats about music or worship preference; and the intermingling of politics and the Church.

Samuel Clear has decided to do something about division in the church,

Sam's pilgrimage around the world is a means to one end: to mobilise a prayer army. An army with one thing on their heart - the unity of Christians everywhere. If there is faith enough to move mountains, is it possible that we have faith enough to bring us all together? Pray4One is definitely one way that we can be involved. There is no agenda, hidden motive or preconceived idea of what unity will look like. All we know is that God's people are divided. Pray4One is an organised way for us to come together and pray for the unity of all Christian people.

Sam is walking around the world to unify the church and asking Christians everywhere to pray for unity at 4:01 (a.m. or p.m.). He started in Australia, in January 2006, and is currently in Moscow. His blog is full of crazy stories and pictures documenting his journey. To learn more about his mission, visit his website, walk4one.

Air Mac: Skinny

The New Macbook Air. 3.o Pounds. Fits in a manila envelope. I want one.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Hardest Part of Coaching

The hardest part of coaching is watching dreams shatter, no matter the reason. There is no question about it.

I have been the assistant coach of a high school boys varsity basketball team for three years now and I see it every year: a senior's hopes crash as the season progresses. It breaks my heart. Currently, there is one senior player who I have very good relationship with that this is happening to. He began the season as a starter, but has since been demoted. He sulks during practice and he tears up after games in which he plays very few minutes. He had such high hopes for this season and now those hopes are seemingly gone.

Of course, he can do something about it. He can work harder in practice. He can work to shut down whoever he's assigned to defend. He can be a model teammate. He can hustle from drill to drill. He can come in early in the morning and shoot extra. Believe it or not, coaches notice this kind of stuff, and it makes a difference.

I don't know if he thinks the extra effort will pay dividends though. No matter how many motivating talks we have with him, he may be convinced that giving his maximum effort will not be enough and that he is a victim--that his high school career was taken from him. It seems like this happens every year, and it breaks my heart. Somehow, somewhere along the way, he was given the impression that seniors deserve a starting spot and do not need to earn it.

Sometimes, kids just aren't mentally tough enough to deal with the adversity of loosing playing time. Many people are quick to assign blame--if the player would only...the coach is playing the wrong kid, etc.--but right now, it's just killing me watching him handle this so poorly.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hillary's Double Standard

I recently discussed Hillary Clinton's candidacy with female friend of mine. She was skeptical of voting a woman into the White House because she feared having an overly emotional executive.

I replied that this was unfair because it presents a double standard. Either a woman is too emotional for president or she shows too little emotion and is thought of as calculating, cold and devious, also making her unfit for president. Hillary has been accused of this calculating nature on the campaign trail and she really has no weapon against this. She has to toe the line between too emotional and a cold-hearted b*tch--a standard no man is held to.

A day before Clinton won the New Hampshire primary she was asked how she was dealing with the rigors of the campaign trail. She replied tearfully,
...It’s not easy, and I couldn’t do it if I didn’t passionately believe it was the right thing to do. You know, I have so many opportunities from this country, I just don’t want to see us fall backwards. You know, this is very personal for me. It’s not just political it’s not just public. I see what’s happening, and we have to reverse it. Some people think elections are a game, lot’s of who’s up or who’s down, [but] it’s about our country , it’s about our kids’ futures, and it’s really about all of us together...
Click here for a great review and video of the entire exchange from the New York Times.

Pundits have been speculating since that tearful encounter what impact, if any, this episode had on her surprising victory in New Hampshire. I suspect it helped, since women were the difference between New Hampshire and Iowa. Regardless, Patricia Schroeder, who dropped out of the presidential race twenty years ago, has an interesting observation about the double standard Hillary is having to deal with, "The good news for men is: crying is a badge of courage...The bad news is that for women it's still a scarlet letter."

And of course the speculation continues. Op-eds suggesting the tears were manufactured are too numerous to count (just google "Hillary tears"). And while a man might face that same skepticism, would his tears signal weakness or emotionalism in the minds of voters?

Perhaps this double standard is why women have never been front-runners.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Barack Obama on Faith and Politics

I'm gonna go out on a limb and predict that Obama will become the Democratic nominee for president. This means the amount of anti-Obama rhetoric from the Religious Right will increase exponentially in the next year. So, here are some links to video clips from his website detailing his actual views on faith and politics.

A short 2 minute video made for his website.

A 2 minute excerpt from his keynote address to the Call to Renewal's Building a Covenant for a New America conference given on 6/28/06.

The embedded 39 minute keynote address below:

"Faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts. You come to church precisely because you are of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey. And it was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th street on the South side of Chicago one day and affirm my faith...I submitted myself to [God's] will and dedicated myself to His truth."

To what extent each of us considers a particular politician's faith when casting our vote probably differs, however, let's at least get the facts straight. Next time someone jokingly states Barrack "Osama" , referencing his Muslim heritage, let's be armed with the knowledge to set the record straight, regardless our political leanings.