Friday, August 5, 2016

The Knuckle Ball:Volume Eight

Welcome to this segment that I call the "Knuckle Ball" where basically I spew off my thoughts on a few items in the world of baseball. In this entry, as per usual I will look into three matters in the world of baseball that have peaked my interest and in volume eight I will examine the progress of Houston Astros top prospect Alex Bregman who was selected second overall in the 2015 draft and whether the Astros are making the right call giving Alex consistent reps on a team amidst in a tight wildcard chase. Secondly, we commend the St.Louis Cardinals for their handling of the closer position and how more teams could follow suit by riding the hot hand. Last on tonight's docket is the future of one Yasiel Puig. Puig was signed by the Dodgers in June 2012 with immense potential and for whatever reason he hasn't matured into the type of ball player Dodger management envisioned. Does another team take a gander on Yasiel in the off-season, I'll opine down below.

As of August 4th,2016 the moment when I concluded writing this piece the Houston Astros sit at 56-51 and are very much in the mix of both the wildcard push but also have an outside chance of catching the Texas Rangers in the American League West. The Houston Astros recieved less than flattering news on July 29th when it was announced that regular third baseman Luis Valbuena had suffered a right hamstring strain which has led to his placement on the fifteen day disabled list. My sympathies go out to Valbuena for now having to deal with the devastating injury but my sympathies only extend so far as it was Valbuena who in 2015 while I was sitting at sixteen in's "Beat the Streak" who regrettably ended my streak. Close calls, and by no means would I consider being situated at sixteen as a very close call are nothing new to me in that game as I'm the same individual who accumulated a streak of thirty seven back in 2010 only to have the now infamous Juan Pierre end my run on a dreary Monday Afternoon when Pierre's White Sox were dueling with Rich Porcello's Detroit Tigers. Okay enough with my tribulations, time to center the attention on the 'Stros.  Through ninety games this year Luis was hitting a respectable 260 along with thirteen home runs which for fans o Houston baseball will feel like Wade Boggs type numbers when currently assessing his predecessor Bregman's lamentable statistics.Going into tonight's contest against the Toronto Blue Jays, Bregman's batting average was a meager .031 which is nothing to "Breg"about.....excuse the pun.  To muddy the waters even further, he's been batting second to boot. Trying to get in the noggin of A.J Hinch on this puzzling decision is not a simple task as the continuos assigning the two slot to Bregman is counter intuitive. because it's taking away from the competitive status of this team who undoubtedly has playoff aspirations, You do wonder how the stars such like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa feel when they're getting treated like they're on a retooling club, the former is definitely in the Most Valuable player discussion. I can't so I won't speak to the character or likability of Alex but it'a moot point because this organization should be doing everything in it's power to continue pushing for  a playoff position. It could be argued that in 2015 the Astros vastly overachieved and it's conceivable the promotion of Bregman could've been mandated by ownership as I could theorize this was all part of the longterm plan. This leads into my biggest point of contention and that's why on earth is Bregman batting second and not ninth? Obviously living up north I'm not privy to tuning in and watching the Astros on a daily basis but watching the team Melville,Saskatchewan native Terry Puhl once led, I've constructed the following thoughts. If I was Hinch, I'd be a proponent of batting the struggling Carlos Gomez lead-off, not necessarily for his less then guaranteed on base acumen but for his intensity that naturally would rub on from hitters two through nine. I know what people who are pertinent in Astros inner dealings will suggest and that's theirs no reason to move away George Springer from his accustomed lead off role. Au contraire I say as Springer would be better suited in a power role as his twenty two home runs are proof in the pudding. Something revolving around a Gomez-Altuve-Springer-Correa top half of the lineup seemingly would be more advantegeous. Adjusting this tangent back the way of Bregman as any loyal reader will know that I often go on tangents not related to the topic at hand, let's discuss how his confidence could be shook by a continued tailspin. I was thinking to myself if there were any comparables to baseball that came to mind when deliberating the path that he's on and unfortunately nothing came to mind(I'm sure I'm missing someone obvious) but to infer another sport in this debate isn't this very much like the once heralded soccer star Freddy Adu?. Admittedly soccer isn't the sport where I hold the most expertise but the expectations Adu carried with him when he was first drafted by a MLS squad as a fourteen year old in 2004 are similar to those of the struggling Bregman. Adu was supposed to be Lionel Messi before their was a Lionel Messi and yet succumbed to the high pressure bestowed upon him. I fear for sustained progress that he's being criminally mis-handled and let's hope for all you Astro fans out there that he can ignore the discord that was Adu's bleak career and make something of himself. 

Lest we all learn a lesson from the St.Louis Cardinals. For a point of clarification you may remember me ripping the production of Matt Holliday in volume seven but don't correlate that with my true thoughts on the organization. The Cards simply put are  a model franchise and year after year enter with a talent depleted roster and from Tony La Russa to now MIke Matheny, they make gold out of coal. There are surely a multitude of reasons asto why the Cardinals exhibit consistent results but one reason that stands out is their lack of loyalty. Lack of loyalty on it's surface is usually a negatory ascertation when describing a baseball organization but reading between the lines what I'm truly attempting to infer is that no job is safe, you play well and you're going to play. Trevor Rosenthal learned this the hard way. The Lee's Summit, Missouri native can now use injuries as an excuse for prolonged struggles but if I know anything about how the Cardinals operate, his  closer job has now been taken by someone fresher and likely won't be handed back the role upon return. If the shoulder issue he's been experiencing has completely led to the abomination of year then I apologize but honestly when watching Rosenthal beforehand, mechanically he's looked off. The mechanical gaffe that he's fighting through perhaps could explain the inflated walk rate this season. Nonetheless, and although they say you should never lose your job due to injury the truth is that adage has been disproved countless times the closer role now belongs to Seung Hwan Oh and let me tell you he's been Oh so good. You can see my dry and apparant lame sense of humour is shining through. Not to compare based on ethnicities, but St.Louis supporters can only hope and pray that we're not witnessing the second coming of former D-Backs closer Byung-hyun Kim. Kim to refresh the casual fan's memory was the dominant closer for the Diamondbacks up until the 2001 World Series against the Yankees until he began to channel his inner Heath Bell. Seung, who relies on the four seamer has built up the penchant of being  a strike out machine. One last tidbit on Oh that I find fascinating that as of this writing he holds the exact same ERA against both lefties and righties. One of those unexplainable phenomenons! The point I wanted to make and the essence of me including this topic in this entry is most other teams should be photocopying this page  out of the St.Louis Cardinals playbook. Managers by trade are far too stubborn. For every Rosenthal/Oh substitutions, there are a million other examples of managers, particularly pertaining to closers that due to ego ride or die with an individual who's visibly holding the team back. Bad teams respect the process and allow the players to work through their problems until they're blue in the face, good teams have internal discussions about making pertinent moves but often times wait too long but great teams make moves at a flip of a dime. I think back fairly recently to the 2008 Chicago White Sox. Two years earlier, the Chisox reached the pinnacle and captured the '06 World Series behind a ridiculously deep rotation and the arm of closer Bobby Jenks. Jenks repertoire was that of an extremely hard throwing righty who once clocked in at 102 MPH but it didn't take a rocket scientist to interpret that the velocity wasn't going to be around forever and as expected two years after the championship reign, his velocity vanished as did his overall performance. Hot tempered Ozzie Guillen was the manager then and while I can endorse wanting to commemorate a player who led your club to unforeseen territory, there was no backbone and the teams outlook began to slowly falter.That year in 2008, Jenks was the closer, a job he never relinquished but honestly the job should've been handed to lanky lefty Matt Thornton half way through the season. If they employed the Cardinals way of doing things, perhaps a different fate would have been consummated, we'll just never know. After reading this you're thinking..."he must be a Cards fan right"....surprisingly to some, I'm not but I admire an organization who has it's finger on the pulse. If it wasn't for the juggernaut that the Chicago Cubs have become they may be staring another Central crown in the face.

What is it about current major leaguers hailing from Cienfuegos, Cuba? Is laziness entrenched in their upbringing as Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig are two of the laziest in the bigs. Must be! The aformentioned laziness and the lack of attention to detail are two of many concerns the Dodgers have or shall I say had with Puig because there are no guarantees he'll throw on that Dodger uniform again. And to think some sport pendants were going as far to say that Puig projected to be the second best athlete to ever don the #66. Boy were they wrong!  The discussion I wanted to venture into is whether Puig has the potential to recover a real career for himself. There's no questioning the Vladimir Guerrero type arm or the Albert Belle type of power but potential can only gravitate one so far and at some point management for whatever organization he ends up stumbling across will need to see some of these staggering skills come to fruition. I've taken the liberty of enlisting three pro's and con's that possible suitors will have to weigh before pulling a plug on a deal.

-His on base percentage has always stayed above .300
-His underrated speed makes him a base stealing threat
-At only twenty five years of age, under the proper tutelage his skillset can be revamped

-Constant feuds with teammates
-Consistently shows disinterest. Inadequate ambition
-Doesn't seem willing to endeavor in a lesser role which will naturally scare off organizations.

With  Puig, the off-season hiring of Dave Roberts looking back wasn't advisable for his development. Roberts is a rookie manager who isn't authoritative enough and for whatever reason wasn't garnering the respect deserved from Yasiel. Question Don Mattingly's bullpen management all you want but the fact is Don's experience supervising high octane talent granted him leeway in handling Puig's temperamental behaviour.Puig knew any transgression and he would be stapled to the bench quicker then Ahman Green could fumble a football but under the guideship of  Roberts, the message although clear that they weren't going to put up Puig's B.S at any juncture was also mixed in the sense that Puig committed several defensive faux paus and at least from the games I witnessed, there was nobody on the bench willing to confront Yasiel and rehash the can and can'ts of an everyday ball player. This segment isn't intended to head down this direction but I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't opine my disdain towards Roberts. Roberts in my humble opinion is the worst manager in the bigs as he persistently exudes incompetency. The lack of experience on his resume makes it perplexing asto why a historic organization like the Dodgers elected to head in the direction of Roberts. You survey the talent on the roster and it's amazing for a team that can comfortably carry on without Yasiel that they don't possess a large lead in the National League West. My remark pertaining to Dave Robert's competence is compounded by that very fact. Enough with the Roberts bash fest and the original intent of this was to locate a courter for Mr.Puig heading into 2017. After research and some personal thought into this matter, three teams jump to the top of my list. What an interesting week it's been for the Pittsburgh Pirates. All this talk of competence has crept into the way of how Pittsburgh General Manager Neil Huntington is running the day to day operations. This past week the decision was made to bench franchise player Andrew McCutchen amid a tumultuous year in Southern Pennsylvania. Most experts, and I'll even admit to myself penning a similar thought had the Pirates as a lock heading into the season but injuries, aforementioned player conflicts and an astounding regression by pitcher Jeff Locke have rendered the campaign as a near write off. Presuming the Pirates end up golfing in early October referencing the old hockey adage for when teams miss the playoffs, a shake up would be inevitable and if Manager Clint Hurdle is retained which at this point would be a big IF one would assume they could very well be in the market for Puig, A no non-sense general such as Hurdle could rein Puig's deficiencies in and for a team clearly in need of  a culture change, Puig as a solution doesn't seem so far fetched. What I'm about to propose is the kind of thing that you only see in Fantasy Baseball but I see the semblance for a scenario where McCutchen is shipped to the Dodgers in exchange for Puig amongst much more. The other two off-season destinations that I've pondered as untarnished fits are the Colorado Rockies especially if Carlos Gonzalez is moved something that has been long rumoured or the Los Angeles of Anaheim Angels because it's no secret that they'll have to haul in an influx of talent to repair a badly broken ship that keeps drifting further and further in murky waters. One major issue I perceive with this match is I question whether Yasiel would be amicable to remaining in Los Angeles after his last stint so disastrously with the blue and White. Again, I think character is imperative when doing your homework and I'd be curious on what current leader Mike Trout would have to say about bringing in a reclamation project.

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