Friday, July 31, 2009

Zen Dayley: Halladay stays, Rolen goes, and so should that attitude

Hang on tightly, let go lightly.

The straight from the gut is that keeping Roy Halladay and moving third baseman Scott Rolen to the Cincinnati Reds calls to mind a line from The Simpsons when Homer got a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Navy: "It's the most any of us could have hoped for." Thirteen more Halladay starts, plus several million off next season's payroll? Score! Great move, Paul Beeston J.P. Ricciardi!

The wild guess that the juice (sorry for the double entendre, Red Sox Nation) was not worth the squeeze with regard to the Rogers Jays trading Halladay actually turned out to be right ("I know, kids, I'm scared too."). Granted, sometimes making moves to appease fans can be very bad for a team's record.

Rolen will be missed the first time the third baseman they got for him, 26-year-old Edwin Encarnacion, uncorks a throw that reminds us there is no fair catch rule in Canada.

Whoever is making the calls seems to have shrewdly gauged the law of diminishing returns with Rolen. He is 34 years old. He has only been healthy two of the past five seasons. In case people forgot (or never knew to begin with), was in Toronto because he asked out of St. Louis.

Taken together, Halladay's Non-Independence Day and people being upset over seeing Rolen go to some wrongheaded thinking. Who are we, White Sox fans?

This is not an apologia for the Roger Jays. Stephen Brunt nailed it when he wrote of Rogers, "there is a reason the NFL forbids corporate ownership of its franchises."

It is more an appeal for some clear eyes to go along with the full hearts of those who hang in season after also-ran season. One enduring belief in my whole watching baseball through adult eyes life is that the entire history of the game is a history of money.

That is a main reason why the Yankees are pretty much always on top. The only exceptions were when they were, wait for it, owned by a media conglomerate (CBS in the late '60s and early '70s) and the period when George Steinbrenner was at his most megalomaniacal, demanding the Yankees trade away future all-stars such as Fred McGriff, Doug Drabek, and of course, Jay Buhner ("Ken Phelps, Ken Phelps") to plug leaks on the big club.

The Boston Red Sox had ownership issues around that time; old Tom Yawkey, a sole proprietor, died in 1976 and the franchise was kind of circling the drain until his widow passed. It took another decade beyond that before John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner got the Red Sox. That is a big piece of understanding which is left out when people hearken back on the Jays' glory years, 1983-93. The twin banes of their existence were both a mess in hindsight.

Baseball also had a two-division format in each league and a balanced schedule (AL teams played 13 games vs. each division rival instead of the current 18 or 19), which also levelled the playing field. Part of the reason that changed is ESPN. The rule of thumb two decades ago was that regular-season baseball was a write-off in terms of the U.S. TV audience. A 162-game season, as opposed to the NFL's 16, means there was not enough at stake to draw in the casual viewer. NFL fans can count on seeing certain personalities. There's nothing like that in baseball.

ESPN refuted that and Bud Selig, who is no dummy, fulfilled their need to play up rivalries by creating the unbalanced schedule and interleague play. People can kick and scream about ESPN, but a lot of their themes filter up from the audience. By and large, people want to see the Sox and Yanks ad nauseam.

That illustrates why baseball has an unbalanced schedule while carrying on as if it is a fair fight for the eight playoff berths. It sucks. However, deep-down, as fans people have to accept the sporting tail wags the business dog. The Red Sox and Yankees are also paired with regional sports networks (NESN and the YES network). The difference for the Rogers Jays, to borrow from a comment good friend Pete Toms left at ShysterBall when the Halladay soap opera premiered, "There just aren’t enough ball fans here." There were only 24,000 people at Halladay's last home start, which Rogers Sportsnet did not even broadcast to the entire country. Some show of love. It's enough to make one utter the words "death spiral," but if the Pittsburgh Pirates haven't been moved after 17 losing seasons in a row, the Jays should be safe.

This is straying farther afield than anticipated. The point was to address the derision, some of it Twitter-amplified, about dealing Rolen and keeping Halladay, and to reiterate the folly of falling in love with players instead of falling in like, unless it's for humourous effect (here one thinks of The Tao dubbing Rolen GBOAT for Greatest Blue Jay of All Time).

The Jays did what they said they would. In Mike Wilner's phrasing, "They listened, they weren't blown away," so they passed. It is amusing, as others have pointed out, that the same people who said Ricciardi was unfit to make this deal will now rip him for not making said deal.

(By the way, within a hour after that became official, the NHL's Edmonton Oilers have said they are officially not interested in making a trade for disgruntled Dany Heatley. Honestly, it was just ass-talking writ large to say two weeks ago that the Jays would "trade Halladay the same day the Ottawa Senators deal Dany Heatley.")

The upshot is that there is still time to work out something amenable for Halladay, as Bart Given wrote before the trade deadline. The price tag might be lower, but it will still be more than the two compensatory draft choices a team gets for losing a big-time free agent.
"Assuming the mandate of remains the same, the Blue Jays will try and move their ace beginning in November. His value will be less than right now, as he will have just six months left under his current contract. On the positive side, there will be more interested teams in the mix as organizations ponder the opportunity to build their off-season around acquiring Roy Halladay.

"From a fan perspective it has to be torture. It will be like a farewell tour for the remainder of the season. I guess some fans will hold out hope ownership changes itss mind and tells Ricciardi to pull him off the market – or that no trade package is good enough. Unlikely – but possible I guess."
As for complaining about the loss of Rolen, please. Beyond Aaron Hill, who is signed through 2014 counting club options, the rest of the Jays infield consisted of three likeable 30-somethings they can move out for a younger and/or more productive player (whether one materializes, well...).

True, Rolen is hitting .320. However, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is an unsustainable .342 (most players come down to the median, which is around .290). Going month by month, he just had a 200-point drop in OPS from June (.966) to July (.761), and that was still with an average BABIP (.301). You don't make calls based on one month, but one wonders if his July performance was closer to reality.

Please keep in mind Rolen was acquired straight up for Troy Glaus, who hasn't played all season. You could say the deal was Glaus for Encarnacion and two relievers with some potential. From FanGraphs:
"Josh Roenicke looks like a decent middle reliever who will be glad to get off the Louisville-Cincinnati shuttle. His fastball has some giddyup and he throws a solid cutter as well.

"Zachary Stewart is the 'get' of the trade. He has a 92-95 MPH fastball with good sink and a hard cutting 82-85 MPH slider. He’s quickly climbed the ladder, pitching at High-A, Double-A and now Triple-A, and has a cumulative 2.92 FIP (fielding-independent pitching) in 92 innings pitched. He pitched mostly out of the bullpen last year but is showing some good promise as a starter. He’s a solid B grade pitcher.
Of course, that would be too honest and rational. It's just that people shouldn't start dismaying over Rolen. The Jays picked up some young talent for very little. Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo did that with his trade with the Golden States for guard Marco Belinelli this week and was hailed as a genius.

For pity's sake, when all this was going down, a friend who knows better started dismaying about Hill leaving. Of course, he'll leave someday. All players do. And one day the sun will explode and since cockroaches and columnists are all that will survive, they’ll blame that on J.P. Ricciardi, too.

1 comment:

eyebleaf said...

Great post, Sagerbombs.

And one day the sun will explode and since cockroaches and columnists are all that will survive, they’ll blame that on J.P. Ricciardi, too.

Ain't that the truth.