Posts Tagged ‘San Diego Padres’

To the Would-Be Victors Come the Would-Be Spoilers

The Seattle Mariners may have been on a bit of a tear of late, but they’re not exactly looking for a postseason shot that they’re just not going to get. However, read carefully: the Mariners have the single most tough schedule in the American League to come down the stretch of the stretch.

The New York Yankees and their minions love to say, no matter how the Yankees might be struggling lately, that the road to the Serious still goes through the south Bronx. But for the Los Angeles Angels, the Oakland Athletics, and the Texas Rangers, the road to the postseason is going through Seattle: 21 out of the Mariners’ coming final 24 games will be played against those clubs. The lone set with no postseason prospect involving the Mariners is a three-set against the Toronto Blue Jays.

And the Mariners won’t necessarily be pushovers, either. They might be dead last in the American League West (67-71, with only a vague hope of reaching .500 if at all) but since the All-Star break they’re tied for the second-best jacket in the circuit with 32-20, even if they did kind of fatten it at the expense of Kansas City, Cleveland, and Minnesota.

And it gets even more delicious when you factor in that it won’t only be the Blue Jays who have to deal with Felix Hernandez, who’s already thrown four shutouts in his last ten starts including his perfect game. Including the regular season’s final day, when—if he works on his regular rest—the Angels would have the pleasure of figuring him out, possibly with a wild card spot on the line for Mike Scioscia’s troops.

So who else really gets to play spoiler down this stretch? First, the American League:

Los Angeles Angels—One more slump, however, and the Angels go from possible wild-card sneak-ins to spoilers alone. They face the third-toughest AL schedule behind Seattle and Oakland. Six games to come against the Rangers, four against the A’s, and three each against the Central-fighting Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox. On the other hand, they also face six games with the Mariners . . . over their last nine games on the season. If the Angels are going to be fated as spoilers after all, their time is sooner than you or they might think.

Boston Red Sox—On scheduling paper the Red Sox have the fourth toughest AL schedule to come. Six games each against Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and the Empire Emeritus. That’s on paper only. In reality—don’t exactly bank on this year’s Red Sox becoming last year’s Orioles. Since The Big Deal they’ve gotten worse instead of better and it doesn’t look like anything can help them now. Which is another good reason to dump Bobby Valentine post-haste. He can’t even get them to muster up for playing for pride anymore.

Toronto Blue Jays—They have four against the Orioles, seven against the Yankees, and three versus Tampa Bay. Sorry, Yankee fans—the road to this postseason just might be going through Toronto or Boston, though right now Toronto looks like the heavier stretch to pave.

The National League’s prospective poisoners aren’t looking at quite the kind of roads the AL spoilers-in-waiting face. The league’s toughest schedule to come belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are fighting for a postseason berth still. But the second-toughest belongs to the Miami Marlins—who look at this writing and probably for the rest of they way as though the only thing they could spoil would be their fans’ lunches or dinners. The road to the National League postseason isn’t going through southern Florida this time.

As for the rest of the league?

New York Mets—They’ve been looking a little better since busting out of their last free fall with an 8-3 record over their previous eleven games. They still face six games with the Atlanta Braves, three with the Washington Nationals, and a four-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are still clinging to postseason hopes and just might get a chance to have the Mets throw them over the stern. Unlike the Red Sox, the Mets are playing for pride now and have the right manager under whom to do it. Terry Collins is what the Red Sox only thought Bobby Valentine would be, the difference being Collins learned from the past and hasn’t been swatting flies with atomic bombs or betraying his players no matter how no-nonsense he is with them.

Milwaukee Brewers—They’re facing four with the Nats and three each against the Braves, the Pirates, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cincinnati Reds.

San Diego Padres—Don’t laugh; the Friars just took two out of three from the Dodgers and have three more to play against them. That’s in addition to three games each with the Cardinals and six with the San Francisco Giants.

Further spoiler alert: At least a few of the aforesaid contenders (we’ve already mentioned the Angels in this context, alas) could be reduced to spoilers themselves by the time at least one of the current candidates gets to them.

Padre O'Malley

Pending the other owners’ approval, which isn’t likely to be withheld, Peter O’Malley is back in baseball. And, in southern California to boot. Only it may take a few people a little time to get used to thinking of an O’Malley owning the San Diego Padres.

Peter O’Malley (with his wife, Annette)—From the Dodger dugout on Opening Day ’12 to the Padres’ bridge in August . . .

All but forced to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers to News Corp., which sold the team in turn to Frank McCourt, O’Malley left the game with a reputation mostly as spotless as his father’s had been controversial. The father had too refined, too embedded a taste for wheeling, dealing, and (some said) stealing; the son had too much taste for the quiet way. Walter O’Malley was once reputed to have beaten his front-office and farm system employees out of rightful earnings or rewards; Peter O’Malley remains famous for sending gallons of vanilla ice cream to his employees for every day the Dodgers occupied first place.

San Diego may be scratching their heads now and then, even as they’re smiling at the rhetorical possibilities. But vanilla ice cream around the front offices probably beats a Big Mac (McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc once owned the team, somewhat notoriously) any day of the week. No one will be likely to accuse O’Malley—as Hall of Fame reliever Goose Gossage, once a key on the Padres’ first World Series entrant, said of the Krocs’ signature product—of poisoning the world with his favourite treat.

The Padres now have this much in common with the Dodgers: Another sport’s Hall of Famer, in this case golfer Phil Mickelson, will co-own them. O’Malley’s group includes Mickelson, a lifelong Padres fan; and, Ron Fowler, a successful San Diego-area beer distributor. But the Padres also have now what the Dodgers haven’t had since Bill Clinton’s impeachment: an O’Malley hand on their tiller. And, for the same reason basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson now co-owns the Dodgers, Mickelson, O’Malley, and Fowler, will co-own the Padres: an owner (John Moores) forced to sell in or in the wake of a divorce settlement.

When McCourt finally agreed to let the Dodgers go, he’d gone from a reasonable if sometimes clumsy steward of the franchise’s reputation. The Dodgers did have four first-place finishes in the National League West under his ownership, but he’d bought the team with debt, as heavily leveraged a buy as has ever been seen in baseball. Then, he hiked ticket and concession prices constantly to help offset the purchase, while simultaneously trimming Dodger Stadium security.

Baseball government and the IRS came in due course to believe McCourt, too, was siphoning Dodger money to finance a lifestyle thought to be extravagant even by the common standards of the giga-rich. When his contentious divorce was settled at last, his now-former wife, surrendering her claim to half the Dodgers’ ownership, got six of the couple’s eight homes, leaving McCourt with a measly two.

O’Malley first put a group together to buy the Dodgers back in 2011. God only knew enough Dodger fans were so disgusted by McCourt that they hectored O’Malley to find a way to wrest the team back every time they ran into him. But he’d been compelled to sell in the first place, in 1998, because a) he couldn’t convince Los Angeles’s city fathers to let him build a new NFL facility on Dodger-owned land, depriving him of a revenue source that might have enabled his family to keep the Dodgers; and, b) absent that, he’d have faced a profound tax beating had he merely passed the Dodgers to his and his sister’s children, as he also thought of doing.

Those children now are likely to handle the Padres’ day-to-day operations. The Padres are a franchise in need enough of revival. Don’t think for a minute that their father/uncle won’t take a hand enough in guiding them. If anyone can tell you the best and the worst about running a baseball team, Peter O’Malley can.

Bavasi—He built the Padres in the first place, but couldn’t build them into first place . . .

This isn’t the first time the Padres have managed to land a formidable former Dodger presence. Indeed, they were born with one. Legendary Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi left the Dodgers at the end of 1968 to take the same job with the embryonic, expansion Padres. By the time the team showed its first signs of serious life in 1975, Bavasi took a hike when he fell into disfavour with the Krocs, who bought the team that year. Bavasi wasn’t wild about their intention to hire Alvin Dark (which they would, eventually, in 1977) as the team’s manager.

And the Padres reaped a benefit, on the field and in the press, when they outbid the Dodgers, after the 1982 season, for then-iconic, free-agent first baseman Steve Garvey, who’d help push them into their first World Series after years of doing likewise for the Dodgers. Garvey also just so happened to tie the National League record for consecutive games played in Dodger Stadium—in a Padres uniform, in his first return to the park where he’d excelled for so many years.

The Padres got Garvey in the first place because a) Garvey wanted to negotiate a new deal in spring 1982 but the Dodgers then didn’t like negotiating with players until their contracts actually expired; and, b) O’Malley, who wanted to keep Garvey in the worst way possible, was willing to pay him $5 million over four years but Garvey wouldn’t budge on a five-year deal, and O’Malley continued, stubbornly, to follow what was then a Dodger policy of not competing in the open market for one of their own.

Which symbolised that even O’Malley could be only human, after all. Not that he hadn’t shown it before. Seven years before spurning Garvey’s bid to open new contract talks a little early, then-GM Al Campanis got too personal in talking contract with Andy Messersmith. It moved the usually easygoing righthander to refuse to talk to any Dodger official lower than O’Malley. To that, O’Malley was more than agreeable. Where he disagreed was with Messersmith’s key demand: a no-trade clause. It wasn’t the Dodger way of doing things until then, and O’Malley saw no reason to try it in 1975, either.

O’Malley may have been the essence of sincerity when he said he had no intention of trading his best pitcher. But Campanis had put enough iron into Messersmith’s spine that the pitcher would work the entire 1975 season without signing a contract. O’Malley tried sweetening the pot as Messersmith pitched on, offering three-year deals that escalated with each offer, as in $200,000+ annual salaries. Messersmith stood fast and, after another sterling season, took his reserve clause challenge to an arbitrator . . . and won his and all players’ free agency, finishing what Curt Flood started a few years earlier.

Mickelson—From Padres fan to Padres co-owner . . .

In time, it wouldn’t be stubborn clinging to tradition but a revenue shortfall he couldn’t redress, that pushed him to sell the Dodgers. Los Angeles’s even more foolishly tradition-bound politicians obstructed his more sensible stadium plan by their absolute insistence—to which they still cling, probably—that the antique, threadbare Los Angeles Coliseum should be the sole legitimate option for any NFL franchise coming to Los Angeles. Without the revenues a new NFL stadium would have brought, O’Malley was forced to surrender the baseball franchise that was in his blood.

Dodger fans who once begged O’Malley to find a way, any way to get the Dodgers out of McCourt’s hands, must now be scratching their heads a little, thinking of an O’Malley owning any other team, never mind a downstate National League West competitor. Indeed, the primary reason O’Malley didn’t take the Dodgers off McCourt’s stained enough hands was that the price kept rising high enough and fast enough to go beyond the O’Malley family reach.

He and his group landed the Padres for $800 million. If you wanted clues that O’Malley’s group was going to be the likely winner for the team, be advised, as the North County Times says, that  certain things would not have been done if O’Malley had objected, specifically the contract extensions for outfielder Carlos Quentin and closer Huston Street, both of whom were rumoured to be on the non-waiver trading block.

All the Padres have to do now is hope the golfer, the beer seller, and the O’Malleys can find the way to give the scuffling Padres one more thing in common with the Dodgers: even one World Series ring. Never  mind six.

Padre O’Malley

Pending the other owners’ approval, which isn’t likely to be withheld, Peter O’Malley is back in baseball. And, in southern California to boot. Only it may take a few people a little time to get used to thinking of an O’Malley owning the San Diego Padres.

Peter O’Malley (with his wife, Annette)—From the Dodger dugout on Opening Day ’12 to the Padres’ bridge in August . . .

All but forced to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers to News Corp., which sold the team in turn to Frank McCourt, O’Malley left the game with a reputation mostly as spotless as his father’s had been controversial. The father had too refined, too embedded a taste for wheeling, dealing, and (some said) stealing; the son had too much taste for the quiet way. Walter O’Malley was once reputed to have beaten his front-office and farm system employees out of rightful earnings or rewards; Peter O’Malley remains famous for sending gallons of vanilla ice cream to his employees for every day the Dodgers occupied first place.

San Diego may be scratching their heads now and then, even as they’re smiling at the rhetorical possibilities. But vanilla ice cream around the front offices probably beats a Big Mac (McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc once owned the team, somewhat notoriously) any day of the week. No one will be likely to accuse O’Malley—as Hall of Fame reliever Goose Gossage, once a key on the Padres’ first World Series entrant, said of the Krocs’ signature product—of poisoning the world with his favourite treat.

The Padres now have this much in common with the Dodgers: Another sport’s Hall of Famer, in this case golfer Phil Mickelson, will co-own them. O’Malley’s group includes Mickelson, a lifelong Padres fan; and, Ron Fowler, a successful San Diego-area beer distributor. But the Padres also have now what the Dodgers haven’t had since Bill Clinton’s impeachment: an O’Malley hand on their tiller. And, for the same reason basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson now co-owns the Dodgers, Mickelson, O’Malley, and Fowler, will co-own the Padres: an owner (John Moores) forced to sell in or in the wake of a divorce settlement.

When McCourt finally agreed to let the Dodgers go, he’d gone from a reasonable if sometimes clumsy steward of the franchise’s reputation. The Dodgers did have four first-place finishes in the National League West under his ownership, but he’d bought the team with debt, as heavily leveraged a buy as has ever been seen in baseball. Then, he hiked ticket and concession prices constantly to help offset the purchase, while simultaneously trimming Dodger Stadium security.

Baseball government and the IRS came in due course to believe McCourt, too, was siphoning Dodger money to finance a lifestyle thought to be extravagant even by the common standards of the giga-rich. When his contentious divorce was settled at last, his now-former wife, surrendering her claim to half the Dodgers’ ownership, got six of the couple’s eight homes, leaving McCourt with a measly two.

O’Malley first put a group together to buy the Dodgers back in 2011. God only knew enough Dodger fans were so disgusted by McCourt that they hectored O’Malley to find a way to wrest the team back every time they ran into him. But he’d been compelled to sell in the first place, in 1998, because a) he couldn’t convince Los Angeles’s city fathers to let him build a new NFL facility on Dodger-owned land, depriving him of a revenue source that might have enabled his family to keep the Dodgers; and, b) absent that, he’d have faced a profound tax beating had he merely passed the Dodgers to his and his sister’s children, as he also thought of doing.

Those children now are likely to handle the Padres’ day-to-day operations. The Padres are a franchise in need enough of revival. Don’t think for a minute that their father/uncle won’t take a hand enough in guiding them. If anyone can tell you the best and the worst about running a baseball team, Peter O’Malley can.

Bavasi—He built the Padres in the first place, but couldn’t build them into first place . . .

This isn’t the first time the Padres have managed to land a formidable former Dodger presence. Indeed, they were born with one. Legendary Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi left the Dodgers at the end of 1968 to take the same job with the embryonic, expansion Padres. By the time the team showed its first signs of serious life in 1975, Bavasi took a hike when he fell into disfavour with the Krocs, who bought the team that year. Bavasi wasn’t wild about their intention to hire Alvin Dark (which they would, eventually, in 1977) as the team’s manager.

And the Padres reaped a benefit, on the field and in the press, when they outbid the Dodgers, after the 1982 season, for then-iconic, free-agent first baseman Steve Garvey, who’d help push them into their first World Series after years of doing likewise for the Dodgers. Garvey also just so happened to tie the National League record for consecutive games played in Dodger Stadium—in a Padres uniform, in his first return to the park where he’d excelled for so many years.

The Padres got Garvey in the first place because a) Garvey wanted to negotiate a new deal in spring 1982 but the Dodgers then didn’t like negotiating with players until their contracts actually expired; and, b) O’Malley, who wanted to keep Garvey in the worst way possible, was willing to pay him $5 million over four years but Garvey wouldn’t budge on a five-year deal, and O’Malley continued, stubbornly, to follow what was then a Dodger policy of not competing in the open market for one of their own.

Which symbolised that even O’Malley could be only human, after all. Not that he hadn’t shown it before. Seven years before spurning Garvey’s bid to open new contract talks a little early, then-GM Al Campanis got too personal in talking contract with Andy Messersmith. It moved the usually easygoing righthander to refuse to talk to any Dodger official lower than O’Malley. To that, O’Malley was more than agreeable. Where he disagreed was with Messersmith’s key demand: a no-trade clause. It wasn’t the Dodger way of doing things until then, and O’Malley saw no reason to try it in 1975, either.

O’Malley may have been the essence of sincerity when he said he had no intention of trading his best pitcher. But Campanis had put enough iron into Messersmith’s spine that the pitcher would work the entire 1975 season without signing a contract. O’Malley tried sweetening the pot as Messersmith pitched on, offering three-year deals that escalated with each offer, as in $200,000+ annual salaries. Messersmith stood fast and, after another sterling season, took his reserve clause challenge to an arbitrator . . . and won his and all players’ free agency, finishing what Curt Flood started a few years earlier.

Mickelson—From Padres fan to Padres co-owner . . .

In time, it wouldn’t be stubborn clinging to tradition but a revenue shortfall he couldn’t redress, that pushed him to sell the Dodgers. Los Angeles’s even more foolishly tradition-bound politicians obstructed his more sensible stadium plan by their absolute insistence—to which they still cling, probably—that the antique, threadbare Los Angeles Coliseum should be the sole legitimate option for any NFL franchise coming to Los Angeles. Without the revenues a new NFL stadium would have brought, O’Malley was forced to surrender the baseball franchise that was in his blood.

Dodger fans who once begged O’Malley to find a way, any way to get the Dodgers out of McCourt’s hands, must now be scratching their heads a little, thinking of an O’Malley owning any other team, never mind a downstate National League West competitor. Indeed, the primary reason O’Malley didn’t take the Dodgers off McCourt’s stained enough hands was that the price kept rising high enough and fast enough to go beyond the O’Malley family reach.

He and his group landed the Padres for $800 million. If you wanted clues that O’Malley’s group was going to be the likely winner for the team, be advised, as the North County Times says, that  certain things would not have been done if O’Malley had objected, specifically the contract extensions for outfielder Carlos Quentin and closer Huston Street, both of whom were rumoured to be on the non-waiver trading block.

All the Padres have to do now is hope the golfer, the beer seller, and the O’Malleys can find the way to give the scuffling Padres one more thing in common with the Dodgers: even one World Series ring. Never  mind six.

The Dempster Backstory, and other heads and tales . . .

Turns out the Chicago Cubs got a pair of A-level minor leaguers, Christian Vilanueva (3B) and Kyle Hendricks (RHP), from the Texas Rangers for Ryan Dempster . . . decent prospects but not necessarily blue chips. For the most part, few no-questions-asked blue chip prospects moved in the non-waiver trade period, Jean Segura (SS) possibly having been the bluest of the chips when he went to Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke deal.

How and why did the Rangers—hungering for rotation help with Colby Lewis gone for the year (entering the final fortnight, his was the hole they needed to fill)—end up settling for Dempster when all was said and done? According to Fox’s Ken Rosenthal:

* Approaching the non-waiver trade deadline the Rangers’ real first love was Cole Hamels—but Hamels signed that $144 million, six-year extension with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Ryan Dempster—the Rangers landed him only too much in the nick of time . . .

* With Hamels out of reach, the Rangers’ next great love was Zack Greinke—but they were out-bid for him by the Los Angeles Angels, simply because the Rangers were unwilling to surrender any of their top three farm prospects (they offered their numbers six and fifteen; the Brewers said not quite) and less likely than the Angels (who sent the Brewers Segura as part of the trade package and have the farm depth to have been able to make the deal) to be able to sign Greinke long-term. Which made the Rangers only too normal under today’s collective bargaining agreement that puts serious reins on spending for prospects.

* With Greinke out of reach, the Rangers went talking about every other starting pitcher known to be available. Except that Miami’s Josh Johnson is an established health risk, Tampa Bay’s James Shields picked the wrong time to slump, their own one-time World Series carrier Cliff Lee was too damn expensive, and Boston’s Josh Beckett had just too many issues—from his own expensive salary to his own history of health and clubhouse issues. (Which means, Rosenthal says, the Red Sox may have missed their own best shot at moving Beckett, and the Rangers lost out on a possible blockbuster that might have included another element they hoped to get: seeking a lineup sparkplug, they’d coveted Shane Victorino, who went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but would have taken Jacoby Ellsbury if the two sides could work a blockbuster that didn’t happen.)

* With Dempster, the Cubs themselves were over the proverbial barrel—the new rules would have given the Cubs draft pick compensation if Dempster left as a free agent after the Cubs made him a single-year, qualifying offer, which they might not have been willing to do for a pitcher Dempster’s age if it meant losing a first-round pick.

* Dempster himself helped the Rangers’ cause when he spurned a deal to the Atlanta Braves; the Dodgers—Dempster’s known first choice—didn’t want to part with their top prospects for him (they refused to budge on Allen Webster, not that you could blame them), and Dempster himself was in the Cub front offices watching the haggle with the Dodgers, perhaps enough to cause him to change his mind on his hoped-for choice. Then, if a deal couldn’t get done with the Dodgers, Dempster let it slip that he wouldn’t say no to the Yankees or the Rangers, and for likewise personal reasons: in New York, two Dempster allies (former Cub GM Jim Hendry, former pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who now has that job in the Bronx) are there, and in Arlington there’s another former Cub teammate he respects (future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux) working in the front office.

“Time will tell,” Rosenthal writes, “if Dempster made the right decision by rejecting the Braves and switching leagues just months before he enters the free-agent market — he not only is moving to the more hitter-friendly AL but also to hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark.”

And barely had Dempster agreed to the move—which happened practically as the period expired—when the Rangers got hit with a double-whammy: Neftali Feliz, their closer-turned-starter, who looked impressive enough in the new job until he went down with elbow trouble in May, now needs Tommy John surgery and will be lost until the middle of next summer at least; and, Roy Oswalt, whom they signed as a free agent in May, continued showing his age and has been transferred to the bullpen.

They could still end up with a Cliff Lee homecoming, though—there’s always a chance of making a deal on Lee once a) he clears the waiver wire; and, as just about every analyst figures, the Phillies get it into their thick skulls that they’re going to have to eat some money to move him. Which would embarrass the Phillies far less than the Red Sox have been embarrassed since they moved Kevin Youkilis: the erstwhile Greek God of Walks is enjoying a renaissance with the White Sox, while the Olde Towne Team ended up with a small-enough return for moving Youkilis, Scott Podsednik, and Matt Albers.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

There were some deals that didn’t get made but might or should have:

* Chase Headley—San Diego did a lot of talking about moving their third base prize; lots of people wanted Carlos Quentin and Huston Street, too, but those two signed contract extensions while Headley, who stayed on the market until the non-waiver deadline, went nowhere. Leaving the Padres, according to Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, to see if they can get a better package for him after the season.

* Michael Cuddyer—The former Minnesota mainstay now with the Rockies and struggling a bit, there was a GM or two who wanted him but the Rockies didn’t want to let him go, for whatever reasons.

* Chris Perez—Cleveland needs to continue rebuilding; Perez could have brought them a decent if not spectacular return from a team in dire need of relief fortification (the New York Mets or the Brewers, anyone?), but the Indians decided to hold him.

* Denard Span—The Twins wouldn’t mind moving him, and the Cincinnati Reds—who fortified what might be the best bullpen in baseball this year when they added Jonathan Broxton before the non-waiver deadline—could have plugged in their leadoff hole nicely with Span. And the Reds right now are baseball’s most solid team without Joey Votto; they’d have been downright filthy with Votto and Span in the ranks.

* Scott Hairston—Among pieces the slipping Mets might have moved, Hairston would have brought the best return. Maybe the Mets aren’t giving up on the season just yet, maybe they are, but if they’re not giving up on the season it’s to wonder why they didn’t offer up Hairston seeking badly-needed bullpen help, since the only thing making their bullpen look anything close to serviceable is the horror of a bullpen in Milwaukee. The Mets aren’t being run by dummies anymore, and you know damn well they won’t even think about moving the like of David Wright, R.A. Dickey, Ike Davis (who’s beginning to rehorse after a frightful beginning this season), Matt Harvey, or Bobby Parnell (they may still see him as their closer of the future, if he can get that explosive stuff of his under control), but holding Hairston when his trade value was at peak may have been a bigger mistake than it looked as the non-waiver deadline approached.

The Sunny Side of the Street, and other ballads . . .

Whatever speculation there might have been (there was some) about whom the San Diego Padres might have thought about moving, there’s one candidate off the streets now: ESPN reports the Padres have signed closer Huston Street to a two-year extension, worth $14 million, including a 2015 team option that could make the deal worth $21 million to the righthanded All-Star, who’s 2-0 with an 0.91 ERA and all seventeen of his save opportunities converted through this writing.

For Street it seems almost like calling it home at last.

Street.

You find a place that you’re comfortable with, obvious success makes you feel more comfortable, but also the team, my teammates, wanting to be a teammate with these guys for an extended period of time. It’s a two-year deal with an option so if the team picks up that option it’s three years, that’ll be four years here in San Diego, at least. I think the organization itself is a bunch of people that I like, that I like being around, that I want to go play for and ultimately you have to believe in that, you have to believe in everybody involved.

The Padres picked him up in the first place in a 2011 swap with the Colorado Rockies.

With Street off the market now, eyes continue following the Padres to see if they’ll move Chase Headley.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

Liriano.

PITCHING PUMP—The Chicago White Sox thumped Francisco Liriano last Monday; this weekend, they added Liriano to their staff, getting him from the Minnesota Twins for infielder Eduardo Escobar and minor league pitching prospect Pedro Hernandez. Liriano’s struggled this season so far (he’s battled injuries and inconsistencies since his 2006 premiere), but once the White Sox landed him—he’s expected to join the White Sox when they arrive in Minnesota after playing Texas Sunday—they extended their winning streak to five. It’s a change of scenery move for Liriano and a possible upswing for the Twins regarding Hernandez: he’s 8-2/2.92 between AA and AAA this year, though he had a shaking major league outing against the Red Sox earlier this year, but the Twins could be looking at him as major league ready as soon as 2013.

Johnson.

DECENCY—That’s what the Arizona Diamondbacks hope they got when they bagged Houston third baseman Chris Johnson. Not only does he have a +105 OPS-plus (league average: +100), he’s under contract control through 2017. To get him, the Snakes sent the Astros a pair of minor league spare parts. Landing Johnson, though, has several analysts thinking he brings just the infield depth needed for the Diamondbacks to think about moving Stephen Drew, with the Oakland Athletics a possible trading partner.

Roberts.

THIS IS THE END . . . for Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts. He’s due to have season-ending surgery to fix a torn labrum in his right hip. The news came after Roberts was to begin a rehab assignment at Aberdeen (A). Roberts’s season started badly enough with a concussion, before he injured his hip after seventeen games back from the concussion. Roberts told reporters he would be disappointed not to stay the course with an Oriole team in surprising pennant contention this year, but the long-range plan is “to get ready for 600 good at-bats in 2013.”

The Whistlers

Today, I’d rather think about Barry Larkin and Ron Santo going into the Hall of Fame, Tim McCarver going in as the Frick Award recipient, and Bob Elliott going in as the Spink Award recipient. Thank Murray Chass for putting that to one side for now. Chass, himself a Hall of Fame baseball writer (longtime New York Times reporter and columnist whose specialties included acute analyses of the business side of the game), has uncorked yet another in his periodic series which could be called “Valentine’s Day,” considering that Bobby Valentine has been a particular bete noire of Chass’s since Chass was still a Timesman and Valentine was the manager of the New York Mets.

Did he suffer no whistleblower gladly?

Now, Chass has amplified what was merely suspected: the possibility that Valentine threw Kevin Youkilis under the proverbial bus in April in a bid to make it that much easier for the Boston Red Sox to purge the popular third baseman. You may remember (you should remember) Valentine pronouncing about Youkilis, “I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.” Chass thinks many see ulterior motives and that those folk aren’t quite right.

Physically, Valentine was probably right, though one notes Youkilis having something of a renaissance with the Chicago White Sox since he was dealt there, for a pair of no-names, in late June. Mentally, of course, Valentine was wrong. And when the White Sox visited Boston recently, Valentine couldn’t resist yet another shot at Youkilis, saying outright that Youkilis wouldn’t let the April issue die: “I think the comment I made early, he made a big issue out of, and I don’t think he ever wanted to get over it.”

Not so fast, says Chass:

[L]et’s try to understand this Valentine version of reasoning.

Valentine makes an unprovoked and unnecessary comment about a player, and the player is supposed to accept it without retort. Furthermore, the player should just forget the manager made the comment and never bring it up.

That’s the way Valentine would like it, but that’s not the way the world works, especially the sports world, where professional athletes feel empowered to speak when not spoken to. And does Valentine really think anyone is going to believe that the fault for any continuing differences between Valentine and Youkilis lies with Youkilis?

I don’t believe it, either. And I suspect as Chass does, that perhaps the real reason Youkilis was unloaded was that he proved a whistleblower. Whistleblowers are no more popular in baseball than they are in the corporate world, or in government, or in just about anyplace you can think of. You don’t unload a clubhouse leader and teacher for two non-entities without (you think) a good reason. And I don’t think anyone bought into any idea that the Red Sox were swapping Youkilis for parts of a future.

Youkilis may have been the Red Sox player who exposed the backstory of last year’s September collapse, the clubhouse and dugout indulgences of practically their entire starting rotation, Josh Beckett and company munching chicken and pounding brewskis while the Red Sox flamed out. The Boston Globe, which wrote the story shortly after the regular season ended, never named Youkilis as the primary source, but as Chass notes, the Globe “has basically confirmed it by omitting any mention of the source in the face of other reports.”

The collapse led to manager Terry Francona basically jumping the ship his rats did their best to sink before he could be made to walk the plank. The backstory exposed the capable Francona as having lost control of a clubhouse he usually policed by letting his veterans play the cops. Valentine may not have let that play into his thinking in April, and (Chass makes a point of noting this) he surely got the skinny from holdover coaches and other personnel. But Valentine has a history of tangling with popular players. (Todd Hundley on the Mets was only the most egregious example, perhaps until now.) Or, at least, trying to undermine players with problems he can’t quite process. (Valentine was particularly nasty about things when one-time Met pitcher Pete Harnisch suffered clinical depression, accusing Harnisch of lacking guts.) It leads you to wonder seriously whether whistleblowing is something else he can’t wrap around.

He wouldn’t be the first who couldn’t. And he probably won’t be the last. You can probably stock a roster with baseball whistleblowers, or those thought to be such, who may have learned the hard way about any kind of whistling.

Did questioning the Little League in print hurt him in the Show?

Joey Jay was the first Little League alumnus to make it to the Show, as a bonus-baby Milwaukee Brave. While with the Braves (who had to keep him on the major league roster his first two years, under the bonus rule of the time), Jay wrote a magazine article urging parents to think carefully before letting their kids play Little League ball: Jay had suffered when Little League officials tried barring him because he was rather tall and large for his age.  Nobody knows for dead last certain whether that Little League critique had a hand in it, but Jay never really got a chance to crack the Braves’ rotation, though his talent was always apparent. (His best season as a Brave was 1958, but he had to miss the World Series with a broken finger.) The Braves finally traded him to Cincinnati for the 1961 season . . . and Jay practically meant the pennant for the ’61 Reds. He reeled off back-to-back 20+-win seasons (1961, 1962; he was Cincinnati’s first 20-game winner since Ewell Blackwell in 1947) before he hit his downslope to stay. It was enough to make you wonder whether his earlier writing about the Little League experience didn’t harm Jay in the majors.

“The hard hat who sued baseball . . .”

When Carl Furillo was cut by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1960, while on the disabled list with a torn muscle, the proud right fielder didn’t take it meekly. He sued the Dodgers, claiming the team released him wrongfully (his contract said he couldn’t be released when injured) to keep him from the higher pension a fifteen-year player would receive and to keep from paying his medical expenses. Furillo actually won the suit (he collected $21,000) but he went to his grave (he died at 66 in 1989) never really knowing whether he’d been blackballed out of future work as a coach or manager. (Roger Kahn—who caught up to Furillo when Furillo worked installing elevators in the World Trade Center; one can only thank God Furillo didn’t live to see the towers come down on 9/11—called his The Boys of Summer chapter on Furillo, “The Hard Hat Who Sued Baseball.”)

“A kooky beatnik . . .”

Jim Brosnan wasn’t exactly trying to blow whistles on wrongdoing when he wrote The Long Season and Pennant Race, arguably the first two from-the-inside looks at life in the Show. Brosnan also wrote frequent magazine articles from his perspective as a useful relief pitcher. He wasn’t even close to the sort of expositor Jim Bouton would prove a decade later, writing of feelings and inside technical knowledge rather than every daily detail, but it didn’t stop Joe Garagiola from calling him “a kooky beatnik.” As much a humourist as a diarist, Brosnan had written of one season when he transitioned from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Reds, and another as a from-the-inside look at the Reds while they were winning their surprise 1961 pennant. (Brosnan was one of that team’s two key relief pitchers, with Bill Henry.) When Brosnan was traded to the White Sox for 1964, he retired rather than accept the team’s management’s demand to send every article he might write to their front office for team approval.

No silence about a racial snub . . .

Earl Wilson refused to keep his mouth shut when he and a pair of white Red Sox teammates were denied service in a Florida bar in spring training 1966, after the server crowed, “We don’t serve niggers in here.” When Wilson took it to the team’s then-management, they warned Wilson to stay quiet, as though the incident never happened. Wilson fumed quietly, then took it to the press. It cooked the righthander with the Red Sox; he would be traded to the Detroit Tigers early in the season, for a middling relief pitcher and a fading outfielder who would, among other things, hit fewer home runs as a Red Sox than Wilson—a fine hitting pitcher—hit in his entire major league career. Wilson, for his part, would post a few fine seasons for the Tigers (he led the American League in wins in 1967) before retiring.

Published and perished . . .

Even Bouton wasn’t exactly trying to blow whistles on wrongdoing when he wrote Ball Four, necessarily, though he did expose some juicy details about the one-sided negotiating positions into which players in the reserve era were subject. Like Brosnan, Bouton kept a diary of his 1969 season between the Seattle Pilots and the Houston Astros. He merely recorded far more details of life on and off the field. But once the book was published, and Bouton’s candor raised a bigger uproar than Brosnan ever provoked, his major league days were numbered. Though his manager at the time swore Bouton was cut purely because he’d finally lost whatever he had left in his pitching arm (he’d been reduced to a junkballer by arm miseries that began in 1965), the timing probably made even Bouton’s enemies wonder whether it was his best-seller and not his hittability that ended his career. And no baseball commissioner tried actively to suppress Brosnan’s books or Jay’s article.

The needle and the damage done . . .

Curt Flood probably didn’t help his own cause by publishing The Way It Is at the height of his legal challenge to the reserve clause, even if former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, taking Flood’s case pro bono, may have done the most to assure Flood of losing before the high court. When Ken Caminiti went public (in Sports Illustrated) a year after he retired, and became baseball’s first player to admit having used actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, there were published fears that he, too, would be blackballed from the game. (He’d worked as a spring instructor with the San Diego Padres, for whom he’d played a few seasons including his MVP season, and seemed to have a future as a full-time coach somewhere.) A troubled man who had already battled alcoholism and cocaine, Caminiti’s life spiraled further beyond control (his marriage collapsed; he lapsed back to cocaine) until his death of a drug overdose in 2004.

It isn’t impossible to think that Kevin Youkilis punched his ticket out of Boston, where he was popular and respected most of the time (he did have that dugout run-in with Manny Ramirez once upon a time, not that Ramirez was always the most popular Red Sox), not because his skills were fading, not because his body might yet betray him again, but because he might have been the man who let loose a secret at least half of Boston might not have wanted to know.

“[W]ho is wrong here?” Chass asks. Then, he answers.

The guys who committed the acts or the guy who told about the guys who committed the acts? If Beckett and pals created an environment that helped produce the September swoon, was it wrong for Youkilis or anyone else to disclose their role?

Whistle blowers aren’t popular in any industry and are often treated with disdain, but they serve a valuable purpose. If Youkilis or someone else had blown the whistle when the beer and fried chicken first made an appearance in the Boston clubhouse, maybe the Red Sox could have created a September song instead of a September swoon.

Big “if.” And who knows what Youkilis’s Red Sox life would have been worth if he had blown the whistle before the collapse?

The (Alleged) Punk Plunk, and Other Sorrows . . .

Jimenez.

Tulowitzki.

Ubaldo Jimenez got a five-game suspension for drilling Troy Tulowitzki on the first pitch Sunday. The Players’ Association intends to back him as he appeals it. They are actually right about this. This turns out not to have been a mere sticks-and-stones issue. The backstory is Tulowitzki’s public criticism of Jimenez’s public gripe that the Rockies—who traded him to the Cleveland Indians during last season—offered and signed Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to big-dollar extensions after signing him to a mere “team-friendly” deal but not thinking of a comparable extension after he had his big year. Tulowitzki suggested once or twice recently that “a certain point (comes) in this game where you go play and you shut your mouth. And you don’t worry about what other people are doing.” He may have been absolutely right. Jimenez may have been absolutely wrong to fret over one or another man’s deal compared to his own. His pitching in 2011 would certainly suggest how wrong he was.

But anyone who thought Tulowitzki was going to get away with popping off that way, in public, suggesting his ex-mate was a bad teammate who didn’t give everything he had, without his subject doing something about it in one of baseball’s time-honoured if often dubious self-policing practises, simply forgot about time-honoured if often dubious self-policing. A one-game suspension might have been appropriate. Five is a little much in the circumstances. And if Colorado manager Jim Tracy calls Jimenez’s drill the most gutless thing he’s seen in baseball by a guy for whom he’s lost all respect, there may be enough people losing a little respect for Tracy as a baseball man. Tracy has every right to stand by his player. Tulowitzki is normally one of the game’s class acts. But Tracy was way off base in seeing and raising the commentary that started the whole thing in the first place. No one should be surprised if the Rockies and Indians square off in interleague play this season and Jimenez has another little message to send his former club.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

MAbreu.

* THE ROAD COMES EVER TO A SLOWDOWN—That’s what may be facing Bobby Abreu, who hasn’t been the player he once was over the last year and a half and who may have to resign himself to one of three choices: a) part-time duty with the Angels; b) a possible chance to catch one more bolt of lightning elsewhere; or, c) retirement with dignity. The longtime on-base machine has been a trade talk subject, but the smart money says Abreu’s remaining contract dollars, and how much the Angels might be willing to provide, may be holding up their ability to move him; the Yankees (for whom he’s played before, and well) and the Indians were said to have been interested.

If Abreu continues reading the proverbial writing on the wall and opts to retire this moment, though, here’s a surprise that might await you five years hence: By the Bill James Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Batting Monitor, Abreu shakes out as a very average Hall of Famer, maybe a tick below average, the kind of quiet superstar who crept up on you even with that remarkable on-base percentage. (At this writing, he’s number 70 on the top one hundred.) Most important, Abreu played the game with dignity, maximum effort even when he made it look about as complicated as putting on your socks, and played to his ability in the postseason; his postseason line is a pretty neat near-match to his regular season lines. Lots of players play over their heads in the postseason; lots of players play under their heads; Abreu is one of those who played the same in either situation, a certain indication that pressure baseball didn’t rattle around his attic excessively and keep him from doing what he did well. You’d like to see him put one more excellent season together, but at age 38 it isn’t necessarily a given.

Votto.

VOTTO DEAL!—Ten years, $225 million for Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto—the fourth-largest deal in Show history, and one showing the Reds mean business about keeping the nucleus of their recently re-competitive team together, in the wake of the six years and $51 million they committed to Jay Bruce after 2010. The bad news: the Votto deal means the Reds don’t expect to re-sign Brandon Phillips when the second baseman hits free agency at the end of 2012, though it doesn’t mean the Reds won’t try to re-sign him, either.

Will the Padres throw out the first manager of 2012?

WANNA BET?—The looming end of spring training customarily includes speculation on who will throw out the first manager of the season. The Bovada Sports Book has joined the fun, and San Diego Padres manager Bud Black is their top pick for the lead guillotine, citing Black’s 388-423 record managing the Padres since 2007. Bovada is giving 3-to-1 odds on Black’s early execution. The rest of their top ten? From two to ten, the candidates are: Brad Mills (Houston, at 5-to-1), Dusty Baker (Cincinnati, at 11-to-2), Buck Showalter (Baltimore, at 6-to-1), Ron Gardenhire (Minnesota, also at 6-to-1), Jim Tracy (Colorado, at 9-to-1), Charlie Manuel (Philadelphia, at 10-to-1), Joe Girardi (Yankees, at 10-to-1 as well), Bruce Bochy (San Francisco, likewise at 10-t0-1), and Mike Scioscia (Angels, at 12-to-1).

How likely are those predictions to pass? Well, in fairness to Mills you can’t really tell how good the manager is based on the roster he’s had to handle since taking the helm. Baker is always likely to be executed, especially considering his pitching issues (bullpen a lack of specialty) and his teams’s tendencies to implode when the big prizes are on the line (reference 2003 Cubs, 2002 Giants, for openers). Showalter’s execution may well depend on how willing the Orioles’ brass might prove to be in letting new general manager Dan Duquette anywhere near the electrocution switch. Gardenhire isn’t going anywhere just yet, unless someone spikes the Twins’ brass’s punch just enough to leave them vulnerable to suggestions that their dubious personnel moves and the team’s rotten luck are the manager’s fault. Tracy has a long contract—for now. Big League Stew has it about right when they say Girardi is safe unless George Steinbrenner faked his own death, and they’re also right that Bochy is still too safe thanks to a 2010 World Series ring—pending a bad 2012 and a slow opening to 2012.

Scioscia? Let’s see. He’s vulnerable only if a) the Angels implode, b) underachieve (considering the Pujols and C.J. Wilson deals), or c) can’t get past round one of the postseason (again). And even then . . . whatever problems the Angels have had since winning that stupefying World Series a decade ago, and they’ve had a few in spite of their consistent competitiveness, nobody really seems willing to blame them on the manager. Yet.