East Coast Bias: Baseball Is Back

I can’t describe how happy I am baseball is back. For a guy who spent a good 10 years on strike from the game after the debacle of 1994, I’ve become a whore for the game. A radio show I listen to described the game as a close friend who you hang out with every night for six months, and that’s really what it is. It doesn’t feel quite right when it’s gone and it arrives like a heralded savior at the beginning April after the vast wasteland of sports that follow the Super Bowl. Even March Madness isn’t all that fun after the first week. Baseball arrives and you know it’s going to be with you pretty much every day for the next six months.

It’s even better when you can enter the season with high hopes for your team.

I was reading through my divisional previews this evening when I noticed something I wrote about the Braves, which was basically that they had no one to get the ball from their starter to Bob Wickman. After watching the Braves smack the Mets around (after getting smacked around by 10 on Friday night) this weekend, I realized that couldn’t have been more false.

I’ve watched the Braves for a lot of years. They did a short stint in high school as my favorite team since I wanted to be different and they were always on TV. It also didn’t hurt that they were always winning and they’ve always won the same way. They don’t play moneyball, they do pick up free agents but they never overpay for them. The Braves either swoop in and take advantage of ridiculously one-sided trades (The Edgar Renteria trade, where they managed to replace Rafael Furcal by giving the Red Sox a sack of magic beans AND made them pay for it. Furcal is another example of things the Braves do well: they uncannily let guys walk at exactly the right time. This means: if you have Marcus Giles, Adam LaRoche, or Wilson Betemit on your fantasy team, have back-ups ready). They pick-up above average talent and improve them though an elite coaching staff and manage the entire organization from Rookie-A to the Major League the same way. This is why, in 2005, they were STILL able win the division despite drawing half their team out of Triple-A over the season. The Braves will never wow you by landing the marquee free agent of the off-season, but they’ll make under-rated pick-ups that you’ll look at later and say “wow.”

And they did the same thing this year.

The Braves went out in their quiet, under the radar way and made two (three if you count re-signing Wickman, and you probably should) big acquisitions that I didn’t even notice until Saturday’s game. First, they picked up Mike Gonzalez. For those who don’t know, Mike Gonzalez did a stint as the Pirates’ closer last season. He must suck, right? Interestingly, he does not. In 54 appearances last year for the Pirates he pitched to a 2.17 ERA and converted 24/24 saves. That’s 100% if you suck at math. This cost them Adam LaRoche whose bat they replaced by bringing back Kelly Johnson who sat out last year with Tommy John surgery. In other news, left fielders get Tommy John surgery.

In case that wasn’t enough, John Schuerholz managed one of his Jedi Mind Trick Trades on the Mariners’ GM and unloaded one of their worst pitchers, Horacio Ramirez. If stats interest you, take a look at these lines from last season:

Horacio Ramirez: 25 appearances, 24 starts, 142IP, 6-9, 50BB, 59K, 5.13 ERA. NL East
Rafael Soriano: 48 appearances, 54IP, 2-1, 19BB, 58K, 2.83 ERA. AL West.

Look at those statistics for a moment. They traded these two guys straight up. I will repeat that. They traded these two guys straight up. They gave the Mariners a guy who wasn’t going to make the team this season and, in return, got a desperately needed right-hander for the bullpen. This is what they do; this is why they played in October for 14 straight years. The Braves repopulated their bullpen at the cost of Adam LaRoche. That’s it. While I stand by my statement that they are a fragile team who could be crippled if anyone in their rotation goes down, they’re frightening competition for the National League.

As for the Mets, I’m almost glad they lost yesterday. I want them to open at home with a chip on their shoulder to help erase the memory of the last time I was there. I hate going to losing games. I’m hoping The Phillies meet a team embarrassed about their debacle of a game on Saturday and their first real loss yesterday.

And speaking of the Phillies, it must really suck to go from sweetheart dark-horse pick to legitimately facing dropping 10 of their first 15 games. They’re 1-5 now and face 3 games at Shea, 3 against the Astros (with a Roy Oswalt start), and two more against the Mets. Giving them two against the Mets and the two non-Oswalt starts, that’s a tough hole to start the season in.