Monday, November 28, 2011

The New Collective Bargaining Agreement

As regular readers know, I am no expert on the obscure and arcane of the business of baseball. Nevertheless, when all these gazillionaires get together and decide the future of our sport we should give the deal a small amount of attention.

The players and the owners did come to an agreement. For the obsessive, you can take a look at the summary of the agreement here. For commentary, try St. Pete Times, or Rays Index, or DRaysBay.

For the larger picture, a couple of key points seem to some experts to be really important to baseball and ultimately the Durham Bulls.

  • We'll have baseball without labor strife for a couple more years.
  • They are at least trying to get a grip on the human growth hormone issue.
  • How will the spending caps affect a young athlete's choice of sports? We'll see.
  • With the signing deadline moved up, drafted players will start playing sooner and show up in Durham as much as a year earlier.

But that's the big picture. What about the fine print? And what's up with that batting helmet?

I've written about baseball's helmet policy before. Basically, if you're a minor leaguer you have to wear the much more protective helmet shown above, but when you get to the big leagues you can wear something a bit prettier. The new agreement calls for the adoption of better helmets by 2013. I'm guessing that the delay has everything to do with studly looks. Can't find a photo of what the new helmet's supposed to look like. For National Leaguers going up against Aroldis Chapman next year, it may be a year too late.

Then there's this curious sentence:
The parties agreed that no new players will be permitted to use a low density maple bat during the term of the agreement.
Notice the words "new players". That would be players new to the major leagues. I'm guessing that means that maple bats will be taken out of the hands of minor leaguers immediately, but if you're a big leaguer you can keep on chunking pieces of your bat at the pitcher and the rest of the infield until you retire.

Lastly, to the detriment of the game, the players and owners conspired to slow down the game even more. I kind of like instant replay, but I hate 4-hour ball games. This change to the instant replay policy is going to delay the game.  The crotch-scratching batters and twitchy relievers are bad enough, now we'll wait for the umps to huddle around a TV set. Play Ball!!!
Instant Replay will be expanded to include fair/foul and “trapped” ball plays, subject to the Office of the Commissioner’s discussions with the World Umpires Association.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hemstitching: Stephen Vogt, Rule 5, Trade Values

In the weaver’s world hemstitching is used for two purposes: to tie up loose ends (literally, because an “end” is a thread in a warp) and for decoration. [For another connection between weaving and baseball, see a post from last winter]

  • Stephen Vogt, along with two pitchers we've never seen, was added to the Rays 40-man roster recently. At a guess, the primary motivation had more to do with the Rule 5 draft than anything else, but we really like Stephen and if he doesn't make it to the active roster out of Spring Training we'll be happy to see him as a Bull. Note that he's being reported as a catcher, but he is a much more versatile player than that. I don't think any other Bull is subject to Rule 5, but if someone knows better, jump in.
  • Over at Rays Index he's put up his Trade Value Index. That's a very interesting rank-ordering of players currently in the Rays' system ranked in accordance with their "trade value". Twelve Bulls from 2011 are on the list, many of them quite high.
  • We wrote about catchers a while back admiring the Cardinals' Yadier Molina. Looks like the Rays may have signed his brother, Jose. We won't likely see him in Durham, but the deal confirms that the Rays are on the hunt for catching talent.
Update: For more on the players involved in the 40-man roster and the Rule 5 draft, see T. Rancel's post at Rays Insider.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hemstitching: Fan Fest, Field of Dreams, & More

  • This Saturday you can have an excuse to visit the DBAP in the off-season and walk around on the turf. Fall Fan Fest.
  • Here's a fascinating interview with Billy Beane and Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame from the Financial Times.
  • Remember the beautiful final scene from Field of Dreams? Well, that farm (and the ball field) were just sold.
  • Jeremy Hellickson was picked for Rookie of the Year and Joe Maddon was picked as AL Manager of the year. |Tampa Bay Rays|
  • Ever wonder how the Rays compare to the rest of baseball when it comes to spending money? Rays Index had an interesting graphic a while back.
  • Flip Flop Fly Ball compares all the teams in everyone's system in his chart. The Bulls would be that little bar up in the Rays system display near the top.
  • The number crunchers over at DRaysBay take a look at the difference former Bull Desmond Jennings may have had when he went up to the Rays.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hemstitching: Free Agents, Friedman, Winter Ball

The ever-diligent Rays Prospects site has brought to our attention the Baseball America listing of minor league free agents. Bulls fans know almost all of these guys from the Rays system, as might be expected. On the list are several who saw time with the Bulls in 2011, including:

  • Brian Baker
  • Joe Bateman
  • Lance Cormier
  • Richard de los Santos
  • Paul Phillips
  • Adam Russell
  • Matt Torra
Position Players
  • J.J. Furmaniak
  • Daniel Mayora
  • Ray Olmedo
  • John Matulia
Scrolling through the list we find a couple of other former Bulls including:
  • Chris Carter (Braves)
  • Rhyne Hughes (Orioles)
  • Fernando Perez (Mets)
  • Winston Abreu (Blue Jays)
Readers with sharper eyes (and better memories) than I should take a look and see if there’s someone important that I may have missed.

What does it mean for the Bulls? Probably not too much. These are guys whose agents will be looking to find them jobs beginning in the spring, assuming they haven’t decided to leave baseball. The Rays have been very, very smart about looking over the larger pool for possibilities and I would assume that the Bulls coaching staff would have some say on who from 2011 might fit with the Bulls in 2012.

* * * * *

On a different note, over at DRaysBay there’s an interesting interview with Rays VP Andrew Friedman. Several interesting comments regarding player development made.

* * * * *

Lastly, if you'd like to catch up on folks playing winter ball, here's a helpful link. Interesting are the two players with a fairly large age difference (Tim Beckham, 21, and Elliot Johnson, 27) both working so very hard (19 and 18 games, respectively).

Update: Not recent Bulls, but remembered with some fondness, pitcher Dale Thayer and outfielder Jason Pridie are leaving the Mets organization for minor league free-agency (Thanks, anon).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dan Johnson Won't Be Back

DJ at Bat, 2010
Dan Johnson won’t be coming back to the Durham Bulls next year. When the Rays "outrighted" him to the Bulls a few days ago, he turned it down. He is now a free agent with no ties to the Rays at all. 

All of the commentary is about his several shining moments with the Rays. The best of these columns is by Bradley Woodrum over at SB Nation.

My interest is in what he did as a Durham Bull. We are going to miss him, a lot. He made major contributions to the Bulls in all of the three seasons he played here (2008, 2010, and 2011) and he had a lot to do with the Bulls winning the South Division of the International League in each of those years.

DJ After Home Run, July 2010

Every year he was with us we expected him to be called up. Every year he was. Every year he did something heroic for the Rays. But as Bulls fans we were interested in day-to-day performance and we were rarely disappointed.

We saw him mostly at first base and in the DH position. But he put in 61 games at third base and always surprised me with the strength of his arm and the intelligence of his play. He was a good first baseman in a time when the Bulls were blessed with two very good hitters at first (Chris Richard being the other one).

His numbers were simply extraordinary. How does this sound? In his three seasons:

304 Games — 68 Home Runs — 230 RBI 

Looking back, here's what we said (in 2010) about his 2008 season:
But what Bulls fans remember about 2008 was his stellar year with us. He played in 113 games; hit 25 home runs, 83 RBIs, and a batting line of .307/.424/.980. Dan was our player of the year for 2008. For a really hard core Bulls fan, as much as we admire his heroics for the Rays that Fall, we have this wistful feeling that maybe the Governors’ Cup would have been ours if he’d stayed with the Bulls through all of the playoffs.
Dan Johnson, Joe Dillon, Jose Lobaton after Lobaton Home Run July 5, 2010

Of course, 2010 was DJ's great year as a Durham Bull. Here's what we said at the end of 2010:

Dan Johnson was our superstar this year. His home run and RBI pace was extraordinary and he collected a whole bunch of AAA awards even though he didn’t even play the last month of the season. It is a bit puzzling that the Rays did not notice that for the last two years he was mostly a third baseman, not a first baseman. This year he only made one error in 36 games at third. We were also more that a little surprised that he wasn’t traded off during the year, but that could easily just mean that we don’t really understand the business of baseball very well. We are having great fun watching him play for the Rays and have high hopes he will go to the postseason with them.
And if 2011 was a mild disappointment compared to 2010, surely Dan was even more disappointed. After all, he'd expected to spend the whole year with the Rays. Nevertheless, he did a pretty darned good job for the Bulls. Here's what we said at the end of the season.

Played in 93 games (395 PA). Starting very slowly, his numbers improved as the year went on — .273/.382/.459,wOBA .375. Low extra base production (for him) of 23 doubles and 13 home runs. 52 RBI. 59 games at 1B, 15 at 3B, and 21 as DH.
What I'd like to wrap up with is just a little bit of balance. I'm a Durham Bulls fan and Dan Johnson has been a great Durham Bulls baseball player. For three seasons I've gone to the park and Dan's been on the field and has given me a bunch of thrills and won a bunch of games for us.
Thank You!

Best of luck in 2012!

Dan Johnson, June, 2011