Baseball’s Second Half

The All-Star break has come and gone, a new home run champ was crowned, and the National League extended their Midsummer Classic win streak to: 2.

Derek Jeter went yard for #3,000– he should really thank David Price for that beauty.

Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander both threw no-hitters, and each came close to a second. Buster Posey was injured in a home plate collision and Albert Pujols broke his wrist, then regenerated in half the time as a machine would. The Pirates are 47-43, yes the Pittsburgh Pirates, sitting in 3rd place, just one game out in the NL Central. The Mets are above .500 due to Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran having seasons they’re capable of, the Mets have some hope. Their manager, Terry Collins, 62, “is older than the remote control and hadn’t managed a game in 11 years, is suddenly the second-youngest manager in the NL East (or, as it might be known in the latest realignment plan, the Del Boca Vista Division)” (SI Tom Verducci, Inside Baseball) And those Cleveland Indians, name one of their starting pitchers; name two of their outfielders; their DL is the who’s who of Cleveland but they’ve been in first and are currently in 2nd, half a game out. Whoda thunk it? Plus Brian Wilson and his beard have become the new rock star of baseball.

But don’t worry, the season isn’t too upside down, the AL East is a close race (you know who), the Phillies pitching rotation is competing at a high level and the Marlins can’t sell tickets (they closed the upper deck). So what’s going to happen in the second half? Who will hold on to each division? Can Pittsburgh make the playoffs?!

Milestone Progress

Derek Jeter’s 3,000 hit? Check, he’s at 3,004

Jim Thome’s (595) 600th home run? 5 away

Alex Rodriguez (626) catching Griffey (630) on the all-time home run list? 4 more. And Willie Mays (660)? 34 bombs, not likely

Ichiro’s 11th consecutive  200 hit season, breaking his tie with Pete Rose? 101 hits at the break, on pace for about 190 hits (ASG isn’t halfway point, technically)

Mariano Rivera (581) all-time saves leader? 22 saves in 2011, on pace for around 40, putting at or above Trevor Hoffman’s record 601

Albert Pujols’ 2,000 hit? 16 to go

Matt Stairs’ record breaking 13th team played for? Check: Expos, Red Sox, A’s, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, Royals, Blue Jays, Rangers, Tigers, Phillies, Padres, Nationals. That’s 52 different jersey’s he’s worn (Can be contested that he’s still tied at 12  with Mike Morgan since the Expos became the Nationals)

Awards

AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers

AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Pineda, Mariners

AL Manager of the Year: Manny Acta, Indians

NL MVP: Matt Kemp, Dodgers

NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Phillies

NL Rookie of the Year: Freddie Freeman, Braves

NL Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pirates

October, who has survived?

AL East: New York Yankees

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

AL Wildcard: Boston Red Sox

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks

NL Wild Card: Milwaukee Brewers

Yankees win the East? One of the East teams will be struck with key injuries causing a slide, I know I’ll probably pick the wrong one, but the Yanks have shown excellent ability to plug holes and win, and they have the run support. Boston needs to stay healthy and if their 1 through 5 starters continue to pitch well, plus their bullpen, they could be on top. And the West, what was I thinking? Diamondbacks over the Giants? It’s a wild division and it’s Arizona’s time. Something special in the desert again, they’re my surprise pick.

Parting Thoughts

Will we see Bryce Harper in 2011? Don’t think so, don’t care yet. He will be good though. I also think there will be no more no-no’s, plenty of rumors around a Mets fire sale (not happening), Jose Reyes’ price tag continues to fall, Lance Berkman stays an MVP candidate until the end, the Rangers lose focus, and their lead in the West, and Ichiro blows up with a hefty hitting streak.

Baseball has been very, very good to me

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

Frank McCourt: From the Parking Lot to Paradise and Back

Dodgers fans, you have a lot to be mad about, if you didn’t notice. A lot of people to blame, too. The sad part, as it almost always is, is that the fans didn’t deserve any of this. Fans didn’t ask to become divorce kids in the most damaging-to-baseball marriage split-up in the history of the game (if you come to me with some 1890s nonsense, just save it, it doesn’t matter.) You can be mad at Bud Selig for allowing a guy who owned a parking lot, and (here’s the kicker) not nearly enough capital to acquire the Dodgers, to do so. You can be mad at Frank (and Jamie) McCourt, for going ahead and doing so. You can be mad at anybody who had anything to do with letting this catastrophe happen. This whole thing is like Bud Selig looked at two trains headed directly for each other and said that they wouldn’t collide, because one of the trains just got new wheels. There was no reason to believe that Frank McCourt was going to be a good owner for the Dodgers, he was just a dude with a valuable parking lot. I don’t know if I can hammer this home enough– all Frank McCourt had on you, or me, was a parking lot. We would all fall into the pool of “not having enough money to buy the Dodgers” he just happened to have that parking lot. In case you were wondering, the lot was valued at approximately $200 million, when it was flipped by NewsCorp (who acquired the lot when McCourt bought the Dodgers from them) to Morgan Stanley. Obviously, $200 million isn’t enough to buy the Dodgers. But guess what! Frank McCourt still got to buy the Dodgers, through a deal financed largely on debt. This actually happened; this was actually allowed by a professional sports league to be done to one of its landmark franchises.

Now what? Bud Selig just blocked a $3 billion deal that would have given Fox Sports Network the rights to broadcast Dodgers games, and allowed Frank McCourt to meet his payroll, and everything would have been wonderful in paradise. I don’t blame Bud Selig for blocking the deal. For one, it was quite possibly undervalued. Two, allowing a team that is currently being fought over in divorce court to add 3 billion problems (cue Jay-Z) to the situation, is another patently idiotic decision. Thus, Frank McCourt had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order for payroll to be met, and all kinds of other fun financial jargon that Dodgers fans rightfully don’t, and shouldn’t have to, care about.At the end of the day, when this divorce is over, neither Frank nor Jamie McCourt will own the Dodgers, and the fans will be left with a team that is stuck in professional sports purgatory for the foreseeable future. Some married couples try to stay together for the kids– Frank and Jamie couldn’t stay together for the millions of Dodgers fans out there. What does that tell you?

 

It's never good when Manny is the most trustworthy person in a picture. (No offense to those camera dudes.)

Let’s look at the landscape of professional sports right now.

NFL- If this league was a movie character, it’d be Gordon Gekko. It has become quite obvious with these guys that the motto is “greed is good.” They’re currently in the middle of a labor dispute about nothing (maybe they’d be Seinfeld if they were a show.) All they’re fighting over is who gets the bigger piece of the $9 billion cookie cake. Lovely. A problem that all of us Americans slogging through a historically crappish economy can relate to. Remind me to feel sorry for the financial plight of any of these guys as soon as the cow jumps over the moon.

NBA- Locked out as well. This one is because the “savvy businessmen” who own these teams couldn’t put together a business model that would allow for them to make money. That’s right, dudes who made enough money to buy basketball teams didn’t have enough in the think tank to figure out a way to make those teams profitable. They could start by not handing out guaranteed contracts that paid the players receiving said contracts 5000 cents on the dollar when it comes to their actual value. Remind yourself to be shocked that the owners in this league are losing money.

MLB- Two of the league’s marquee franchises are currently in a major state of limbo. The Dodgers, as I mentioned above, and the Mets have had their well-documented financial strife as well. Don’t look now, but the group who bought the Astros took on a considerable amount of debt to do so. What’s that quote about those who don’t pay attention to history being doomed to repeat it? Oh, wait…

NHL- They’ve actually been doing pretty well since the 04-05 lockout. They just signed the biggest television contract in the history of their league this year, which will put more games on TV than ever before, and their financial pie has been growing each year. Unfortunately, America is too lazy to look for Versus on their cable guide. That’s not the NHL’s fault. They have the most captivating in-person product of the 4 major sports, and TV just doesn’t do it justice– and if you didn’t know already, getting people to the arena is harder than getting them to find your product on TV. So the NHL is at a competitive disadvantage, but they’re actually not doing too badly right now. Kudos to them. Their free agency frenzy is happening at the best possible time.

People ask us why we care so much about sports. These owners, whether it be Frank McCourt, the NFL owners, the NBA owners, or anybody, don’t seem to be doing us much justice right now. All we want, really, is not to feel like an ass for rooting for the team we root for. And right now, these professional sports leagues are seemingly kicking that notion to the curb. They don’t really care how stupid we feel for supporting their product, as long as we continue to finance their product. I apologize if this post is taking on the same tone as some of my previous posts, but it’s because there’s an overwhelming trend that seems to be more evident than it ever has before. The people in charge of the games we love just straight up don’t give a damn about what we think, or how we feel. I’m sorry Dodgers fans, if I could promise you that things would get better, I would. But, unfortunately, as it always is with sports, you’re just going to have to buck up and get through it.

 

Steve Sabato is a contributing writer for Home Field Advantage

 

The Flyers go Hog Wild

Let’s say you’re on a road trip with your family from New York to New Mexico. You drive and you drive, and you drive some more. You get to El Paso, and your dad decides to turn the car around, drive back East, and try the trip on a completely different route, because he thinks it’s better. If your family didn’t stage a mutiny before he had the chance to do it, you’d be pretty pissed off the rest of the trip. That’s what Paul Holmgren just did with the Flyers.

Most hockey fans with an idea of what they are talking about believed that the Flyers were one competent goaltender away from winning a Stanley Cup. Well, they’re going to get their goaltender, but they just removed two of the key cogs that helped make the orange machine roll. Most people believed that Ville Leino and Nikolai Zherdev would have to go in order to create the cap space for Ilya Bryzgalov, the Russian goaltender whose days in Phoenix were quite obviously over. Instead, they’ve got Bryzgalov, a team minus two of its best players, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and a prospect. This is a team taking on a whole new image; a team that looks like it’s trying to start something new.

I don’t know if you missed the hockey season that preceded this one, but the Flyers played in the Stanley Cup Finals as a 7th seed, against the Chicago Blackhawks, who had basically stocked the warchest and invested everything they could into winning the cup in 2009-10. Fittingly, the Flyers lost on a weak goal, which really captured the problem in Philadelphia. Goaltending. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter might have been party animals, and that might have made Paul Holmgren mad, but they were not the reason that the Flyers got their butts handed to them by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Bruins. It was, once again, putrid goaltending, and defense that left a lot to be desired.

For Mike Richards, Los Angeles gave Philadelphia Brayden Schenn, who was its top prospect, and Wayne Simmonds, a solid 2nd or 3rd line scorer, who helps the Flyers maintain some depth. Schenn has scored 315 points in 242 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, and many believe that he will be a very strong player in the NHL one day. Is one day going to come soon enough for Flyers fans? It’s hard to tell.This is a town that is starving for a cup.

Speaking of one day, that’s what the Flyers are planning for with the 8th pick of this NHL Draft, which they received from Columbus, along with a 3rd rounder, and Jakub Voracek, another mid-line scorer. Maybe Brayden Schenn and Pick #8 will be a dynamic duo that will dazzle Philadelphia in the future, but again, that’s not what Philly was supposed to have been planning for. This trade feels like Paul Holmgren cutting off his nose to spite his face. One of the amusing undertones to this is the fact that Paul Holmgren looks exactly like Jurgen Prochnow, famous for his roles in Das Boot, and the movie that focused on a glass called das boot, Beerfest.

Maybe the Flyers will look like this next year

Amidst all of this, they signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9 year, $51 million deal. In the last two off-seasons men named Ilya have signed for 26 years and $156 million. That seemed relevant to point out. Bryzgalov’s contract will likely be front-loaded, and when he gets old, the Flyers and him will part ways, with very minimal financial damage to the Flyers, and Ilya having made the lion’s share of the money he could possibly earn in the contract.

There are rumors that the Flyers could be in the market to make a run at a guy like Brad Richards or Steven Stamkos, but that feels like a “pie in the sky” idea. Paul Holmgren looks like a mad scientist if it works out that way, but it’s a lot of eggs in a fragile basket if that’s his plan. All I know is, I feel like somebody should have jumped in front of Paul Holmgren before he finally pulled the trigger on this deal. I don’t think that Philly fans are going to like the end result of this, as they may have just turned themselves into the Phoenix Coyotes of the East. A team with a really strong goaltender, but no player who really terrifies his opponents. Mike Richards was always a threat, Jeff Carter could score from anywhere on the ice. All of that has been sacrificed in order to take a completely different route to the cup.

Welcome to El Paso, Flyers Fans, and I’m sorry to tell you– the car’s turning around.

Steve Sabato is a Staff Writer for Home Field Advantage

LA Update: Frank McCourt Blasts Bud Selig over Dodgers Dispute

After a meeting in New York between estranged Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, McCourt decided to go public with what he feels is an “un-American” action by Selig in regards to taking control of the franchise (ESPN News Link).

While the meeting was to be deemed private, MLB and their offices expressed disappointment when McCourt decided to take his emotions public. The executives in the MLB league office also said that McCourt’s claims were “untrue” and should not be taken as fact.

Well, in simple terms, this was a very stupid move by Frank McCourt if he wished to remain in control of the franchise. The very last thing you should do as an owner is disrespect the man that controls your fate as an owner in the league. Selig recently announced that former Texas Rangers team president Tom Schieffer will take over business control of the team to maintain daily operations.

I don’t see any way McCourt remains as the team owner. What this means for team general manager Ned Colletti or manager Don Mattingly is unforeseen. But, with respect the crux of the issue between Frank McCourt and the league office, the Dodgers owner who is in a nasty battle with his ex-wife Jamie McCourt in divorce court all but sealed his fate as an owner.

Sooner or later, Frank McCourt can go to a country club and tell all his friends that once upon a time, he owned the Los Angeles Dodgers. Because it sure isn’t looking like he’ll be the owner of the team for that much longer.

LA Update: MLB Taking Control over Dodgers

While owners Frank and Jamie McCourt continue to have their ugly divorce settling spill over into the public picture, Major League Baseball has decided they’ve seen enough.

Commissioner Bud Selig has announced that MLB will take control of the day-to-day business operations to make sure that the Dodgers will function properly as an organization, and the commissioner added he will appoint someone later this week to run the financial aspect of the franchise (ESPN Link).

It’s been very obvious that the Dodgers’ finances have been limited ever since the divorce hearings began and the league office decided that they were concerned enough about there being enough capital to keep the team afloat to take charge. The move by the league is final and indefinite.

The apparent final nail in the coffin was the report released by the Los Angeles Times, stating that team owner Frank McCourt had turned to the Dodgers’ television affiliate, Fox, for a $30 million loan to pay off player salaries. This isn’t the first time the league has held control over a team active in the league. The last time the team controlled an organization was for the final years of the Montreal Expos. The Expos were eventually sold and moved to Washington, DC, where they are now the Nationals.

The Dodgers are not in any threat to be moved, as they own one of the most loyal fan bases in the entire league and play in the second largest market in the United States. However, there is a very strong chance that the McCourts will never regain control of the Dodgers, and the team is sold to a new ownership group.

From a fan’s perspective, this move should be seen as an absolute positive step in the right direction. If anything, the Dodgers were falling backwards with the inability to spend money or even keep the talent they already had. They lost Russell Martin to free agency last season, even though they have arbitration rights to the catcher. Next year, there were rumblings that they wouldn’t be able to afford star right fielder Andre Ethier for the same reasons, and many began to think the same about center fielder Matt Kemp.

By MLB taking control of the team, they won’t be allowed to add payroll necessarily, but the league is empowered to keep the payroll at a similar figure it currently is. So, the team won’t be forced to fire-sale and play at a significantly lower team salary than LA fans have become accustom to. Its a savvy move by Bud Selig, and its a move that should finally bring stability to the Dodger faithful.

Angels’ Kendry Morales Ahead of Schedule

With the baseball season officially underway, the Los Angeles Angels have announced they feel slugging first baseman Kendry Morales is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and should re-join the team in about three weeks (ESPN News link).

Last season, Morales broke his leg in a celebration at home plate after connecting on a walk-off grand slam. In 2009, Morales finished fifth in the American League Most Valuable Player voting after a season in which he hit .306 with 34 home runs and 108 runs batted in. Morales posted an impressive .924 OPS in part thanks to the 43 doubles he hit. Before his injury last year, Morales was hitting .290 in 51 games with 11 home runs and 39 runs batted in.

Morales is the difference between the Angels battling to stay above .500 and competing for the division crown. Morales provides pop that no other batter in the Angels line-up can match. A healthy Morales sandwiched between the likes of Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter will make the offensive attack much deeper and more dynamic. As the line-up stands now, the Angels looks rather pedestrian and doesn’t match up well with the Texas Rangers attack. The Angels pitching staff is above average, but can’t compete with the Oakland A’s.

However, all of that changes with the insertion of Morales back into the everyday batting order.

Could 2011 be Andre Ethier’s last in LA?

In Spring Training, Los Angeles Dodgers star right fielder Andre Ethier surprised a lot of people when he stated that he felt 2011 could be his final season with the team (ESPN News Link).

We mentioned in the State of the Franchise post about the messy divorce situation regarding owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, and how the proceedings have restricted the team’s financial stability. Last off-season, the team made the difficult decision of non-tendering catcher Russell Martin, who was a locker room presence for the squad and one of the better catchers in the league.

Now, its beginning to look like the same situation may befall Ethier, who will be in his final year of arbitration eligibility after this season. The expected pay raise Ethier will receive in arbitration will be substantial. It is plausible that Ethier could command a one-year salary over $10 million based on his past performances. However, its his past performance that would make it seemingly impossible for the Dodgers to sell cutting ties with Ethier to their loyal fan base.

In his five years as a Dodger, Ethier has averaged .291 with 22 home runs and 87 runs batted in per year. He also boasts an impressive career OPS of .854 while never having an on-base percentage lower than .350. An All-Star in 2010, Ethier finished sixth in the Most Valuable Player balloting in 2009, finishing with a line of .272, 31 home runs and 106 runs batted in. He slugged .508 that year, in part because of the 42 doubles he connected on. Last year at the All-Star break, Ethier led the National League in all three triple crown categories (average, home runs and runs batted in). If not for an injury in the middle of the season, Ethier’s numbers may have been stronger, even though he still hit over .280 with 23 home runs.

It would be nearly impossible for the Dodgers to try and replace Ethier’s bat in the line-up. Ethier will turn 29 in about a week, and if he were to hit the free agent market, it wouldn’t be crazy to think that he could command a salary in Jayson Werth’s neighborhood. That price would be way too steep for the Dodgers to match on the open market. If the Dodgers want to maintain long-term success, its imperative they find a way to keep Ethier around Hollywood for a very long time.