OpinionMarch 11, 2008

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Cleat Marks

By Madison Jones

When something stands out to someone and they easily remember it later, or it stays on their brain for awhile, that means it left an impression on the person. This series is geared towards anything in the game of baseball that I notice or that stands out to me, hence the title of the column. I will attempt to have a new installment of this series at least once a week during the season, but it could be more or less than once a week, time and news permitting. With that said, here are a few things that have left a mark on me so far this year.

Why must Major League Baseball start the season in Japan? I understand wanting to bring the game to an international audience, expand the base of fans, and generally create more interest in the game, but the first two games of the season? I’m a baseball nut, it is my favorite of the major sports, and I want to watch as many games as possible during the season, as do most fans of their favorite sports. While March 30th is “officially” Opening Night when the Atlanta Braves play the Washington Nationals in Washington’s brand new ballpark, two teams will have already played two games that count! “Opening Day” is a bit of a joke to me as well since three games will have been played, and four teams will already have a won/loss record. Anyway, sorry for the sidetrack about the nuances of what they call things, let’s get back to my point. In order for me to watch the “actual” first game of the 2008 Major League Baseball season that counts for the standings, I’ll have to be up and awake at 2:05 AM Central Time on Tuesday, March 25th. Note to Bud Selig and Major League Baseball: Some of us have kids in school, some of us have jobs, and quite a few people have both, so not all of us can tune in at that time of morning. Why not play a series overseas during the summer instead? That way, anyone who cannot tune in will still get to see baseball that day, it won’t rob the majority of people the opportunity of seeing the first game that counts, and the public won’t have yet something else to bash you over. Or better yet, make those two games exhibition games! Oh, and then we all get to do the same thing the next day, Wednesday, March 26th for the second game, and then wait four days before baseball starts over on this side of the pond. I have no ill will whatsoever against our friends overseas and think it is fantastic they have so much interest in baseball, it just makes no sense to me for “America’s Game” to start the season in such fashion. And no, I’m not a Boston or Oakland fan, I live and die with my Texas Rangers. I’d probably be irate about the whole thing if I were a fan of the Red Sox or A’s, instead of just looking at the situation and being a bit annoyed.

On to better things. I know I’m not the only one who has noticed the Detroit Tigers. Teams tend to draw a little attention when landing a name as large as Miguel Cabrera in the off-season, but I’m not interested in pointing out the obvious here. Two things stick out to me about this team, the first being Todd Jones. While he still manages to get the job done and rack up saves, I wonder just how long he will be able to hang on to the closer job in Detroit. Only twice in his career has he managed to hold an earned run average under three. Once was back in 2004 and the only other time was all the way back in 1994 (Hmm… sleeper for 2014?). With the Tigers being strong this season, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a quick change or some tinkering with the position if Jones struggles. Joel Zumaya is the favorite to take over the role should a change be made, but we could see a new closer emerge this season if Zumaya has injury issues again or if he cannot handle the pressure of closing games. Of course it’s possible there won’t be any changes at all and Jones will get his sloppy saves as usual, but it does stand out to me as something to keep an eye on. Doesn’t help Todd at all that he just got torched again Sunday, raising his spring training ERA to 24.55.

The other thing I notice is that this might be the make-or-break year for Jeremy Bonderman. He’s had five seasons in the big leagues now, and it’s time for him to finally live up to the hype he had a few years back. We all know he can strike people out, but he has yet to finish a season with an earned run average under four, or a WHIP of less than 1.30. This season, he’s got firepower in the offense behind him, which will earn him wins regardless of his performance. He’s got a solid rotation around him, so there’s no weight of carrying the team or any real pressure on him. Not to mention his home ballpark is good for pitchers plus the five years of experience he now has. Personally, if Jeremy cannot bring his ERA down below four this season, I think it is time for Detroit to trade him away. This is the best position he’s been in for a breakout or to live up to the hype he had a few years back. If he doesn’t do it this year, the only way I see him ever doing it is via a change of venue. Note – I’m not predicting a breakout year for him, just saying it is possible and based on his average draft position in fantasy leagues this year, he could wind up being a pretty good steal in the draft. So take note if you find yourself in a position to gamble a little in your draft or if you can snag him cheap.

The fire sale in Oakland caught my attention as well. Not so much as in who and how many players got shipped off, more about the ones who were not. Billy Beane is a very sharp man, and while I don’t know exactly what his current plan is, it can be fun to speculate a bit. My guess is that we’ll see Eric Chavez, Huston Street, and possibly even Rich Harden moved before the trading deadline this season. Those three guys are not enough to hold the A’s in contention, but they could land Oakland with some nice compensation via trades to contenders at the deadline. To add a fantasy spin to this, a player worth watching in Oakland is Bobby Crosby. Yes I’m aware of his injury history and I’m aware the lineup isn’t as potent, but someone’s got to score runs and drive runs in. I think Crosby will be a large piece of that. Let’s not forget that he did hit 22 home runs as a rookie, and did manage to steal 10 bases last season. If he can get his average into the .270 range like he did in his second year, a line of .270 with 20 home runs and 15 steals from your shortstop isn’t too shabby at all. And you can’t beat the price, I’m seeing him go undrafted in most leagues. He’s a gamble of course and I’m not saying to bank on him, but he’s got a better chance of putting up a more valuable line than some of the other players I’m seeing go in the final rounds of a lot of drafts.

I had more I’d like to cover, but it seems this piece is a nice start to the series. I hope everyone enjoyed reading it, and hopefully it gave you something to think about. For any questions, comments, discussion, or whatever, click the link in the box under this piece and post it up. I’ll be happy to talk with you about whatever. Until the next volume of Cleat Marks, I hope everyone’s enjoying spring training and getting ready for a fantastic season!

Madison Jones is always lurking in the shadows of the Cafe. When he does venture into the forums, you can find him posting as Madison.
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