On injuries and insurance
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
DIAMOND NOTES: July 21
As Kevin Brown joined Darren Dreifort and Andy Ashby on the Dodgers' $33 million disabled list, several general managers this week offered the opinion that the huge number of pitching injuries may make insurance virtually impossible to get on long-term pitcher contracts.
"As it is, the premiums are getting prohibitive," says one GM. "We've been told that most of the insurance companies will no longer cover those contracts. And they're already restrictive, with riders that they will not cover a shoulder injury if the pitcher's had a shoulder injury, for instance. If the insurance industry does crack down, it will have a serious impact on the free-agent market. This may limit terms on most pitchers to three years, not seven like Brown. And, remember, the Dodgers didn't get insurance on Brown's first and seventh years."
Attendance figures indicate that baseball fans like interleague play, and all indications are that the unbalanced schedule is a hit, as well. But there is a concern. In many seasons, the wild card could be decided by schedule. In any given year, the second-place team in a division could play three of the league's weakest teams -- which may be happening in the AL East -- along with the different interleague opponents could give a team in one division a tremendous advantage over a second-place team in another division. Now, that does seem to make winning the division a premium, but there is an unfair quality to the system. Baseball owners would argue that the most successful league in the world is the NFL. Its schedule unquestionably determines some of the playoff teams and no one bellyaches.
One of the reasons the Astros now are entertaining offers on Daryle Ward, even with Moises Alou a potential free agent, is the development of outfielder Jason Lane, who has 32 homers and leads all minor league players in RBI for Double-A Round Rock. Lane is a remarkable story. He and fellow USC teammate Morgan Ensberg went undrafted after their junior season, went back to the Cape Cod League for another summer with wooden bats and now are two of the best prospects in the deep Houston organization.
Speaking of the Astros, Octavio Dotel has radically changed that staff. One GM came out of Houston suggesting that Dotel is the best setup man in baseball, and with Dotel and Billy Wagner capable of striking out 5-6-7 of the last nine outs -- in Enron, no less -- the powerful Astros have emerged as a very different team.
"It became a matter of Octavio accepting the role," says Gerry Hunsicker. "He wanted to start, and we understand that. But he accepts it now, and he's really something. Someday he'll be a dominant closer, but we already have one of the best (Wagner)."
As for that other left-handed closer, John Rocker, he has been back up to 95 on the gun his last couple of outings. So, the Indians hope he gets back on track as he did after his slump last season.
Scouts who went to watch Marlins phenom Josh Beckett pitch in New Haven, Conn. for Florida's Double-A team Portland on Thursday were a tad disappointed.
"He was throwing 91, not the 95 to 97 we'd heard about," says one scout. "His curveball was good, not great. Don't get me wrong, he is a tremendous prospect, but he didn't dominate the way I thought he might."
Royals GM Allard Baird wisely and kindly has held back left-handed pitcher Chris George, who has 10 wins in Triple-A and could easily be right in the middle-to-top of the Kansas City rotation. Baird doesn't want George cursed with the burden of being the club's savior. But while George is often compared to Tom Glavine, what surprised everyone at the Futures Game was that he was hitting 94 on the gun.
"He's one of those rare guys who signed as a pitchable left-hander," says one GM, "and his velocity has jumped. George can pitch like Glavine, but he throws 94."
C.C. Sabathia is 20. Going into this season, his career innings total was 190. His career high came last season as he pitched 132 innings. So, now that the Indians rookie left-hander is past the 100 mark, the team is closely monitoring him.
"Charlie (Manuel) and the staff have been very careful to watch his pitch counts all season," says Indians assistant GM Mark Shapiro. "As we go along, they may back him off a start, or set him back a few days. His innings at his age at this stage of his career is a concern to us." The history of high school phenoms getting to the big leagues and breaking down is staggering.
Oakland has moved Mario Ramos around in their Sacramento rotation just in case they decide to use him down the stretch. And who is Mario Ramos, you ask? He is a small, very athletic left-handed pitcher from Rice whose first professional season was 2000. In a year and a half, he is 25-7 from the California to Texas to Pacific Coast Leagues. He's 11-2 this season between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento and his one loss with Sacramento came in a 2-1 game. Don't be surprised if he replaces Gil Heredia sometime soon.
That the Mets will discuss Glendon Rusch seems surprising, but they believe that Korean right-hander Jae Weong Seo (5-1, 1.94) could jump right into their rotation next season.
Seattle has a ton of pitching in Triple-A, two No. 1 power arms (Gil Meche, Ryan Anderson both out for the year with injuries), but at Double-A right-hander Jeff Heaverlo -- former Mariners pitcher Dave's son -- has 112 strikeouts and 79 hits allowed in 115 2/3 innings. Talk about big-league personalities.
Speaking of sons, few college players carry themselves with more style and dignity than Brewster Whitecaps (Cape Cod League) second baseman Jonathan Schuerholz, who plays shortstop for Auburn during the college season.
The Red Sox can't get Sean Burroughs, but they are interviewing his father Jeff about a job in their organization.
Uh, oh. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is ripped at Chuck Knoblauch, not exactly thrilled at the acquisitions of Mark Wohlers and Jay Witasick and is riding his international staff about their failure to bring him Ichiro, not to mention the bucks that Ichiro is bringing into the Mariners' coffers.
If Mark DeRosa keeps playing well at shortstop, and the Braves can find a credible veteran infielder to play every position, maybe they will give Marcus Giles a chance at second base by September.
One scout on Rafael Palmeiro: "It's clear that his knee is killing him. He is really struggling in the field, and infielders would prefer Andres Galarraga at first. At the plate, he's just flipping his bat trying to hit home runs because he doesn't have his normal balance."
As Tampa Bay GM Chuck LaMar tries to trade veterans and get kids into the lineup -- he really wants Toby Hall catching, but needs someone to take John Flaherty or Mike DiFelice -- the club is starting to get younger, with Steve Cox at first, Brent Abernathy at second (what was Toronto thinking letting him go and keeping some other players?), Aubrey Huff at third, et al.
Looking ahead with all his young outfielders, LaMar believes 2000 No. 1 pick Rocco Baldelli has come so far "that when they all get to the majors, he may be the center fielder (with Josh Hamilton and Carl Crawford at the corners). Baldelli really is an incredible talent." Not bad for a Rhode Island kid who batted eighth as a high school junior -- two years ago.
Larry Lucchino's job is pretty much done in San Diego. The club is on solid footing, both in terms of the talent and organization under GM Kevin Towers, and with a spectacular ballpark on the horizon. For the rest of this season, Lucchino, the Padres' president and CEO, will work with the Padres and help Bud Selig on labor issues -- not great news for the Players Association, because the brilliant Williams and Connolly lawyer is not soft on labor issues and does not believe that the game should be governed by who has the best labor lawyers -- and then move on.
Lucchino changed the game forever by creating Camden Yards, which George Will has successfully argued is the second most important event in baseball since World War II (obviously, Jackie Robinson's entrance is No. 1). He has created another masterpiece in San Diego, despite Hooterville politics. And don't be surprised if he ends up with whatever new group gets the Red Sox, to get the park renovated or built and bring in his people to re-energize and re-professionalize that organization. There may not be a better man in the game in assembling an organization than Lucchino.
This was heard uttered by five GMs this week: "When we get to spring training next year, I will not be surprised to see John Hart with the Braves, working with his closest friend (John Schuerholz)."
The umpires union got a lot of bang out of working the media on the pitch-count business. But we all know that it was about the umpires trying to get Sandy Alderson off their backs about calling strikes; we didn't need the pitch-count lists -- which have been kept to satisfy the media -- to know that John Hirschbeck has a big strike zone and that Angel Hernandez has a tiny one (Jim Wolf has the third-lowest pitch count, and his brother Randy is a pitcher, which tells us they were raised in a pitching environment).
"This is not about manufacturing strikes or creating artificial guidelines," says Alderson. "It's about identifying strikes and calling them, and strikes are still not getting called."
The Commissioner's Office closely monitors umpires, and can abridge an entire game into a 10-minute video. This comes back to a central issue -- umpires want to fight for something called "my individual strike zone." But there can be only one strike zone, and umpires have absolutely no right to their own interpretation, any more than an NFL ref has the right to his own interpretation of what's in and out of bounds.
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