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Friday, February 9
Rumblings and Grumblings

Up there above the surface of the MLB Sea, the commish and his troops plow diligently forward, trying to look united as they march toward labor war, firing off potential solutions to the problems in their game.

But let's aim the periscope down below sea level for a change. Just look below that surface, and you already find folks who have quietly jumped off the U.S.S. Selig.

Nine players have driven in 100 runs for at least the past four seasons. Can you name them?

(Answer at bottom.)

They're not happy about the worldwide draft. They're not happy with the details currently attached to the proposed competitive-balance draft. And they're not allowed to talk publicly.

But they are talking privately. And here is some of what they're saying:

The world is not enough
The worldwide draft sounds like a sensational idea in theory. We have to admit that as recently as a couple of weeks ago, it sounded like a fine idea -- or at least a salvageable idea -- to the Rumblings and Grumblings staff.

But the more we listen to people talk about the worldwide draft and its potential workability (or lack thereof), the more we wonder if it would solve baseball's problems or just create more problems.

We've been told that before last fall's general managers' meetings, a group of scouting directors formed a committee to report to the GMs on whether this draft would really help the game.

You can sum up their conclusion in two letters: N-0.

One club official told us: "If you ask the scouting directors about the current draft, all 30 would agree it's not working. If the purpose of the draft is to hold down bonuses, it's not doing that. And if the purpose of the draft is to create parity, it's not doing that, either. So now we're going to expand it worldwide? Maybe we ought to fix it before we expand it."

You can find plenty of general managers who would second that motion, third it -- and serve it for brunch in the commissioner's office, for that matter. But their owners aren't listening.

"They're just taking the suggestion of the Blue Ribbon Panel," said one baseball man. "And while there were obviously knowledgeable people on that panel, they've never been in the trenches down there in Latin America. And when the people who have been in those trenches start talking, they don't know what they're talking about. Nor do the owners.

"They've never tried to hunt down a birth certificate of one of these kids. They've never been there with the certificate in their hand for Cordero, and then they sign Cordero, but the kid they thought they were signing was Cordova, and he signs with somebody else. It's a whole different world. So I think we need to involve more baseball people in some of these things."

Few people even seem to understand how this draft would work. They know players would have to register for it. But what would happen to players who didn't register? What would happen to players who registered but weren't drafted? What would happen to that single talented kid that one hard-working scout discovered playing ball on a dusty street in a tiny backwoods town? The answers are slow in coming.

And while it's true that a few clubs have dominated the signings of the big-name Cubans and high-profile Dominicans, how serious a problem has that become in the grand scheme of things?

"I think we might be trying to change the whole system even though the current system has affected a very small number of players who have really had an impact," said a club official. "I'm not sure the impact of those kids matches the perception."

The fear is that if this draft were implemented as it currently appears on the drawing board, problems would begin to mushroom up through every crevice -- "and a lot of these things," said one skeptic, "we'd end up trying to fix after the fact. Some may be fixable. But a lot won't."

So as Lou Piniella once said last year, in a moment of eloquence, "If it ain't fixed, don't break it." And that's a motto maybe we should all think about in this case -- just as soon as we figure out what it means.

Exception to the rule
Then you have the other celebrated proposal heading for management's side of the bargaining table -- the hotly debated competitive-balance draft.

Here at Rumblings and Grumblings, we actually think there are ways to make this draft work -- and even turn it into a fascinating, nationally televised, eagerly awaited, annual offseason event.

But maybe there are other ways to introduce the concept of talent-sharing, as a complement to revenue-sharing. And one of the most interesting ideas we've run across is to revamp the old Rule 5 draft of unprotected minor leaguers.

The word we've heard most whenever the current Rule 5 draft is discussed sums up exactly what this once-useful exercise has become. That word: "Useless."

In a world with 30 teams, nearly 1200 protected players and literally hundreds of six-year minor-league free agents, what exactly does the Rule 5 draft accomplish anymore? Just about zippo.

But one lifelong baseball man suggests: "I think we could expand the Rule 5 draft substantially. And it could become a very, very positive mechanism for talent-sharing in our game."

Among the ideas advanced by this source, who requested not to be named:

  • Reducing each team's protected list from 40 players to, say, 35.
  • Possibly changing the definition of which players had to be protected, so that some minor leaguers in their third pro season would no longer be exempt.
  • Giving extra picks to "real small-market teams" -- not necessarily to well-off teams that finished last because they spent their money badly or "don't care if they're good."
  • Not forcing teams that draft a player to keep that player in the big leagues all year.
  • Increasing the price tag for making a pick from $50,000 to $200,000, to compensate teams for losing better players than in the past.

    "If you could double the pool of Rule 5 players," the source said, "you could substantially increase the quality of players who would be available. And then you have a draft that could really have an impact."

    Not everyone loves this idea, of course. One mid-market GM said: "I don't like it. I think it penalizes everybody (as opposed to the competitive-balance draft, which would just expose players from the best or richest teams)."

    But our source disagrees.

    "The bad teams would get extra choices, so it would help them," he said. "And by definition, the good teams would be hurt most, because they'd have more (good) players they couldn't protect. So it's still a mechanism that would help the small markets most."

    Maybe this is an idea that would need tweaking. But it's also an idea that's worth considering.

    And what's the moral of this whole story? That there are baseball people all over the map with ideas that could make this a better and more interesting game -- if only the men at the top would listen to them.

    List of the week
    Starting pitchers who worked 50 innings or more and held opponents below a .230 batting average:

    National League
    Kevin Brown, .213
    Chan Ho Park, .214
    * Tony Armas Jr., .218
    Rick Ankiel, .219
    Randy Johnson, .224
    * Kerry Wood, .226
    Al Leiter, .228
    * Robert Person, .229

    American League
    Pedro Martinez, .167
    * Barry Zito, .194
    * Paul Wilson, .209
    * Jarrod Washburn, .215
    Frank Castillo, .220
    Tim Hudson, .227
    (* Failed to pitch 162 innings required to qualify for ERA title)

    The all-(really) Unemployed Team
    1B: J.R. Phillips
    2B: Jeff Reboulet
    SS: Kevin Stocker
    3B: Mark Lewis
    LF: Jacob Brumfield
    CF: Manny Martinez
    RF: Mark Whiten
    C: Lenny Webster
    DH: Luis Polonia
    Starting rotation: Ken Hill, Vicente Palacios, Calvin Maduro, Scott Sanders, Joe Grahe
    Bullpen: Heathcliff Slocumb, Greg McMichael, Rudy Seanez, Steve Rain, Robinson Checo, Jeff Tabaka
    Position wanted, October availability: Jim Leyritz
    Future broadcast professionals: Will Clark, Walt Weiss, Gregg Jefferies, Jeff Huson, Rick Aguilera

    Miscellaneous Rumblings
  • Three free agents nobody seems to know are still out there: Dave Nilsson (back from Australian Olympic glory, failed physical with Red Sox), Tony Fernandez (back from Japan), Geronimo Berroa (back from parts unknown).

  • Pat Gillick admits the Mariners aren't going to remind anybody of the Indians when they show up for spring training. "I'll tell you what we are," Gillick said the other day. "We're the Ravens."

    But by opening day, that could change. The Mariners will take 14 legitimate big-league arms to spring training, and it's still Gillick's intention to deal one or two of them for another bat -- preferably in the infield. So look for a revival of those Phil Nevin rumors.

  • Gillick on Ichiro Suzuki: "He's a Johnny Damon clone." Lou Piniella is toying with hitting Suzuki third, but he'll probably lead off. Which would create a 3-4-5 alignment (pending further developments) of John Olerud, Edgar Martinez and Bret Boone. Those three hit only 70 home runs last year. Texas' prospective 3-4-5 hitters -- A-Rod, Rafael Palmeiro and Andres Galarraga -- hit 108.

  • Despite all the Phillies' hopeful talk of signing Scott Rolen to an extension before the end of spring training, Rolen has told friends that even if the Phillies offer him more than $100 million, he needs to see clear evidence of the club's commitment to winning before he'll sign. So they'd better tear up that Grapefruit League.

    Rolen's most telling public comment this week: "If we lose 97 games again, I think there might be a catastrophe in my house. The dog is safe, but I might put peanut butter all over myself."

    And do you think this man will miss that AstroCement at Veterans Stadium (to be replaced by the more grass-like NeXturf)? Looking at the bare concrete remaining on the playing surface after the old turf was ripped out, Rolen joked: "The only difference is, it's not green."

  • In Houston, Billy Wagner is already throwing close to 100 mph. So assuming Wagner can close again, with Doug Brocail and Mike Jackson now around to set up, that would allow the Astros to move Octavio Dotel back into the rotation to take up some of the slack from Shane Reynolds' absence (until around May 1).

  • But the Astros are quietly concerned about Craig Biggio, who has made progress from surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL. Biggio is expected to be ready by Opening Day -- but may not be 100 percent until at least midseason.

    "I don't think we have the right to expect that he'll be the speedster or the base-stealer he was in the past," says GM Gerry Hunsicker. "I think a realistic expectation is that he'll play, but he'll have limited range early. He should be able to swing the bat, though. And if he can, he'll help us. I know Craig. He's made an extraordinary effort to come back. He's a very competitive person. And when he hears the whispers -- "He won't be the same; he won't be ready" -- it just makes him more determined to come back."

  • Another medical story that hasn't gotten much attention is the tale of Matt Williams, whom the Valley Tribune's Ed Price has reported has spondylitis, a form of spinal arthritis. Williams is trying to correct the problem with an intense rehab program -- but no medication.

  • Arbitration cases to watch:

    For the first time in anyone's memory, four young free-agent closers with essentially the same service time have formed an arbitration tag team: Antonio Alfonseca, Keith Foulke, Danny Graves and John Rocker. They all filed for between $2.98 million and $3.15 million, with their clubs offering between $1.9 million and $2.65 million. One irony: Dennis Gilbert, who used to be one of Foulke's agents, now works with the White Sox on arbitration -- but says he won't be working on this case.

    Meanwhile, the Yankees flew their brass to Tampa this week for a negotiating session with Mariano Rivera's agent. Jim Bronner. But they still appear headed for a hearing.

    If we lose 97 games again, I think there might be a catastrophe in my house. The dog is safe, but I might put peanut butter all over myself.
    Scott Rolen, Phillies third baseman

    Then there are the four prominent members of the "Super-2's" class -- Rocker, Kerry Wood, Sean Casey and Javier Vazquez. Highest player request in the group: Casey ($3 million) Biggest gap between player and club: Rocker ($1.08 million). Smallest gap: Casey ($400,000).

    Why players love arbitration: Steve Parris made $1.4 million last year, lost 17 games and asked for nearly a $2-million raise (to $3.3 million). Then again, Omar Daal will make $3 million after losing 19 games.

  • All you need to know about how worn out the Tigers were by Juan Gonzalez can be found in comments made by Todd Jones at a banquet in Detroit this week. Among Jones' comments to the Detroit News' Tom Gage:

    "I wish him all the luck in the world, but I'm glad it's over. There's no sense ripping him, but we're all glad that situation is over. I think we did addition by subtraction, to be honest with you.

    "I just want Juan to be happy, and he wasn't happy here. So I don't want him here. Towards the end, it took on a life of its own and became a real big distraction.

    "I don't have anything wrong with him, but you just have to be professional. You can read into that whatever you want."

  • Quote of the week: From Ichiro Suzuki, on his never-were teammates, Junior Griffey and Alex Rodriguez, (except for a spring-training cameo in 1999):

    "When I left Arizona in 1999," Suzuki told the Seattle Times' Bob Finnigan, "Griffey gave me a bat signed, 'See you in Seattle,' so it seems he lied to me. A-Rod told me not to get married before him, but I did. So maybe he got mad at me, and left."

    Useless information dept.
  • To properly commemorate Super Bowl weekend, we're going to start and end the Useless Information Dept. with vital Super Bowl data -- tied to the world's best game, of course.

    Why the World Series is better than the Super Bowl:

    Since 1990, 58 percent of all World Series games (25 of 42) have been decided by one or two runs. Only 26 percent of all Super Bowls have been decided by seven points or fewer (IX of XXXIV).

  • Speaking of Super Bowls, did anyone mention Deion? (Hey, we may be useless in this department, but at least we're relevant.)

    In honor of the one, the only Deion Sanders deciding to give baseball yet one more shot, we reopen the Deion stat book to find he has the wildest ratios in sports:

  • Interceptions-to-homers ratio: 44 INTs to 38 HRs.
  • Touchdowns-to-runs ratio: 21 times crossing goal line to 302 times crossing home plate.
  • Postseason TDs-to-runs ratio: 1 TD scored to 4 runs scored.
  • Tackles-to-steals ratio: 387 tackles to 183 SBs.
  • Punt-pass-kick-yards-to-single-double-triple-yards ratio: 7,388 yards via punt, pass or kick to 19,885 yards via single-double-triple.
  • Yards-per-touch-of-football-to-yards-per-plate-appearance ratio: averages 16.4 yards of turf covered every time he touches the football to 13.2 yards of baseline covered every time he steps to home plate.

  • OK, enough of that gridiron. Heading back to baseball, you may be wondering: Does a dramatic second-half rebound make you a contender the next season?

    The Astros sure hope so. They went 28-53 (.346) during the first half, 44-37 during the second half (.543). And that .198-point jump in winning percentage ties for the fourth-biggest increase in non-strike seasons since 1970, according to the Elias Sports Bureau's Kevin Hines. That's the good news.

    The bad news is that none of the other four teams that made leaps that dramatic made the playoffs the next year. And none even finished above .500.

    Here's how those other four clubs fared:

    '97 Phillies: PLUS .272 (23-58, .284 first half, then 45-36, .556 second half)
    Next season: 75-87, .463.

    '96 Red Sox: PLUS .210 (34-47, .420 first half, then 51-30, .630 second half)
    Next season: 78-84, .481.

    '95 Marlins: PLUS .1979 ( 31-50, .383 first half, then 36-26, .581 second half)
    Next season: 80-82, .494.

    '86 Athletics: PLUS .1975 (30-51, .370 first half, then 46-35, .568 second half)
    Next season: 81-81, .500.

  • Is it better to have youth or experience? The two prime teams to watch to find that answer will be Arizona and Oakland.

    The Diamondbacks will start an opening-day lineup featuring nine players 31 or over. (Actually, seven of those nine will be 33 or older, and five will be 35 or older.)

    The last team to start nine guys in their 30s on opening day, according to Elias: the '98 Orioles.

    Their lineup (with ages):
    Brady Anderson (34)
    Roberto Alomar (30)
    Eric Davis (35)
    Rafael Palmeiro (33)
    Cal Ripken (37)
    B.J. Surhoff (33)
    Joe Carter (38)
    Chris Hoiles (33)
    Mike Bordick (32)

    Thanks to the DH, we won't disqualify that team for having a 29-year-old starting pitcher (Mike Mussina).

    By the way, the Orioles' final record that year: 79-83.

    Meanwhile, Oakland will start nine players 30 or under on opening day. (Only Jason Giambi, who just turned 30 this month, is not in his 20s). Last team to make the playoffs with every regular position player 30 or under, according to Elias: the 1990 Reds.

    The nine position players on that team who appeared in 100-plus games (with ages when the postseason began):

    Todd Benzinger (27)
    Eric Davis (28)
    Mariano Duncan (27)
    Billy Hatcher (29)
    Barry Larkin (26)
    Hal Morris (25)
    Joe Oliver (25)
    Paul O'Neill (27)
    Chris Sabo (28)

  • If you thought you saw Joe Torre and Derek Jeter waving "Count the Votes" signs in Tallahassee in November, you were probably hallucinating from watching too many consecutive hours of MSNBC. But if the Yankees had only known their presidential-election history, they undoubtedly would have been much bigger Al Gore fans in this election.

    ESPN research genius Jeff Bennett reports that the Yankees' last eight titles all have come with a Democrat in the White House. Last Republican on Pennsylvania Avenue during a Yankees title season: Dwight D. Eisenhower -- in 1958, in a Series that wrapped up 77 days before the historic birth of Rickey Henderson.

    The Democratic presidents who led the Yankees to glory:

    Clinton (1996, '98, '99, 2000)
    Carter (1977, '78)
    Kennedy (1961, '62)

  • And while we're talking presidents, Arizona twirler Mike Morgan has grown increasingly legendary for his collection of teams (12). But the G.W. Bush regime also will be the fifth presidential administration of Morgan's marathon career.

    Only two more, and he can tie Jim Kaat and Tommy John for most administrations pitched in since 1900. Kaat's seven: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan. John's seven went from Kennedy through the first George Bush.

    We know what you're thinking. So here's Morgan's record, by president:

    Carter: 2-13
    Reagan: 32-55
    Bush: 49-34
    Clinton: 56-73

    Looks like a Bush voter to us.

  • ESPN research whiz Pete Tredwell reports that when Toronto traded David Wells, it marked the third straight offseason in which a 20-game winner was traded. Before that, it had happened twice in the previous 18 offseasons -- to John Smiley before the '92 season, to Joaquin Andujar before the '86 season.

  • Last pitcher to win 20 in back-to-back seasons for two different teams: Catfish Hunter, for the A's and Yankees in 1974-75.

  • Recent question on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire:"
    "A person who works all the time is ... "
    Correct choice: "Workaholic"
    Incorrect choice: "Relief pitcher"

  • Finally, here's this week's most momentous Super Bowl-related note: Thanks to the Yankees, the Giants will be the fifth team to head for the Super Bowl representing the city that was the home of the last World Series winner. (Insert your New Jersey jokes here.)

    Only one of the previous four teams to do that lost -- the 1980-81 Eagles, who absorbed all that inspiration from the 1980 Phillies and still got blown out by the Raiders in Supe XV.

    The rest of this esteemed group:

    1986-87: New York Mets-Giants
    1979-80: Pittsburgh Pirates-Steelers
    1970-71: Baltimore Orioles-Colts

    A special asterisk goes to the 1989-90 49ers, who were so shook up by the earth-rattling '89 Bay Bridge World Series (won by Oakland), they went on to win the Super Bowl.

    And one more special asterisk: Since the Mets also gave New York a World Series loser, you should know that no city has ever had a World Series loser, followed by a Super Bowl loser, back-to-back.

    Trivia answer
    Albert Belle (9), Rafael Palmeiro (6), Sammy Sosa (6), Junior Griffey (5), Jeff Bagwell (5), Mike Piazza (5), Chipper Jones (5), Jeff Kent (4) and Paul O'Neill (4).

    Jayson Stark is a Senior Writer at ESPN.com.

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