MLB Has Ten Golden Era Hall of Fame Candidates

Ron Santo, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso are among ten players whose careers will be reviewed by a special committee for enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame.  The complete list includes Ken Boyer, Buzzie Bavasi, Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Allie Reynolds, Charlie Finley, and Luis Tiant.

Many of this group have been topics of arguments amongst baseball writers and historians – especially Santo and Hodges.  Jim Kaat may get greater consideration with the recent addition of Bert Blyleven to the Hall.

Among the reasons that these guys haven’t already made it:

Career Was Too Short

Santo, Boyer, Oliva, and Reynolds…  Santo and Boyer are pretty similar players – some power, good gloves, about 300 career homers, and only 15 years in the majors.  Reynolds had an even shorter career, but spent the bulk of his time as a member of the Casey Stengel Yankees where he appeared in a number of World Series and even had a season where he threw two no-hitters.  Oliva’s career was cut short by injuries, but for about six years was a deadly hitter.

As a Cub fan, I guess I am supposed to extol Santo’s virtues – and he was a great player for about seven seasons.  Bill James thinks he’s one of the ten best third basemen in baseball history and deserves to go.  Most of me agrees with that sentiment – and yet at the same time, the Cubs never won a division with him, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and (an old) Ernie Banks in the lineup.  Of course, the biggest stars were corner players and not up the middle types – and the Cubs could have used a better lead-off hitter.  I think that if you take Santo, you have to take Boyer.  Boyer had a comparable defensive record, similar RBI totals, won an MVP and made the post-season, unlike Santo.  Santo cleared 300 homers, Boyer just missed.  Santo is marginally better, but not much better.  Neither guy lived long enough.

Allie Reynolds, had he pitched anywhere else but the Yankees, is not even going to get a whiff of the Hall of Fame.  Fewer than 200 career wins – he led the AL in strikeouts twice, but he also had five seasons (of twelve full seasons) where he walked more guys than he struck out.   He has a bunch of years with the Yankees where his career looks like that of Mike Mussina, but not enough of them.

Tony Oliva is a better candidate than all of this group except maybe Santo.  He led the league in batting three times, hits a few more, doubles and runs, too.  He was a six time all-star, winning a gold glove, and appearing in three post seasons, including the 1965 World Series.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he was among the best hitters playing – and he was hitting .310 or higher when the rules were definitely favoring the pitcher.  Like the others, however, he’s missing the long career and big career numbers.  He didn’t make 2000 hits or 300 homers (he would have 2000 hits had he not missed a full season with knee injuries), and he faded into memory as guys like Willie Mays and Henry Aaron were finishing their careers.

Very Good – but was he GREAT?

Jim Kaat pitched for 47 seasons (not really, it just seemed that way), won 20+ a few times, finished with 283 wins.  I’ve always been a fan of his – but I can’t remember any time when he was the best pitcher in baseball.  He was just one of the pretty good ones.  Similar arguments have been made about Sutton and Blyleven – guys who pitched forever but weren’t ever as good as the guys like Gibson, Carlton, Seaver, Marichal, or Jenkins.

Luis Tiant actually had a short period of time (like Oliva) where he truly was GREAT.  Unfortunately, that lasted just a brief period – and Tiant needed three years to figure out where his arm went.  Eventually he came back as a heavier, cagier version of himself, with a deceptive motion and a ton of guile.  He won 20 three times with the Red Sox and, in his worst season in Boston, was the staff ace of that surprising 1975 team.  My heart would totally vote for Tiant, but I’m not sure he did enough.  I do think he did more than Allie Reynolds, and I think he was better than Kaat.

Gil Hodges was a Dodger during their Boys of Summer days and had a decade where he was among the best first basemen in baseball.  He lost a little time at the beginning of his career because of World War II, which may have kept him from making 400 career homers or 2000 hits.  He also was the Mets manager when they won the World Series.  He’s certainly FAMOUS enough for the Hall of Fame but, like Santo, his full career numbers seem to fall a bit short.  He wasn’t a league leader in anything (like Oliva), but he was a member of a great team for a long, long time.  I wouldn’t argue against him – but (as it is with most of these guys) if the sportswriters didn’t vote him in after 15 tries, why are we trying to add him now?

Executives

I’m not old enough to remember Buzzy Bavasi, but I know he was a significant member of Dodger management for a long period of success and made many contributions to the game.  Charley Finley was an interesting story, but I don’t ever think that he ever considered the greater good that comes with his role in baseball.  He is linked to night baseball in the post season and the DH – he is also linked to selling off players he couldn’t afford and holding cities hostage (Kansas City, for example).

LONG OVERDUE:

Minnie Minoso was the Ernie Banks of the AL.  Happy, hustling, popular, and successful.  The reason he isn’t in the Hall of Fame is because he lost half of his career to the color line, spending a decade in the Negro Leagues.  Had he been able to play in the majors starting in, say, 1945 rather than 1951, he likely has 3000 hits, a career average over .300, several seasons with 50 stolen bases, 600 career doubles and 200 career triples.  He’s the best player not in the Hall of Fame.  It’s time he got in.

First Week of Hot Stove Transactions:

The Philadelphia Phillies had the headline deal, signing Jim Thome to pinch hit and play a little first base for 2012 at the relatively low price of about $1.25 million.  However, a few other teams started signing and dealing players…  Here’s a short list:

Washington signed pitcher Chien-Ming Wang to a one-year deal ($4 million) after Wang returned for eleven decent starts in 2011.  Wang took more than two years to recover from surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule.  Early returns show Wang to be in the neighborhood of his old self – keeping the ball down, good control, and not much of a strikeout pitch.  30 good starts in 2012, and Wang will hit the free agent market.

The A’s signed free-agent swingman Edgar Gonzalez, who has pitched for four different organizations in his career.  I don’t think Edgar has ever had a good season in the majors, so unless this is organizational depth or he’s going to coach, I don’t get it.

The Dodgers signed veteran outfielder Juan Rivera to a one-year deal.  He’s a fourth outfielder, pinch hitter type as he nears 34 years old, but he’s not a bad guy to have on the roster.  Rivera had a good run with the Dodgers after a slow start in Toronto, and Rivera would be familiar with the area, having spent much of the last decade with the Angels.

The Diamondbacks resigned backup catcher Henry Blanco and utility infielder John McDonald, who had been acquired late in 2011 from Toronto (with Aaron Hill) for the stretch drive.  McDonald’s deal was for two years.

Toronto reacquired pitcher Trystan Magnuson from Oakland for cash.  Magnuson was a first round pick of the Blue Jays out of Louisville (also played forward on the basketball team) and was sent to Oakland as part of the Rajai Davis deal.  Pitching occasionally for Oakland, the tall (6′ 7″) righthander has a low 90s fastball that can occasionally hit 95 and a sinker.  He’s had one season where he had really good control – that was two years ago in AA, but he looks like a middle reliever with a bit of an upside.

A sad week (no MLB!) made even sadder…

Matty Alou passed away due to complications related to diabetes.  The 72-year-old played in 15 different seasons finishing with a .307 career batting average.  I remember Alou – he was a slap hitting outfielder who would use a heavy bat to knock liners and loopers over the heads of infielders for singles.  In 1966, he slapped his way to a National League leading .342 average, and few years later led the league with 231 hits.  Alou saw action in the 1962 World Series with the Giants and was a late addition to the Oakland A’s when they won their first World Series in 1972.  He is most famous, of course, for being one of the three Alou brothers (Felipe and Jesus) who played together on the Giants and occasionally would occupy the entire outfield.

Then, just days after tossing out the ceremonial opening pitch before game seven of this year’s World Series, longtime Cardinals starter Bob Forsch died of an aneurism at the too young age of 61.  I probably have every Bob Forsch Topps Baseball card – he won 163 of his 168 career wins as a member of the Cards and pitched in three different World Series.  Like Alou, Forsch had family in the game – his brother Ken pitched with the Astros for a number of years.  Forsch threw the only two no-hitters in the original Busch Stadium, and – with Ken – the Forsch brothers are the only brothers to throw no-hitters.  [SI]

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2011 Season Forecast: Toronto Blue Jays

Last Five Years:

2010: 85 – 77 (4th in AL East)
2009: 75 – 87
2008: 86 – 76
2007: 83 – 79
2006: 87 – 75

Consistently good, not always as competitive in the toughest division to win in baseball.

Runs Scored: 755 (6th in AL, but 4th in the AL East)
Runs Allowed: 728 (9th in AL)

With this combination of run scored and allowed, you’d expect 84 wins, so Toronto was pretty much on the money.

2010 Recap:

Most everyone had them fourth – so no surprises here.  Well, not at a team level anyway…  A LOT of surprises at the player level – but we’ll cover that down below.

After trading wins and losses for a month, the Blue Jays got hot in May and raced toward the top of the division.  Unfortunately, the Jays were equally cold in June and fell back to fourth.  June was their only losing month – from July 7th on, the Jays were 14 over .500, so if they hadn’t gone cold for the 30 days from June 6 to July 6, it’s very likely that the Jays could have sneaked into the playoffs.

What made Toronto competitive on heals of losing the best pitcher in their team’s history, Roy Halliday, was a BUNCH of home runs.  Jose Bautista hit 54, Vernon Wells slammed 31 dingers, John Buck had 20, Edwin Encarnacion hit 21, even Alex Gonzalez had 17 in just 85 games.  Aaron Hill didn’t hit much, but clocked 26 homers.  Adam Lind tallied 23, Lyle Overbay slashed 20, and even the half season of Travis Snider was good for 14.  Toronto hit 257 homers but only allowed 150, a gap that covered for other weaknesses.

During the season, the Jays made a few minor deals, but the one that made a splash was the trade in July that sent shortstop Alex Gonzalez and two minor leaguers to Atlanta for Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes.

Starters:

As mentioned, Roy Halliday was gone, and the Blue Jays were forced to rely on a bunch of young arms – many of whom were returning from prior shoulder and elbow injuries.  Ricky Romero improved on an impressive 2009 rookie season and made 32 starts, logged 210 innings and win 14 games, pitching like an ace for much of the season.  Shaun Marcum returned to go 13 – 8 and missed by a start of hitting 200 innings.  Brett Cecil, the #1 pick in 2007, raced through the minors and showed moxie – leading the team with 15 wins.  Brandon Morrow, who never seemed to live up to the hype in Seattle, fanned 178 batters in just 146.1 innings, kept hitters off stride, and won 10 decisions.  The fifth starter role was given to Marc Rzepczynski and Dana Eveland, but at the end was given to former Phillie prospect Kyle Drabek, who looks to make the rotation in 2011.

Looking ahead, Shaun Marcum is gone, having been moved to Milwaukee for Brett Lawrie, a top second base prospect.  That leaves Romero, Cecil, Morrow, and either Rzepczynski, Drabek, Reyes, or Jesse Litsch – another former Jays starter coming back from hip surgery.  Drabek comes with the most hype – the top prospect in the Toronto chain, having gone 14 – 9 for New Hampshire in the Eastern League.  Reyes can pitch some, but more likely will start the year in the bullpen and pick up a start from time to time, which leaves Litsch and Rzepczynski battling for the fifth slot.  I think Drabek can be every bit as good as Marcum was in 2010, and if Litsch or Rzepczynski can make 25 healthy starts, this will be a slight improvement – if only because you won’t have the nine less than stellar starts of Dana Eveland in the mix (or, for that matter, Litsch’s nine less than impressive starts).

Bullpen:

Gone is Kevin Gregg, who saved 37 games last year.  Gregg is NOT a dominant closer – but rather a tolerable one,  He was ably supported by Shawn Camp, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen, and David Purcey.

For 2011, the closer looks to be former Ranger closer Frank Francisco, who can be much better than Gregg but historically is just marginally better.  Other closers are in camp, including Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch, as well as Frasor, Janssen, Camp, and Purcey.  This is a very deep staff and should continue to keep Toronto in games.

Catching:

Last year’s duo of John Buck and Jose Molina were impressive defensively – above average in six different categories, and league average in terms of basic mobility.  Buck also hit well – an all-star level performance.

Looking ahead, Toronto will be depending on rookie J.P. Arencibia.  After struggling through a rough 2009 season in Las Vegas, Arencibia pounded PCL pitchers to the tune of 32 – 85 – .301 in 104 games.  That translates to about 20 – 65 – .250, which is not too far from a typical John Buck season.  Molina remains as a capable defensive backup.

Infield:

The changes continue from the infield that started the 2010 season.  Basher Jose Bautista showed to be more consistent at third than Edwin Encarnacion, who will move to first or DH in 2011.  Yunel Escobar can find his groove and hopefully contribute like the hitter he was in 2009, and second baseman Aaron Hill will rebound from his .205 2010 season and hopefully retain his power.  Adam Lind moves to first base, replacing Lyle Overbay.  I’m nervous about this unit.  The left side will be marginally better than 2010 defensively, but the right side will not be.  Lind has yet to produce as many runs as Overbay, and the 85 games Alex Gonzalez played were productive and hard to immediately replace.

John McDonald is still around to back everyone up – as is Encarncion.

Outfield:

Left field will be manned by former Angel Juan Rivera, who replaces Fred Lewis – a fourth outfielder at best.  While an improvement, Rivera is starting to get old and in ten seasons has never played 140 games in a season.  Vernon Wells is gone, replaced by Rajai Davis.  Davis is faster than Wells, but about 25 runs behind him as a hitter.  In right is Travis Snider, who replaces Bautista’s role.  Snider is due to step forward as a hitter, but hasn’t been a strong fielder.

Down on the Farm:

AAA Las Vegas wasn’t loaded with prospects other than Arencibia, who will start on opening day, and Brett Wallace, who was traded to Houston for Anthony Gose – a low level centerfielder with speed to burn, but a problem with contact and little power.  (I’ll be honest, I don’t see the reasoning there unless one thinks Wallace didn’t have a future in Toronto, but I think he’s better than Encarnacion.)

AA New Hampshire had Drabek, but also Zach Stewart, who is a year older but not quite as good.  David Cooper is a first baseman who has stats that look like Lyle Overbay – but at AA.  He might be a year away, but he’s not quite there yet.  Eric Thames has more power and a touch of speed.  He could replace Juan Rivera and you might not lose a step.  Darin Mastroianni is a leadoff type hitter, great speed and good on base percentages.  At 25, he’s getting old for a prospect, but he could help somebody for a months if needed.  The guy who is really interesting is Cuban import Adeiny Hechavarria, who looks like Davy Concepcion did when he was 21 years old – great glove, could grow into a hitter (but not yet).  Tristan Magnuson was successful as a reliever in AA, with great control, but Danny Farquhar has better stuff – 79Ks in 76 innings, just 50 hits allowed.  He’s a touch wild.

Alan Farina didn’t look like a prospect after a season of struggle at A+ Dunedin, but he DOMINATED A+ in 2010 and moved up to New Hampshire and kept right on going (74Ks in 55.2 innings).  If he does this in Las Vegas, he may make the roster in September, 2011.  Joel Carreno is a starter with moxie who will start in AA this year after a successful run in 2010 with Dunedin.  Catcher Travis D’Arnaud will get to build on a reasonably successful 2010 season, but it would help if he shows a little more power.

2011 Forecast:

There are things to like.  The outfield defense should be stronger.  The team will be spending less money at a couple of positions, which helped pay for a Jose Bautista contract.  The pitching staff is rather deep, especially in the bullpen.  The only slip defensively is at first base – which means the team will likely stay around 715 runs allowed, if not a few less than that.

The things that make you nervous?  I think the offense has to fall back.  I can see Bautista having a good season, but will it be as good as last year?  Probably not.  You have a drop in offense at first and center and possibly at catcher against potential improvements in left and second.  But there are too many “downs” to make up for the possible “ups” – and I see this as being sixty to eighty runs less than 2010.  As such, I see Toronto falling below .500 to about 77 – 85, which could very well be last in the AL East.  This isn’t a BAD team, just a team in the wrong division and falling back because a couple of guys were over their heads last year.  On the other hand, there are signs that this team is trying to build a new foundation of young players that can get them over the 90 win plateau and finally get back to the playoffs.