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Twelve Thoughts: Bullpens, The Boss, Girardi's Tactics, LeBron

Jul 15, 2010 – 8:00 AM
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Tom Krasovic

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• Bullpen strength is a luxury for three division leaders going forward.

Padres relievers were more hittable recently, but unlike the Dodgers and perhaps the Rockies, San Diego probably doesn't need to trade for a reliever. Look for the Padres to bring up reliever Ernesto Frieri, a Colombian with a 5:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.43 ERA in Triple-A. Another bullpen option for later this summer is starter Kevin Correia, whose stuff should play up in a relief role. More vulnerable when hitters see more of him, Correia has a 7.88 ERA in the fifth inning and a 13.97 ERA in the sixth. The Padres are looking to add a starting pitcher, having discussed, among others, veteran right-handers Jake Westbrook (Indians) and Jeremy Guthrie (Orioles).

Two veteran scouts rate the Braves' bullpen above San Diego's. Bobby Cox has two excellent lefties in front of closer Billy Wagner, who is having a big year.

"The White Sox have three closers," said a veteran scout, referring to closer Bobby Jenks, rejuvenated former closer J.J. Putz and All-Star lefty Matt Thornton.

Elsewhere, many GMs are shopping for relievers, which should make fans of those teams nervous. Relievers are a fickle lot. One year after acquiring veteran reliever George Sherrill for a pretty good prospect, third-baseman Josh Bell, the Dodgers gave up on Sherrill this week. Future All-Star outfielder Jason Bay long ago was acquired by the Padres for veteran reliever Steve Reed when the Mets were too eager.

• Biggest loser in the All-Star Game was Brewers GM Doug Melvin.

Melvin has a slugger, Corey Hart, who is having a career year and drawing trade interest. Seems like a good time to sell high. Then came Tuesday's exhibition. In two at-bats with the baseball world watching, Hart looked like a slow-pitch softball slugger matched against big leaguers. Maybe it was a hangover from Hart's first Home Run Derby. Hart's replacement, Marlon Byrd, had the unsung at-bat of the game. His tough walk preceded the National League's three-run salvo.

• The LeBron James circus gave the baseball world a funhouse mirror to look into.

One, basketball punditry showed it can be as inane as baseball punditry. Critics clucked that James' decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers was further proof that he's not the winner that Kobe is and Michael was. LeBron, we were told, is chasing a championship, rather than building one as the team's centerpiece. Yet if Kobe and Michael, or even Magic, had the same talent around them that James had in Cleveland for seven years, how many NBA rings would they own? Zero is my guess. Kobe had Shaq in his prime, then the best frontcourt in the NBA. Michael had Pippen and, later, Rodman. The Cavs never gave LeBron a star teammate as good as those guys. Not close.

Two, the Big Media interview between Jim Gray and James somehow was more self-important than Big Media's fawning over the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets. Didn't think that was possible.

Three, James, the new King of Narcissism, managed to make A-Rod look as selfless and real as Mother Teresa.

Four, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert moved close to the Dodgers' McKooks in the race for nutty owner of the year (though, to his credit, Gilbert pours a lot of money into the club).

Five, James reinforced the need for West Coast Bias. Apparently because the Lakers play during sleep time in Flyover Land and on the Evil Coast, which means they do not exist, James predicted that he'll win more than seven NBA titles with the Heat.

How will it all turn out for James? Here's one of his friends, CC Sabathia, the former Cleveland Indians ace who won a ring with the Yankees in his first year with the Death Star. "He made the best decision for him trying to win a championship," Sabathia told FanHouse. "You can't fault him for that. He took less money to win."

• Adrian Gonzalez is losing some trade value this season because he's a year closer to free agency, but he's affirming that he's among the majors' better players.

Away from Petco Park, a venue that shrinks hitters, Gonzalez is batting .350 with 12 home runs and a 1.056 OPS.

Heard this: Gonzalez will seek eight years in his next contract. The first baseman turned 28 in May and can become a free agent after next season.

• As America's addiction to sports only grows, baseball is among the industries getting staggering amounts of publicity.

For instance, when Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died on Tuesday, naturally The Associated Press ran a biography about the man who had turned the Death Star into a seven-time World Series champion and a revenue giant. How many words did the obit run? About 3,000. I'm told the Steinbrenner bio was longer than any AP bio in two decades or more, even longer than bios of world leaders such as U.S. presidents and popes.

• It's ironic that Steinbrenner created the YES Network.

"He didn't want people around him that were yes people," said Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, a favorite of Steinbrenner's and a Yankees employee since 1993. "He didn't want people around him that were intimidated. He was going to test you, and if you stuck to your guns and had a reason, he respected you.

"He didn't want you to turtle. He got rid of people quick if he sensed that."

• The Seinfeld spoofs on Steinbrenner were near the mark.

Here's Oppenheimer on what it was like to work for the Boss.

"I remember in the 2006 draft, the Dodgers selected Don Mattingly's son, and they selected him right after we had selected Joba Chamberlain. After the Dodgers took Mattingly (whose dad was a former Yankees star), the Boss called up and told me, 'You got beat by (former Dodgers manager Tommy) Lasorda on this one.' I was like, 'I think we got the better one.' He wanted to hear the reason why. So I told him, 'Hey, this is why we had the order, and this is why we didn't get him.'

"His comment was like it always was: 'Well, you'd better be right.' "

Give Oppenheimer credit. He didn't turtle.

• If Tigers closer Jose Valverde is named to next year's All-Star Game, which will be in Phoenix, he's bound to draw a lot of attention.

Valverde isn't wild about Arizona's legal attempts to curb illegal immigration. He said he'd play in the game, but he's uneasy about the ability of police officers to ask for proof of citizenship.

"It's not right," said Valverde, who is from the Dominican Republic. "I don't like it for sure. What we are doing over there, for me, it is stupid.

"I like Arizona," said the former Diamondbacks closer. "I want to play again over there, but I don't feel comfortable [with that prospect] right now because I'm Latin." He added, "The police over there do whatever they want to do."

Lasorda, who works for the Dodgers as an ambassador of sorts, wasn't in agreement with opponents of the much-debated Arizona law who were at the All-Star Game on Tuesday. Some protesters held signs advocating a boycott of the All-Star game in Phoenix. Lasorda's response: "Are we condoning people who are here illegally? What's going on here? They've broken the law. And you can't break the law. Why are people condoning it? I don't get into politics and I don't want to, but, by golly. boycotting, I think that's crazy."

• Valverde has thrown two of the more dominant innings I've seen this year.

In May, he secured a one-run victory over the Death Star by striking out Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez; Tuesday, appearing in an All-Star Game for the first time, he struck out Michael Bourn, Chris Young and Marlon Byrd.

• Yankees manager Joe Girardi didn't appear to take the All-Star game as seriously as Lasorda did in the 1970s.

Girardi looked like he was running a YMCA camp. He subbed liberally in the middle innings, which plays well with players and fans but caught up with him when he had no good option to replace David Ortiz with a pinch-runner. The tactics loomed large when Ortiz, a designated hitter who can barely run, was thrown out attempting to reach second on John Buck's one-hop lob to right field.

Lasorda took a cold-blooded approach to All-Star games. He would nail All-Stars to the bench even if it meant alienating them and their fans, just to retain tactical flexibility for later innings and potential extra innings.

"When I managed," he told FanHouse, "I told them, 'Not everyone might get in the game, but dammit, we're out here to beat them -- we're out to beat their asses.'

"I said I'm here to win this ...damn game. I tell you, a couple of guys that I kept back, [their fans] booed me like [expletive] when I went into their cities."

• Angels center fielder Torii Hunter may be as tired coming out of the All-Star break as when he went into it.

All-Star festivities relating to the hometown Angels kept him unusually busy. Hunter said he was zapped by the time the game arrived. "I was shaking because I was full of Red Bull, coffee and Pepsi," he said late Tuesday after having a subpar All-Star Game.

• The perceived value of Padres prospect Simon Castro took a hit at Sunday's Futures game.

The starter for the World team, Castro was clocked at 86-90 mph and was erratic, not what scouts expected from one of San Diego's better prospects. Castro, 22, is having a good year with Double-A San Antonio.
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