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Archive for June 2009

I’m hitting baseball’s D.L. with an anxiety disorder. Why? Everyone’s doing it!

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Anxiety disorders have never been this prevalent in baseball.

Sure, it was clear that the Cardinal’s Rick Ankiel was dealing with something during his precipitous fall from stud-pitcher to batting practice fodder in 2001. And then there was the case of the Royal’s Zack Greinke, who all but gave up baseball before sitting an entire year to battle depression and anxiety. The cases, however, have always been few and far between though and usually extremely isolated.

Ankiel suffered anxiety in the 2000's.Greinke took a year off.

At the mere mention of the problem as a reason for a trip to the disabled list, any old-timer would query, “Whatever happened to going out after the game, grabbing a beer and blowing off some steam?”

Having dealt with anxiety issues myself, I know the affliction is anything but a joke. It’s a very real problem with very real implications. It makes life a constant struggle and every moment is a battle. However, unlike Ankiel and Greinke, today’s star are treating it as anything but.

In this day of handout psycho-meds and therapy, we shouldn’t be surprised.

Detroit’s Dontrelle Willis has hit the disabled list two times this year with social anxiety. St. Louis shortstop Khalil Greene has, too. Neither has a documented history of the disorder, and their diagnoses are leaving health officials “suspicious.” Willis has been called up numerous times and when he inevitably falters, it’s “social anxiety” and not his horribly unrepeatable mechanics that is to blame. And Khalil Greene’s downfall from slugging shortstop to Mendoza-hoverer has nothing to do with the fact that he has the plate discipline of a little leaguer or the injury he sustained smashing a storage unit in the dugout during the 2008 season.

Willis continues to play despite anxiety.Khalil Greene reflects.

While their problems may be manifestations of something more significant, they are handling it in a shameful way. Willis is making routine trips to the minor leagues where he is pitching ably against shabby competitors. Greene spent less than a month on the D.L. (22 days) before coming back for the first time. He spent everyday with the team taking batting practice and fielding. It’s hard to believe that such a serious disorder can be solved by continually playing the game that is causing such distress.

Earlier this season, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto spent time on the disabled list with what was originally dubbed an “inner ear infection.”

Votto had started off the 2009 season hot, amassing eight homeruns and 34 RBI through the first two months. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he was gone.

At the end of last season, Votto’s father passed away. His idol, his mentor, the man who taught him how to play the game, had died. Votto trudged through the end of the 2008 season without him, but a quarter of the way through 2009, the pain was too hard to handle. Spring training was a positive outlet for his emotions, but once the pressure of the season rolled around, Votto was paralyzed. He couldn’t spend time alone and he slept holding a telephone, waiting to inevitably call the hospital for help.

He took a month off from the game, sidelining himself with “stress-related issues.” He didn’t play ball. He got help; he vocalized his emotions, spent time with his brothers (who he was now responsible for), and dealt with the issue he’d been avoiding for an entire offseason. He finally spoke to the media about what ailed him.

That’s how it should be. If Willis and Greene are actually suffering from something, perhaps they can ask Joey Votto, Rick Ankiel, and Zack Greinke how to deal with it.

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Milwaukee prospect Jeffress is sending his career up in smoke.

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Smoking too many doobies!

Jeffress will serve a 100 game suspension.

The man with a 100 mile-per-hour heater is going to be serving a 100 game suspension.

Jeremy Jeffress, the Milwaukee Brewer’s first round pick in 2006 and the organization’s fourth best prospect according to Baseball America, recently tested positive for a “substance of abuse.” However, it wasn’t for the kind of substance we’re used to hearing ballplayers get suspended for these days…

Last Friday, Jeffress tested positive for marijuana. The failure is not Jefress’ first transgression; in 2007, he served a 50 game suspension for the same reason. While scouts rave about Jeffress’ natural stuff, his makeup has always been in question.

Jeffress’ repertoire includes a fastball that often touches 100, an 11-5 curveball, and a developing changeup. He’s been pegged as a future closer, despite being only 21-years-old and extremely raw.

Jefress, however, may never get the chance to prove what he can do in the major leagues. In accordance with Major League Baseball’s drug policy, the youngster is one positive test away from a lifetime ban.

Three strikes, you’re out.

In an organization that is sorely lacking in reliable arms, Jeffress would have most likely have gotten his first taste of the show in September.

ROBBED! DEROSA TO CARDINALS IN LOPSIDED TRADE!

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Mark DeRosa

Mark DeRosa

Cleveland trades former Chicago star Mark DeRosa to St. Louis for middle reliever and player to be named later.

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Move sure to add fire to already heated National League rivalry!

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CLEVELAND — In what has to be considered a lopsided trade, the St. Louis Cardinals acquired super utility man and developing slugger Mark DeRosa from the Cleveland Indians for middle reliever and touted prospect Chris Perez and a player to be named later.

DeRosa immediately adds fuel to an already bitter rivalry in the National League East between the St. Louis Cardinals and DeRosa’s former team, the Chicago Cubs.

DeRosa, who was traded by the Cubs after his career year in 2008, was hitting .270 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI while with the Indians. DeRosa is on pace to replicate last year’s statistics and hitting in a lineup with the National League’s best hitter, Albert Pujols, almost certainly guarantees he will.

DeRosa adds depth to a team plagued with injuries. After being penciled in as the Cardinal’s starting third baseman prior to the 2009 season, Troy Glaus has yet to return from off-season shoulder surgery. Shortstop Khalil Greene has been bruised the entire year and was recently sat due to an anxiety disorder. DeRosa can play almost any infield and outfield position so he could prove invaluable to the team in that capacity.

Cleveland rooters have to be scratching their collective heads with this one. If DeRosa had left the team as a free agent following this season, as he was likely to do, the team would have gained two draft picks. Instead, the Indian’s acquired a middle-of-the-line righty and an unknown player.

Chris Perez was expected by St. Louis fans to take over Jason Isringhausen’s closer role a few years ago. Upon each call up, however, the 24-year-old was consistently wild and never flourished in the role. He features a mid-90’s sinking fastball and a power slider. Perez’s stuff profiles him as a classic closer, but it’s expected that Cleveland will ease him into the team’s setup role, behind Kerry Wood.

The only way this deal works in the Indian’s favor is if the player to be named later is 2008-draftee and quick-riser Brett Wallace or right-handed pitcher Jess Todd. The Indian’s are desperate for bullpen depth, as evidenced by this hasty trade.

DeRosa should be in St. Louis today.

Tampa Bay’s Bartlett, Zobrist having career years (and no one’s noticing).

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Playing for a small market team baseball team has its advantages. You don’t have to deal with the media and there’s a lot less pressure to perform.

But it also certainly has its disadvantages.

The Tampa Bay Ray’s Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett can attest to that.

Zobrist and Bartlett are having anything but normal years. In fact, they’re having two of the best seasons in Major League Baseball. Zobrist, who until this season acted as a “we’ll call him up when we need him” type player, has already surpassed his career best numbers in every offensive category. In addition, he’s played Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field, left field, center field, and at shortstop, second base, and third base. Barlett, who is batting an incredible .363 through the first half of the season, broke a Ray’s team record by hitting in 19 straight games. He’s on pace to shatter his average yearly output.

Aside from the occasional touting on MLB Network, the two are getting little recognition. Zobrist, since he’s played at so many positions, is not even listed on the Major League Baseball All-Star ballot. You have to write him in. He is sure to miss the game, unless he’s chosen as a reserve, despite being a top five outfielder. Bartlett isn’t going to escape snubbing either. Despite besting Derek Jeter in nearly every offensive category in less at-bats, he is still over a million votes behind Mr. November.

.289, 43 R, 16 HR, 44 RBI.

.289, 43 R, 16 HR, 44 RBI.

The breakouts of Zobrist and Bartlett make the Ray’s front office look like geniuses.

Ben Zobrist has never been looked upon as anything more than a fringe major leaguer. He was drafted by the Houston Astros in the sixth round of the 2004 draft and in the coming years, he was flippantly dismissed as a utility player who was too old for whichever level he played at by Baseball Prospectus. And Baseball America barely gave him mention, but did give him credit for his strike zone discipline. Despite playing well for the Astro’s minor league camps through the 2006 season, Zobrist was shuttled to the Rays as part of the Aubrey Huff-to-Houston deal. He was seen as a throw in, with lefty Mitch Talbot being the gold.

The Rays rushed Zobrist to the majors that same year and he struggled to the tune of a .224 average through 183 at-bats. For the next two years, Zobrist acted as a AAA replacement for any injured starter. He never fared well in the majors, but always seemed to regain his footing once back with Durham in the International League. Unless they needed him, the Rays never pushed Zobrist, instead deciding to let him develop in the minors until the time was opportune. After batting .366 in Durham last season, Zobrist was brought up for good.

His fortunes this year are definitely a surprise. Zobrist has never shown this caliber of game-changing power at any level of the game. His recent surge is most likely being aided by his position in the batting order (behind sluggers Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena) and his previously developed ability to recognize good and bad pitches. He’s taking walks at an incredible rate despite an increased strikeout frequency. Zobrist’s 2009 is echoing his stellar 2007 campaign with the Durham Bulls, where he showed above-average power, but nothing incredible. I can’t picture him keeping up this pace, but I hope he can.

Bartlett’s story is eerily similar to Zobrist’s. Drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 13th round of the 2001 draft, Bartlett was quickly dealt to the Minnesota Twins.

He played well at every minor league stop, but like Zobrist, he faltered upon each callup. It wasn’t until 2006 that he solidified himself as a starting shortstop with the big club. Bartlett’s calling card has always been the same, no matter which level: hit for average, little power, score some runs, and play good defense.

Bartlett came to Tampa in 2007 as part of the Delmon Young-for-Matt Garza swap with the Twins. Bartlett was thrown into the trade as a shortstop exchange for Brendan Harris. The Twins believed they were letting go of an aging shortstop with ever-decreasing range and in Harris, they saw a younger, better caliber player. In the coming years, this trade is going to go down as one of the most lopsided of the 2000’s.

.363, 40 R, 7 HR, 35 RBI.

.363, 40 R, 7 HR, 35 RBI.

While Young has yet to do anything for Minnesota, both Garza and Bartlett have become above average players. Last year, Bartlett was voted the Ray’s team MVP ahead of Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria and slugger Carlos Pena. Yet Bartlett’s numbers from his 2008 campaign don’t stand out; they’re fairly pedestrian.

Bartlett has become invaluable to the Ray’s for his defense. In 2008, the club gave up nearly 300 runs less than they did in 2007. 300 less runs. A change that drastic simply does not happen overnight unless you bring in a stellar defensemen. Bartlett shored up what was once the worst up-the-middle defense in the league and writers took notice.

This year, Bartlett is doing it with the bat. He is third in batting average, behind only the Twin’s Joe Mauer and the Mariner’s Ichiro Suzuki. He’s in the top ten in a half dozen more obscure, yet important, other offensive categories.

Considering that both players were viewed as small, insignificant pieces to major trades, I’d say the Ray’s are getting their money’s worth and then some. Pulling off shrewd, seemingly menial moves like these are why the Rays have become such a power in the American League East.

Enter Sandman for the 881st time.

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The New York Yankee’s Mariano Rivera will have a chance to make history tonight against the team’s crosstown rivals, the New York Mets.

Rivera is one save away from earning number 500. When he completes the feat, Rivera will be only the second member of the 500 Saves Club, behind the Brewer’s Trevor Hoffman. The 9-time All-Star and owner of a 2.31 career ERA has pitched two consecutive evenings, so there is some question whether manager Joe Girardi will trot him out tonight.

Mo' saves, mo' problems.

I’d look for him to come in, no matter what, and record the save in dominating fashion. He’s the best closer to ever play the game and I don’t see any reason why Girardi would hold him back. Rivera’s probably rearing to go.

Written by dylansharek

June 26, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Beat With Uggla Stick’s owner not happy with team’s output thus far.

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I woke up this morning to find a hilarious link of my Facebook wall.

My friend Doug is a big basketball fan (specifically the Boston Celtics), so yesterday I wrote to him about the Shaquille O’Neal-to-Cleveland deal. In response, he followed up with “Big day today…what’s the biggest story of the day, you ask? Probably this…” He then linked to The Onion‘s sports section and the article, “Fantasy Baseball Owner Rips Team In Media.”

Beat With Uggla Sticks owner not happy.

It’s an awesomely satirical piece that is incredibly funny to picture. And even if you don’t do the whole fantasy baseball thing, it’s still definitely worth a look.

Check it out here.

Written by dylansharek

June 26, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Cub’s Geovany Soto puffs and doesn’t pass (a drug test).

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In what has to be considered one of the more awesome pieces of news from today, it was announced by the International Baseball Federation that the Cub’s Geovany Soto tested positive for marijuana while playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

Ya hippy!

Due to the positive test, Soto will be banned from international competition for two years, which, conveniently enough, would allow him to play in 2012’s WBC. What a horrible consequence!

Hey kids, go out and smoke pot. Former Rookie of the Year’s do it. If you do it, you’ll be a Rookie of the Year too!