Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Major League Baseball End-of-the-Year Wrap-up

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Folks, my health has delayed this blog significantly, but as I promised an end-of-the-year wrap-up talking about the World Series, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Carlos Gomez and his Gold Glove, and any significant trades, I figured I’d better get down to business and write one.  Because of the rather lengthy wait, I’ve even thrown in a Corey Hart update in the bargain . . . so let’s get started.

First, the World Series did not go the way I expected it to whatsoever.  I’d expected that the St. Louis Cardinals, which had been the best team in baseball over the latter two-thirds of the season, to waltz away with the Series.  But instead, the Boston Red Sox played much better than the Cardinals, even though neither team was anything close to error-free.

In fact, Boston’s pitching was better; its hitting was better; even its defense was better, which was extremely surprising as the Cardinals had been among the best defensive teams in the majors all year long.

And, of course, David Ortiz had a monster World Series, hitting .688 (no misprint) to carry the Red Sox to victory in six games.

After that shocker of a Series, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Carloz Gomez of the Brewers won a well-deserved Gold Glove for his play in center field during 2013.  Gomez was most definitely the best defensive center fielder in baseball, but it wasn’t a lead-pipe cinch that he’d win the Gold Glove as Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates is also a very good center fielder and had a much better offensive year than Gomez.  Fortunately, McCutchen won the Most Valuable Player Award, a well-deserved honor, but did not win the Gold Glove due to an increased focus on defensive metrics.

Since the Gold Gloves and MVP Awards were announced, there have been two trades that caught my attention.  The first of these was the trade of Detroit Tigers first baseman (and former Brewer) Prince Fielder to Texas for the Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler.  At first, I was extremely surprised at this trade because of Fielder’s offensive value to Detroit, but after reflection I thought I understood it.  Detroit needed better defense, which Kinsler will provide at second, and by trading Fielder it’s possible for the Tigers to move Miguel Cabrera back to first base.

But I really think Fielder would still be a Tiger today if not for his really awful postseason.  Fielder looked bad defensively throughout the postseason, but worse than that, he looked as if his bat speed was not there — extremely distressing when your primary value as a player is due to your offense.  Even so, he might’ve rode out all of that if not for his infamous “belly-flop slide” into third in game six of the American League Championship Series that may have cost his team the ALCS, then some ill-advised comments afterward (which I’ll get to in a bit).

Since Fielder’s been traded, it’s now common knowledge that Fielder is in the process of getting a divorce.  I don’t normally comment on player divorces, but I’m going to make an exception in Fielder’s case because he and his wife were so prominent in Milwaukee.

I don’t know when Fielder was served with divorce papers, but it’s quite possible that Fielder’s “indifferent season” (where he “only” hit .275 with 25 home runs and 106 RBIs and again backed up AL MVP Miguel Cabrera nicely) was made far less meaningful to him once he found out his wife wanted out.  This seems like a very trite statement — and perhaps it is — but Fielder is very well known in Milwaukee as a family man, and he took great pride in his wife and two young sons while he was here.  So it’s very possible that getting a divorce, for him, is much more difficult than it might be with someone else . . . not that divorce is ever easy.

In addition, Fielder wanted economic stability for his family.  This was the main reason he turned down the Brewers’ offers of roughly $20 Million a season for five or six years (there were several offers, but that is the last one I remember) to go to Detroit in the first place.  (Not that Fielder didn’t have any other offers; I’m sure he did.  But he liked Milwaukee, found it a stable and safe place for his family, and enjoyed the family friendly Brewers clubhouse, and was known as someone who was interested in more than just the greenbacks.)

Finally, my guess is that Fielder’s psyche is a bit more fragile than it appeared.  He’s a big, strong, tough man, sure — and he plays a great game of baseball.  But his own father, Cecil, was not a model father — this is well-known — or a model husband.  Prince took great pride in being both, and to find out that his wife didn’t want to be married to him anymore must have been devastating.

I said all this because without that context, Fielder’s comments after the ALCS was over (he said, roughly, that he wasn’t going to lose any sleep over his performance because he still had two young sons to take care of) make no sense.  And fans excoriated him over it, because it sounded like Fielder just did not care what happened.

As Jeff Deacon of Detroit Sports Nation (part of the Yardbarker sports blog network) put it:

After going 9 for 40 with 0 HR, and 0 RBI in 12 playoff games this postseason, it’s understandable that Prince would be upset. But many believe his comments are crossing a line. We all know he’s going through a now very public divorce, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for yet another awful postseason.

It wasn’t so much what he said to the media post-game, but how he said them. To me, it was evident his head was elsewhere this season. Almost as if he didn’t care.

I’m not saying Prince should ignore his family issues and focus solely on baseball, but when you’re making $25 million a year, you have to be able to cope with them. And if you can’t, take yourself off the field because you’re hurting your name and your teammates. Many people go through tough times in their life, especially over the past few years in Detroit. Yet, we still go to work and get our jobs done. Why should Prince Fielder be any different?

There’s a lot of truth in what Deacon said, and I completely understand and agree with the frustration in Detroit over Fielder’s comments.  But Fielder made many similar types of comments in Milwaukee long before his divorce, and we didn’t get upset with him over it.

Maybe this is because Brewers fans understood Fielder  a little better, or maybe it’s just that Fielder was not going through his divorce when he was with Milwaukee.

At any rate, my view of what Fielder said is simple — as bad as it sounded, Fielder pointed out that the season was over.  He didn’t want it to be over, for sure, and he assuredly wanted to play better in the ALCS.  (No one, most of all a prideful professional baseball player, wants to look bad in the national spotlight.)  But he has to look at the big picture, which is how he takes care of his two sons from here on out and how he rebuilds his personal life after his divorce is finalized (probably sometime late next year if Mrs. Fielder filed in Michigan and my understanding of Michigan divorce law is correct — which, admittedly, it may not be).

So had Prince Fielder still been in Milwaukee and said something like this, it’s unlikely there would’ve been as much of a furor.  Instead, fans would’ve been likely to forgive him, because Brewers fans always saw Prince as one of their own and would be likely to empathize with him over his impending divorce.

Anyway, let’s get to the second trade that sparked my interest, which was of Brewers relief pitcher Burke Badenhop to Boston for low minor league pitcher Luis Ortega.  Ortega is only twenty years of age, pitched in the rookie league last year, and is in no way, shape or form an equal talent to Badenhop.

Look.  Badenhop did a fine job for the Brewers this year, appearing in 63 games, pitching 62 1/3 innings with a 2-3 record and a 3.47 ERA, but he was due to make more next year in arbitration than this year’s $1.55 million.  The Brewers have to know that Ortega may or may not develop into a major league pitcher of any sort, as Ortega is just too young and raw to make any judgments, but they may have seen something in him that caused them to make this trade (giving them the benefit of the doubt).

My view, though, is very simple: the Milwaukee Brewers are again in “salary-dump mode” if they’re willing to jettison a proven major league reliever like Badenhop for someone like Ortega.  I’m so tired of the Brewers doing things like this, especially considering Badenhop’s more than adequate year as a middle reliever — he’d only been with the team a year, did a great job keeping the Brewers in games during an exceptionally difficult season and  seemed to truly enjoy playing baseball in Milwaukee despite all the ups and downs of the 2013 Brewers season.  Which is why I’m sad to see Badenhop go.

One final thought — it looks like the Brewers are going to make a serious run at Corey Hart once Hart is medically cleared for baseball activities on December 3, 2013.  This is very good to hear.

But I’m worried, again, that the Brewers will make Hart a low-ball offer due to Hart’s stated wish to stay in Milwaukee, especially after the Brewers jettisoned Badenhop for next to nothing.  The fans need our favorites after the dreadful 2013 season, and Hart’s one of the most fan-friendly players around . . . here’s hoping the Brewers will offer Hart enough money to stay in Milwaukee, where he’s comfortable and wants to continue playing.

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