by Moonlight Graham

It happens every spring.  MLB clubs head into the new season filled with all of the promise and excitement that a new year brings.  Injured players are healthy, dissapointing performance are forgotten and optimism rules the day. Unfortunately, many also begin the new campaign focused more on finances than the standings and thus, head into battle without a full arsenal of weaponry.

Without going into all of the legal issues surrounding the MLB arbitration process, suffice to say that the most important element is service time; specifically, days on a Major League roster.  If a rookie that would normally be eligible for arbitration after two years is held back until the end of May, he cannot be credited with the service time required for a full season.  Therefore, the big payday usually gained through arbitration is delayed by a full calendar year.

On the surface, it seems like sound, fiscal planning by the big clubs; a strategy carried out for years.  However, after drilling down a little deeper, you discover a very seedy. three-card-monte type of scam with MLB fans as its victims.   While these franchises knowingly and intentionally fail to put their best product on the field, their loyal supporters continue to be charged top ticket prices for an inferior product.  The nerve required to perpetrate this bait-and-switch is exceeded only by the gall needed by the GM to keep a straight face as he proclaims the player in question to suddenly be of Major League skill level at the same time the deadline passes.

Over the course of the last two weeks, four such prospects; each having had some aspect of their game questioned by management, took up prominent positions with the parent club without so much as a small hiccup.  In San Francisco, Buster Posey seems to stroke two hits a day as he’s become the best run producer on the offensively challenged Giants.  Michael Stanton, professional baseball’s leading home run hitter with 21, has seamlessly worked his way into the Marlins’ lineup with 5 RBI over his first 5 games.  Friday, the Indians called up Carlos Santana whose .310 BA and 51 RBI apparently were not enough to unseat the light hitting Lou Marson over the first two months.  Santana, incidentally, was the Tribe’s number three hitter all weekend and poked his first HR on Saturday.

Then, of course, there’s Stephen Strasburg.  Nationals’ brass, somehow managing not to laugh, voiced their concern about the phenom’s ability to pitch from the stretch.  As he ripped through Double a and Triple A, the pressure to promote him grew; but not enough to make the Nats’ flinch.  Finally, on June 8th, Strasburg got the call and lit up the baseball world with a 14 K performance.  Good luck finding anyone that believes Strasburg couldn’t have done that in April.

Three decades ago, MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn would have stepped in and put an end to this fraud under the credo that it was not in the best interest of the game.  Unfortunately, today’s commissioner, Bud Selig, is the errand boy for ownership, having been a member of the club, himself.  As a matter of fact, the Milwaukee Brewers, run by Selig’s daughter, pulled the same nonsense three years ago with Ryan Braun. As it’s unlikely that an empty suit such as Selig will ever rule against his brother owners, expect the nonsense to continue; while fans pay through the nose to watch inferior talent.

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Buy Low- Here’s an idea.  Find a Yankee fan, commiserate with him about Javy Vasquez’s high ERA and the silly notion that he can’t win in New York. Then, steal him away and laugh all the way to September.  Vasquez is a strikeout machine who’s won four straight.  That he pitches for an offensive juggernaut makes him more attractive.  In Houston, Carlos Lee is in the midst of rebounding from an awful start.  He’s still only at .225, so you might find a frustrated trading partner.

Sell High- Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena recently homered in six straight.  Pray that it camouflages his miserable .185 BA and dump him on the unsuspecting.  With the wheels coming off of the White Sox bandwagon, look for Bobby Jenks to be moved. A marginal closer with a poor K ratio, Jenks is more likely to be used as a setup man should he be traded.

Grab Bag- With Jason Bartlet on the DL in Tampa, 2B Sean Rodriguez has begun to emerge.  The big name for the Rays in last year’s Scott Kazmir deal, Rodriguez is a power hitter who’s lifted his average to .270.  Gaby Sanchez has done nothing but hit during his rise through the Marlins, system.  Now, he’s in the two hole, feasting on a diet of fastballs hitting in front of Hanley Ramirez.

Drop Zone- Time to pull the plug on Aaron Hill.  It’s a mystery, now, as to what was in Toronto’s water last year but, whatever it was, it’s gone. He no longer warrants a spot in your lineup. Ever since rumors surfaced about possible PED use, Colorado’s Todd Helton has become more of a high average hitter with little pop.  Now, the average is gone, too, rendering him almost useless.

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