Friday, November 4, 2016

BILLIONAIRE ENGINEERS BIG CHANGES FOR KANSANS


In a stunning development, St. Francis Kansans owner Scott Hatfield has lost control of his beloved BARB franchise.   Celebrity billionaire Donald Drumpf, using money from his personal foundation, bought a controlling interest in a block of stock and (promising to "make the ballclub GREAT again") has shunted Hatfield to the side.

"He can be the team President," said an expansive and unfiltered Drumpf to reporters. "He can be the team President, he can talk about the team, he can, like he always has, 'preside'.  But we've gotten too casual..Too casual.  Weak, it's like a disaster.  So much weakness.   We need strength, not the weak thing.  And so, who are you going to want to be in charge?  A weak leader, like Scott? He's low energy.  Low energy. Everyone knows it, everyone knows it. People are saying it.   But he can be team President, that's OK.  But if you want to win, you need Drumpf."

Insiders speculated that other stockholders flocked to Drumpf's lead after the Kansans (89-73) failed to win 90 games in the 2016 regular season.   While the club has qualified for the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, having averaged over 90 wins a season, this year's edition of the Kansans struggled mightily in July and August, when they lost most of their left-handed pitching.   After leading BARB in team ERA for the first third of the season, the club's bullpen collapsed as the club lost, in swift succession:  Wei-Yin Chen, Rich Hill, Sean Doolittle and Carlos Rodon.

The result:  a long summer watching Matt Harvey go under the knife for the second time in three seasons, squirming while waiting for their left-handed pitching depth to come back, and watching the division-leading New England Yankee Stompers widen their lead.  In September, the Kansans were able to regroup, adding RHP John Lackey to the rotation, RHP Kensley Jansen to the bullpen, C Yadier Molina behind the plate and OF Jay Bruce to the lineup.  On paper, St. Francis is a much more dangerous club, fortified for a deep playoff run.

Drumpf (of course) was happy to claim victory on behalf of his persona, even before the stockholder's meeting that empowered him. 

Speaking of the acquisitions, Drumpf dismissed the talent dealt (C Brian McCann, RHP Allen, various prospects), and then rambled:

 "It's sad.  As sad as this trade we are confirming with Low Energy Matt and the Worcester Eliminators, who will never be, in my opinion, George Steinbrenner.  We get a Puerto Rican catcher, they tell me he's pretty good, Yadier Molina....and a great pitcher, Jansen, he's mine now, get a load of my African-American.  To acquire them, I gave up that slob Brian McCann, save some money.  It's called business....  

Oh, and some outfielder named Robles, and this guy, Cody Allen, who lost his job, who needs him, I like relievers who actually give relief, OK?"

For now, at least, it appears that the eccentric billionaire is calling the shots as the club attempts to make another playoff run.   Whether or not Drumpf's coalition of unhappy stockholders will keep him in power is another thing.   One school of thought claims that a deep playoff run or a series win could empower him to take an even larger, George Steinbrenner-type role.   Yet others think that since the bulk of club's talent was acquired by a team led by the ousted Hatfield, that a Series berth might change the stockholder's minds yet again.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

KANSANS BACK IN THE HUNT?

The rains came.   After four innings of one-hit baseball, the Kansans maddening ace Matt Harvey departed rather than come back after a long rain delay in a season that has featured one "Harvey innings limit" story after another.   St. Francis fans groaned at their perpetual prima donna, who will probably have to skip a start down the stretch to keep his possible post-season workload manageable.

And after the rains came, the Brownsville Cutters rained some offense, besting St. Francis by a 12-2 score by rallying hard against Wei-Yin Chen and Gio Gonzalez in long relief.   Disappointing for Kansans fans against the club ahead of them in the standings, but also because the loss snapped St. Francis's longest win streak of the year at ten games.

Still, there was a good vibe in the clubhouse, because the ten-game streak against Grapefruit Divisions rivals had allowed owner Scott Hatfield's club to make up five games in the standings and pull within seven games of first place with 22 games left to play.   So far, the itchy trigger finger of acting GM Kevin Towers seems to have made the right moves when St. Francis triggered the only two deals at the trading deadline, picking up veteran (but injury-plagued) LHP Sean Doolittle from Yuma, and versatile right-handed hitter Danny Valencia from Frostbite Falls.

"We've gotten back in the race, and our chances of actually winning a playoff spot is excellent," conceded Towers to reporters.  "Now we just have to hope that this club can avoid the kind of late-season injuries that have hamstrung their playoff runs in the past.   I'm not taking anything for granted."

St. Francis's magic number for clinching a post-season berth is 15, but they will likely need to go 17-6 or better in the final three weeks to have a realistic shot of overtaking both Brownsville and New England.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

RETOOLED AND HEALTHY, KANSANS MAKE PUSH

Winners of over 200 games the last two seasons, the St. Francis Kansans find themselves in unfamiliar territory entering August in BARB play:  in third place, nearly ten games back behind surprising Brownsville, and on a pace to barely finish above .500.

The St. Francis formula for success in 2013-14, an overwhelming edge in power in a lackluster division, is nowhere in evidence in the 2015 campaign.

The Kansans not only do not have way more 'pop' than rivals, they now toil in the reconfigured Grapefruit Division under new circumstances.

But St. Francis has not been idle.

FREE AGENTS, TRADES, ROOKIES BOLSTER ROSTER

The Kansans, aware that their rotation has question marks, have acquired RHP Michael Wacha from the Worcester Eliminators, sacrificing some of their future minor-league depth as players to be named.


At the same time, St. Francis has moved out expensive veterans like R.A. Dickey, Michael Cuddyer, Jon Niese and others in a series of moves that have opened up tens of millions of dollars in cap room in the second half when most BARB clubs are living at the razor's edge.  That allowed them the freedom to gamble on players that other BARB teams had shown no interest in pursuing.



NOW ADDING....ADAM WAINWRIGHT?

This has allowed Kansans GM Scott Hatfield to acquire a pair of high-performing free agents:  OF Gerardo Parra and injured free agent RHP Adam Wainwright.   Wainwright, recovering from an Achilles injury, is very much a long shot to have any impact in 2015, but signing him gives the club options going into 2016 to go behind Matt Harvey. 

The Kansans ace has been spectacular at times this year, but insiders believe that Harvey's workload may be approaching limits recommended by his doctors. 

"The bottom line is we are attempting to upgrade our rotation," Hatfield said, "and that means 2015 AND 2016.   A rotation that starts with Wainwright, and continues with Matt Harvey and Michael Wacha, is definitely an upgrade on anything we've ever had in the history of this organization.   And we' are going to continue to make moves to put us in position to reach the playoffs for the third year in a row."

As part of that effort, the Kansans have called up a pair of rookies (RHP Aaron Nola and LHP Steven Matz), and expect both to have an impact.

Also coming back:  IF Justin Turner, who had missed nearly three weeks with a leg injury, and rookie reliever Brandon Finnegan, who will fill the roster spot of closer Koji Uehara, lost for the season with a wrist injury.
 

But the biggest surprise was  C Kyle Schwarber:  still very raw behind the dish, "SchwaRBI" has been such a potent bat in the high minors that the Kansans couldn't keep him down on the farm a moment longer.

The early returns were not impressive, as the touted bat had only one HR in his first ten games with the club, but Hatfield was not deterred.  "Possibly the best pure hitter I've ever drafted," enthused the Kansans GM. "Now I just have to find a spot for him to play."



CLUB REMAINS OPTIMISTIC

"Are we going to win 100 games again?"  Hatfield intoned rhetorically to snoozing scribes, giving his best Donald Rumsfeld impersonation. "Probably not.   But is our lineup and rotation younger, healthier and recharged for a push?   Yes.  Is a playoff spot in play?   Very much so, given that there are two wild card teams in each division.   Do we think that the moves we made not only give us a better change of competing in Septermber, but next year?   Absolutely.  You can quote me on that."




Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A TALE OF TWO (KANSAS) FRANCHISES


‘It was the best of times . . . .it was the worst of times.’


The REAL Kansas GM

So begins one of Charles Dickens’ most beloved works of literature.   But it could well describe what Kansas baseball fans are encountering this year in BARB:  two clubs from different divisions, going in different directions, but forever linked by past rivalry and common geography.

One club, Scott Hatfield’s St. Francis Kansans, is enjoying a renaissance.   One year after leading all of BARB in runs scored, the 2014 wild-card club has taken up right where they left off:  leading the newly-formed Grapefruit Division in scoring, taking an early lead in wins with a 10-2 mark, and in general looking ready to compete for their fourth playoff berth in five seasons.   The 2009 expansion club endured 164 losses in its first two seasons, but with more than 360 wins since 2010 is now well over .500 in its history.   “We hope the best is yet to come,” Hatfield beamed.

Meanwhile, headed the other direction, the newly-rechristened Kansas City Rebels of Ronald Melkonian have set a league mark for futility:  the 2012 expansion club has averaged 100 losses a year since entering the league, and their 2015 campaign began with the club giving up a BARB-high 62 runs while dropping the first 11 games of the year.   “It’s the middle of the April, and they are nine games out,” marveled a rookie reporter tasked to cover the club’s nearly-empty stadium.

Hatfield had no sympathy for his in-state rival, who during 2014 conducted a ‘fire sale’ that lifted last year’s edition of the Casselton Horned Toads to a division title, relegating the Kansans to a wild-card spot and an eventual early playoff exit to the Yuma Firebirds.  “That was a tough pill to swallow,” admitted Hatfield. “The GM in question wanted half my club for Justin Upton, and when I turned him down flat, he (in his words) ‘powered up’ my chief rival.   And now, like a carpetbagger, he has once again abandoned his previous fans and set up in my territory.  So, sympathy?   Not a chance.   But I’ll talk trade if it serves the franchise’s interests.”

MAJOR TURNOVER SINCE 2011 PLAYOFF RUN

“Anyway,” Hatfield said, “in retrospect that 2011 stretch-drive collapse was the best thing that happened to the Kansans.   It was one of the more improbable moments in our league’s history, and certainly the best achievement of any club associated with that GM.   He got a remarkable hot streak from OF Andre Ethier, and that taught me a lesson: don’t set your goals so low.  Making the playoffs in our third year after expansion was our goal back then, but from that moment on we set our sights on building a stronger, deeper, more durable organization.   By and large, we achieved that, but it wasn’t easy?”

As a mark of that, consider that only a handful of players on the 2011 Kansans are still BARB regulars:   former cleanup man Jose Bautista now starts in RF for the Moabs, backup IF Todd Frazier is the starting 3B in Pottsylvania, and 2B Neil Walker has found regular duty in Casselton.    RHP Joaquin Benoit is a setup man in Oakland.  What happened to the rest?

Retired since then:  C Jason Varitek, 1B Paul Konerko, IF Kevin Youkilis, OF Vernon Wells and Johnny Damon, and P Roy Oswalt, Brett Myers, Heath Bell.  

Injured and possibly never to play in BARB again:  P Bronson Arroyo, Rafael Betancourt, Matt Guerrier and DH Jesus Montero

Hanging on as a bench player in BARB:   IF Alexei Ramirez, 1B Mark Reynolds,  OF Chris Young, P Rafael Delgado

No longer on a BARB roster:   U Kelly Johnson, P Ricky Nolasco, Scott Downs and Joe Saunders.


“When you get down to it,” admitted Hatfield, “while we were able to earn a berth in a so-so division, the 2011 edition of the Kansans was never that strong a club.   We had to get younger, stronger and deeper across the board. That was the turning point for our club, and  I think we’ve done that.  We're deep behind the plate, off the bench and in the rotation.   We finally have some starters that are comparable to the best in the league, and our offense is obviously clicking.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

OPENING WEEK IN THE NEW B.A.R.B.

EARLY RETURNS IN RECONFIGURED LOOP

With the three divisions of East, Central and West just a memory, the rebooted 2015 B.A.R.B. league began play in early May about a month behind "reality".   In the Cactus Division, perennial contender Yuma and emerging Brooklyn both jumped out to early 4-1 records on the strength of outstanding starting pitching.   Meanwhile, in the Grapefruit Division, it was offense that led the way, with Brownsville averaging over eight runs a game and St. Francis leading all of B.A.R.B. in runs scored.

Which is better?   Canny insiders suspect that the Cactus may become the new "Division of Death" with three former East clubs added to a mix that includes Yuma and Carolina.    This is especially bad news for the Kansas City Rebels, who have finished in the second division three years straight and began this season by dropping their first five games, scoring only six runs and being held scoreless in back-to-back games by Worcester.

Also struggling: Casselton (1-4), which has yielded a league-high 30 runs in the early going; Pottsylvania (1-4), whose best pitcher so far has been Josh Collmenter; and, most surprisingly, Santa Barbera (0-4).

KANSANS OFF TO HOT START

With three playoff berths and over 360 wins the last four seasons, the St. Francis Kansans have a lot to live up to in 2015.   Following an off-season trade of long-time cleanup hitter Jose Bautista, Scott Hatfield's club has retooled by adding bats through the draft and pitching via trades and free agency.

The early returns on the 2015 are better than anyone could've expected two months ago: after five games, St. Francis is undefeated, a perfect 5-0, and leads the league with 33 runs scored.  CF Michael Brantley, RF J.D. Martinez, SS Jhonny Peralta and utilityman Justin Turner (all 2015 draftees) have provided both average and power to balance an attack that in 2014 was slowed in the postseason by injuries to lefty sluggers Chris Davis and Pedro Alvarez.

Both Davis and Alvarez return, however, and the club has significant depth on offense: both Brian McCann and Carlos Santana have been added as versatile backups to starting C Salvador Perez; Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Cuddyer, Adam Lind and Marcus Semien all bring versatility to the roster as well.

Meanwhile, the club's new rotation (featuring former Santa Barbera lefty Gio Gonzalez) is expected to be bolstered soon by the return of "the Dark Knight", Matt Harvey.   With Aaron Harang, Jared Cosart and Wei-Yin Chen added as affordable free agents, the club will be nine deep in starting pitching without needing to tap its minor-league system.   The pitching staff's real question at this point will have more to do with the bullpen, which is stocked with effective ( but aging) strikeout pitchers:   Zach Duke, Pat Neshek, Fernando Rodney, Koji Uehara.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

KEVIN TOWERS MAKES THE FIRST MOVE

ADVISOR'S FIRST MOVE WITH CLUB IS A BIG ONE

A hastily-called press conference in the dead of night, in a filled press room, began with a stunning announcement that brought the room to a hush.

"Let's begin with the toughest nut in this piece," said Kevin Towers, special assistant to the St. Francis Kansans.  "We are trading Shin Soo-Choo.   He's a fan favorite who has always given his all. He was in this club's founding draft.   He's probably the best player from South Korea to ever appear in the big leagues...but, for a variety of reasons, some financial, some about this year, some about the next....we see an opportunity...and that means trading away this special player, when we are a month away from a possible post-season berth."

A reporter cleared his throat and leaned forward, question in hand.

"The actual trade," Towers continued with a rush, "is as follows:  St. Francis trades OF Shin Shoo Choo, RHP Brad Ziegler, OF Ryan Sweeney and a player to be named to the Brownsville  Cutters. In return, the Kansans receive OF Adam Dunn and reliever Matt Thornton.   Thanks for coming...and no more questions at this time."

Towers literally bolted behind a curtain and the press room roared its disapproval.  "Kevin!" one shouted, "Dunn has talked about retirement!   Can you comment on that?"   Another scribe simply screeched, in disbelief, "THORNTON?!?!"   Bedlam ensued, but it was no use:  Towers was gone, and the full story was obviously not going to be told any time soon.


Choo was unavailable for comment, but probably has to feel abandoned to be cut loose with a month to go in the regular season, after being a tremendous contributor in the first half to the club's success.

Team owner Scott Hatfield seemed sad, but defended the abrupt termination of Choo's time with the big league club.  "Nothing lasts forever," said the Head Kansan.  "We understand what Kevin is trying to do and we wish 'Big League' Choo the very best."


Friday, September 12, 2014

TOWERS TAKES THE REINS

COMMISSIONER HAYNES:

  
  

We haven't spoken before, but you may be aware of the fact that I have been engaged as a special assistant to the St. Francis Kansans in player acquisition, and I am authorized to conduct TRADES on behalf of the organization, effective August 20th of this year, following our stockholder's weekend conclave.