Saturday, June 25, 2011


There is an amusing benediction of sorts, for which any real baseball fan can appreciate the irony: "May you live in interesting times."

So it was that in late June, the St. Francis Friars confirmed that Jack McKeon, who had been serving as defacto GM for the organization, was named not only acting GM, but (in an interesting arrangement) the club's "co-field manager". As part of his increased responsibilities, McKeon will receive no additional salary but, as he assured reporters, "I will be getting an allowance for any additional Havanas I have to light up."

McKeon wasted no time in shaking things up, engaging in the rare 'Challenge Trade' with a team in his own division. Frustrated with the slow learning curve of Pedro Alvarez, "Trader" Jack dealt the second player selected in the 2008 amateur draft to division rival Philadelphia, along with minor-league OF Blake Smith.

In return, the Rebels somewhat curiously parted with a starting pitcher, RHP Ricky Nolasco (2-5, 5.60 in nine starts with the Rebels). Alvarez, attempting to earn playing time with the Friars, had found his route blocked by a pair of versatile (and productive) new starters, 3B/1B Kevin Youkilis and 3B/OF Jose Bautista.

With Youkilis hitting .335 with a league-leading 60 runs scored, and Bautista lead all of BARB with 19 HR, Alvarez found himself riding the bench. The rookie had gone 3-for-12 in brief duty before being sidelined by a minor injury.

"We don't think the kid's ready," said McKeon bluntly. "He's still a work in progress, swings at too many pitcher's pitches when he doesn't have to, still airmails throws on routine plays. He's got a guaranteed major-league contract ready to kick in, though, and it would be hard on the kid to have him up here and basically warm the pine. So, we think this is the best thing for him. He'll go to an organization where the player in front of him---A-Rod----is getting long in the tooth and will likely spend a lot of time in the future as a DH. We think a lot of him, and he's obviously the most talented player in this deal. But you can't make an egg without breaking a few omelettes."

"The big question is," McKeon continued, "is whether getting Nolasco, who has struggled, is going to help us. The sense I get is that Philadelphia thinks he won't help us all that much, because he's underachieved with them, and they would like to clear a roster spot for some talent that they see over the horizon. It's an unusual situation, dealing with a division rival. I asked GM Melkonian whether or not he understood that I was trying to steal his lunch money---which I am----and whether or not it made sense to basically sit down in the cafeteria and have lunch with me. Well, he has a different perspective, in which his organization has the pitching depth to make this deal. So, you know, don't look a gift horse in the mouth. We think having Nolasco helps us, even if he doesn't put up especially good numbers, because he is a young, affordable starting pitcher who can pile up K's in short stretches. If it doesn't work out with him in the rotation, perhaps he can fill a long relief role and we can give Correia more work. The bottom line is that we've had a lot of injuries to our pitching staff, and getting any arm at this point gives us a little breathing room. We'll know more about this trade by August."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Finding themselves four games above .500 (17-13) as May wound to a close, the St. Francis Friars mulled various possible moves as they attempt to make the transition from division doormat to contender!

Offense is not an issue: new additions like 1B Paul Konerko, 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis and 3B/OF Jose Bautista had provided improved pop, the team is strong up-the-middle defensively, and the bench (Neil Walker, Felix Pie, Jason Varitek, Juan Uribe) has already contributed.

Pitching, on the other hand, shows signs of strain. Season-ending injuries (Jorge De La Rosa, Joel Zumaya, Dallas Braden) to several hurlers have put pressures on the entire pitching staff, but especially on a rotation that was already regarded as more workmanlike than stellar.

"Every club needs pitching, even if they say they don't," claimed acting GM "Trader Jack" McKeon. "The question is, do we want to make a deal now, or should we wait until there are more 'sellers' on the market, and hope the price for a veteran starter comes down? There are arguments to be made on both sides of that equation."

Part of the caution stems from the realization that LHP Zach Britton appears ready to contribute to the rotation now, while another pair of prospects (Randall Delgado, Mike Montgomery) seem likely to earn callups in August, potentially bolstering the roster again. There is also the versatile Kevin Correia, back at AAA, but available to make a spot start or even move into the rotation should St. Francis lose another veteran to injury.

The recent actions of division rivals may be urging against caution, however. On the one hand, the willingness of division rival Philadelphia to make a bold move to acquire another starter (Shawn Marcum) from last year's Central Division winner (Casselton) further leverages that club's perceived advantage in the starting rotation....but at the cost of helping the Horned Toads pick up some quality bats (Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson, Asdrubal Cabrera, Scott Rolen) who will presumably bring Landon Bolt's underachieving club back to the middle of the pack, offensively.

"Bottom line: our rivals in the division aren't sitting on their hands," said a cigar-chomping McKeon. They aren't going to let us run away with anything. So we are open to dealing prospects to acquire pitching."


In a surprising move, the Friars have released oft-injured RHP Joel Zumaya and stymied minor-league batting prospect Wes Dorrell, moves that will cost them nearly $2 million on the open market.

Zumaya has an electric arm that can touch triple digits when healthy, but has always been more of a thrower than a pitcher. His latest bout on the disabled list convinced management that even if healthy sometime this season, he was unlikely to do much of anything other than take up a roster spot for a more durable hurler.

As for Dorrell, once a coveted college bat, insiders speculate that he may have lost the desire to compete at a higher level. "We've heard retirement talk," said one family member, "and we don't see anything about his recent performance to lead us he was going to do anything but quit chasing the dream. We thought the organization should know."

Management hinted that the struggles of the injured Brandon Lyon could also mean that the club's "franchise pitcher" tag was premature, and that the versatile swing man could face release rather than guaranteeing a $4 million salary in 2012.