Monday, August 27, 2012


In a bitter news conference, St. Francis Friars owner Scott Hatfield confirmed that the monk-operated franchise had thrown in the towel on a 2012 season that had begun with a "fire sale" and ended, for all practical purposes, with the injury to slugger Jose Bautista.

"With Bautista, we are an elite team in terms of scoring runs," Hatfield said ruefully.  "Without him, we move back to the middle of the pack, offense-wise....and despite improvements to our bullpen, our starting pitching has not been good enough to keep us competitive with Jose out."

Noticeably absent: longtime "acting" GM Jack McKeon, who has returned to the racetracks and boardwalks of his Florida retirement community, and who apparently no longer even advises management on player movement.  "Jack served the Friars very well in a transition period," said Hatfield when asked about McKeon's absence. "Jack was the inspiration for our 2011 team that shocked the Central Division and made the playoffs, but I think if he was here he would understand the direction we feel forced to go."

Hatfield was red-faced during the brief and bitter moments that followed.  "As you know, I feel that our division rivals in Arizona have been extraordinarily fortunate in making the playoffs last year, and don't think too much of their organization's moves the last year.   But personal feelings shouldn't blind thoughtful people to opportunities, and so, no matter how much it hurts to swallow this pill, I'm here to report that the Rattlesnakes have essentially caught us in the standings with their pile of free agents, and they....that is to say, their GM, Ronald Melkonian, seems to feel that acquiring a pitcher can make them a contender for a playoff spot.   After last season's improbable chain of events, I can see where they might think that."

"I therefore announce that Arizona has agreed to take on the contract of injured RHP Shawn Marcum, who is currently rehabbing in the minors, along with left-handed hitting 2B Kelly Johnson.   In return, St. Francis will receive IF Aaron Hill, LHP Zach Britton and two minor-leaguers to be named later.    Ironically, both Hill and Johnson have been traded for each other in reality.....and, more painfully, both Marcum and Britton were previously swapped between the two teams.   I don't see this as a blockbuster, but just another building block.   Perhaps if Arizona rattles off ten straight wins and gets back in contention, this will be considered their turning point."

Friday, February 24, 2012


Due a $16,000,000 payday if he was on the spring training roster, veteran RHP Roy Oswalt was non-tendered by the Friars for the purpose of cutting the club's "franchise player."

Oswalt had been with the club since 2010, after being acquired in a trade along with prospects from the Brooklyn Moabs, a trade that in retrospect seems to be key step in a series of moves that laid the ground work for last season's playoff run. Oswalt was effective at points in the season, going 9-4 with a 2.78 ERA, but was often dinged up. Observers speculated at times as to whether or not Oswalt would retire in mid-season, not just after the campaign. But, despite all the doubts, Oswalt pitched credibly in the playoffs and talked up his desire to return for another season of BARB baseball.

Management, however, looked at the tea leaves and decided that $16 M was too much to risk for a 34-year-old who had made only 17 regular-season starts for the Friars, who signaled their intention to go in another direction in the last week, dealing away veterans Paul Konerko, Kevin Youkilis and Heath Bell. The move lowered the Friars payroll to $126 million prior to the Draft.

Oswalt can now be signed by any team other than St. Francis through this year's impending Draft.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


In what is likely his final month on the job, GM "Trader" Jack McKeon made the "fire sale" rhetoric in St. Francis a reality, trading away three high-priced veterans from last season's playoff club: 1B Paul Konerko, 3B Kevin Youkilis and stretch-drive closer Heath Bell in separate deals with (respectively) Pottsylvania, Los Angeles and Casselton.

That all of these deals were with divisional rivals far better-positioned to make a run at a playoff spot did not escape the media's attention, nor the nearly $23 million sliced from the salary cap. Of all the deals, McKeon seemed most depressed by the loss of Konerko, a team leader who had been with the club since the middle of the 2011 season. "The guy is a leader," sighed a groggy McKeon over breakfast at a local diner that the Friars GM evidently preferred over the hotel buffet. "He led by example, never got too high, too low. A great influence on our younger players, and a solid hitter. Pottsylvania will be happy to have him."

To get Paul Konerko, the Creepers parted with three prospects not expected to be impact players in 2012: LHP Sean West (who missed all of last season with injury), RHP Jason Knapp (returning to A ball after surgery) and 3B Tommy Mendoca, an original draft pick of the Friars. Mendoca, who was hitting .347 in AA at mid-season, tumbled back to Earth after a tragic car accident claimed the lives of two of his best friends from high school.

To get Heath Bell, the Casselton Horned Toads sent a veteran reliever (Mike Adams), along with a pair of former prospects on hard times (1B Matt LaPorta and SS Reid Brignac) who are no longer seen as sure things to become big-league regulars. LaPorta will face intense competition in spring to make the roster, McKeon confirmed, while Brignac seems assured of a backup role.

To get Kevin Youkilis, the Los Angeles Isotopes dealt veteran starter Aaron Harang, along with a Grade B pitching prospect (RHP Zach Stewart) and highly-touted minor-league IF Hak-Ju Lee. The Isotopes also picked up an extra seventh-round pick in this year's Draft while sending their eighth-rounder to the Friars. Stewart could conceivably get some starts this season and gives the club some minor-league insurance against injury, but Lee is unlikely to appear in a Friars uniform until 2013, at the earliest.

The acquisitions of Brignac, Harang and Adams were believed likely to trigger other decisions on players deemed too expensive for the club's future plans, but McKeon (signing baseballs for fans with a somber expression) refused to comment further. "Look, pal," McKeon said gruffly to one reporter, "It's like when you're sending your kid away to college. You know that they've got a good future ahead of them, but they're moving away, and they won't be living with you anymore, and that's just all you can say about it. We have high hopes about the players we're getting, but how that affects everything else right now, just to soon to say, OK?"

Monday, February 6, 2012


The St. Francis Friars appear to be in an organizational shakeup, with neither GM "Trader" Jack McKeon or any of the largely-invisible members of the Celestine Order publicly commenting on any aspect of team activity during the 2012 off-season.

The 2009 expansion club made it all the way to the top of the BARB roost in 2012, with one of the loop's top offenses scoring runs at a club-record pace until around August. After that, an injury epidemic to both left-handed starters (Braden, Delarosa, Richard) and left-handed hitting (Choo, Youkilis) transformed the 2011 Friars into a more average club. They faded badly in September, limping into the playoffs as a wild card while the surprising (and, frankly, left-for-dead) Philadelphia franchise caught them for the Central Division title. Yuma made short shrift of St. Francis in the playoffs, sending the Friars home, their mission unaccomplished.

Now, with the news that the league may expand again circulating through its front offices, McKeon and the rest of his management team are playing their cards close to their vest: they will have relatively poor draft position and moved significant young talent to make their playoff run last season, and a press release confirms that the club's chief priority at this time is simply to cut salary, as the following brief snippet details:

"Feb. 4th---For immediate distribution----The St. Francis Friars announced that they were releasing the following players:

C Taylor Teagarden
OF Vernon Wells
OF Felix Pie
RHP Jason Frasor
RHP Brandon Lyon


Not exactly a wealth of information! The moves will save the club nearly $30 million next season, but with $185 million still committed on paper, this is an organization on a collision with fiscal reality, that will need to trim $60 million simply to meet the league's cap.