Thursday, January 30, 2014

Stuffed Tomatoes with Rice and Mint

Last Friday, we had our neighbors over from across the street for dinner.  It was pretty depressing to see them walk 150 feet bundled up like they were getting ready to compete in the Iditarod, but such is life in the wake of the Polar Vortex 2014.

For dinner, we went Greek.  The main course was a roast pork tenderloin.  I made a 9 x 13 of spanokopita (which could have been the main dish, but we had the remains for lunch the next day) and stuffed tomatoes.

I prepared the tomatoes by cutting off the cap and reserving it.  I scooped out all the pulp and seeds and tossed them out.  To get the tomatoes to drain completely, I turned them upside down on the cutting board.

In a skillet, I sauteed some diced yellow onion and minced garlic in olive oil, then added a 1/2 cup of white rice.  Once the rice was coated, I added some chicken broth and simmered the rice for 15-20 minutes until it was al dente.

While the rice was going, I took some feta, olive oil, and chopped fresh mint and put them in a small bowl.  I mashed the feta with the oil and got it to a creamy consistency.  Once the rice was done cooking and had absorbed nearly all of the liquid, I added that mix in to the feta-mint mix.  I added a little salt and pepper, as well.

The rice/feta/mint amalgamation was evenly distributed among the four hollowed out tomatoes.  I then replaced the caps on the tomatoes and gently poured water around them as they were sitting in an 8 x 8 baking dish.  The tomatoes were cooked at 400 for 45 minutes and came out tender with tremendous flavor inside.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Would a Ryan Braun trade to the Yankees make sense?

Doing a post involving my two least favorite baseball teams probably means that it is late January and there's nothing else baseball related to talk about.  You're probably right.  Like a moth to a flame, I'm repeatedly drawn to Cot's Baseball Contracts and I study the five-year salary projection charts constantly.

By my reckoning, if I could have re-channeled all the amount of useless knowledge in my head, like how much salary the Brewers have committed from 2014-19, I could have cured a disease by now.  Not a major one, like cancer, but a minor one.  Lupus, maybe?

Both the Brewers and Yankees are in desperate need of rebuilds, but neither one is ready to admit it.  The Brewers are on the verge of signing Matt Garza to a reported 4 year/$52M contract.  At least he won't cost them their 1st round pick, like signing Kyle Lohse last year did.  I mention this all the time, but the Brewers are going to be bad.  Not just in 2014, but for the next few years.  Once Garza is signed, the Brewers are going to have close to a $100M opening day payroll in 2014.  All for the pleasure of finishing with no more than 75 wins, probably.

For the 2015 season, though, they'll shed Aramis Ramirez, Yovani Gallardo, and Rickie Weeks' contracts ($39.5M) and still have $53M of commitments, assuming Garza is $13M evenly over his four years.  Ryan Braun will be making $13M himself in 2015; however, in 2016 his extension to his extension kicks in and he will start making $20M.  For a small-mid market team like the Brewers, even if their payroll will be around $100M (thanks to the new national TV contract adding $27M per year), that seems excessive.  Especially when they don't project to be very good.  Their farm system is atrocious.  I put it as the 2nd worst, ahead of only the scorched-earth farm of the Angels.

The Brewers have nice pieces, but not enough to compete with the Cards, Pirates, and Reds over the next five years.  If the plethora of prospects possessed by the Cubs turn out, coupled with their ability to outspend the rest of the NL Central, the Brewers could easily find themselves in the basement for a while.

And that's where the Yankees come in.  After the 2014 season, the Yankees will potentially lose three outfielders in Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, and Alfonso Soriano.  They'll only have Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran to play CF and RF, respectively, even though Beltran should really switch to DH.  That leaves a gaping hole in LF.

The Yankees just signed Masahiro Tanaka to a 7 year/$155M deal, along with Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, so clearly they aren't thinking of rebuilding.  Their farm system is also very bad, probably in the bottom five, so help won't be coming in the form of cost-controlled talent.  The Yankees' idea of rebuilding is buying new talent from trades or free agency.

Let's say that Ryan Braun comes back from his PED suspension in 2014 and puts up a still very good line of .290/.360/.540 with 35 HR's.  Not his peak numbers, but still very, very respectable.

Couldn't you see the Yankees being interested in bringing him on board in 2015 (his age-31 season) and plugging him into LF?  The Brewers could either get out from under his potentially crushing contract of $20M+/season until 2020 and maybe get a prospect or two from the Yankees in the process.  The financial relief alone would help the Brewers re-allocate their resources to the next great corps of Brewers talent.

This really all depends on what the Brewers' owner thinks of Ryan Braun as a person.  If he's fine with his lying about the first drug test, thrown out on a technicality, and his involvement in Biogenesis, then that's fine.  You're made for each other.  But if he's secretly seething about hitching his wagon to a cheater, this could be an opportunity to move on from Braun.

Just something to think about after this offseason.  If you need me, I'll be disappearing down the rabbit hole of Cot's Contracts for a little bit longer.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Kaleidoscope Cafe

This past week was Restaurant Week in Pittsburgh.  A whole slew of restaurants had special pricing (mostly at $20.14 per entree), so DB~ and I thought it would be a good chance to try a new restaurant out.

After looking over the list of restaurants, we selected Kaleidoscope Cafe in Lawrenceville.  It's a couple blocks off of Butler Street (towards the river) on 43rd Street.  It's nestled among a series of rowhouses in this primarily residential area.  In case you're wondering if you're going to walk past this restaurant, even at night, don't worry about that.  If you clicked the link above, you'll see that the exterior of the restaurant is painted in a series of bright colors and patterns.

The interior is much more sedate, with a yellowish/brown primary color scheme and some cloth textures hung from the ceiling to create a wavelike pattern.  The walls have a series of stuffed sewing-cloth triangles mounted on the walls.  It's a small restaurant, probably no more than 15 tables.

For Restaurant Week, Kaleidoscope had five specials, each for $20.14 from the regular menu (all but the Filet Mignon).  Additionally, you got either a small salad or cup of soup with it.  It was a cold, bleak night, so we each got the Smoked Potato Soup.

It was quite good and hearty on a night like this.

For dinner, DB~ went back to basics and got the Oven Roasted Salmon.  It came with a wild mushroom risotto, but sadly it was not like Kandouri's in Greece.  She didn't really care for the bok choy that it also came with.

I got the half of a Cornish Hen.  It was moist on the inside and had crispy skin on the outside.  The sauce of shallots, figs, and grape tomatoes was excellent.  The garlic mashed potatoes were fairly average, but the roasted squash was kind of hard and rather tasteless.

Overall, we were glad to have found this restaurant that we otherwise may not have known about.  We won't be rushing back to it, but it was good nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

If I Were a Free Agent (American League)

This is the 2nd part of my hypothetical thought exercise, but this time with AL teams.  For the reasoning and scoring rubric, check out the first post.

15.  Oakland (8 points)
       OWN (2) -- Lou Wolff is actively trying to get out of Oakland and move to San Jose, to the point of supporting a mayoral candidate in the most recent election who would be in favor of not building the A's a new stadium.  He routinely gives miserly budgets to Billy Beane, who is the reason this category is not a 1.
        COMP (4) -- Because Beane is a dark wizard, the A's are going to be competitive for the foreseeable future, even without a stellar farm at the moment.
        QOL (1) -- Oakland is a ghetto and completely crime-ridden.  There is no earthly reason that I would live in this city.
        STAD (1) -- The A's stadium had sewage backups in the locker room and main areas last year.  It's an ugly multi-purpose stadium and the fans are sparse.  Plus...hooligans.

14.  Houston (8 points)
       OWN (1) -- But for the disgrace of Jeffrey Loria goes Jim Crane, an equally detestable human being who has already not endeared himself to the fans.  He also seems to have wandered into a streetfight with the regional sports network, which is going to hamper the team's financial outputs to salary.
       COMP (2) -- I love what GM Jeff Luhnow has done and their farm is top of the line, but I don't see much of an existing base to build off of.  There doesn't appear to be a transformational McCutchen-type of player (maybe George Springer if you squint) and the farm is still 2-3 years from bringing up the waves of talent.  Plus, when it comes, you're still in with LAA, TEX, OAK, and maybe SEA.
       QOL (2) -- Houston is a sprawled out metropolis that seems hot, dusty, and full of ignorant oil-soaked Texans.  I can't think of any interesting feature about Houston that someone has every mentioned.
       STAD (3) -- Minute Maid is a quirky stadium that does have some charms.  If I'm a free agent hitter, it would be a paradise.  The fans have seemed supportive of the Astros when they were competent in the past, especially towards stars like Bagwell and Biggio.

13.  Tampa Bay (10 points)
       OWN (3) -- Stuart Sternberg and the front office are extremely competent people and well ahead of the curve.  The stadium situation, though, seems untenable, and the Rays are on shoestring budgets because of it.  They are constantly looking to flip players for prospects, short of Evan Longoria who is going to be "their guy".
       COMP (4) -- Andrew Friedman is the best GM in the game and masterfully flips his stars for new potential stars.  Their own homegrown farm has really dried up, due to drafting later and missing badly on some picks.
       QOL (2) -- My friend Asian Rob lived in Tampa for many years and I would visit him a few times.  Tampa, like most of Florida, is kind of skeevy (cue 5'ish comment).  However, being on the Bay is nice and Ybor City (although dangerous) is pretty cool.  I just wouldn't want to live here and raise a family.
       STAD (1) -- The Trop is, perhaps, the worst park in baseball.  It has no charm and the fans don't show up because it is in an inconvenient location.

12.  Baltimore (13 points - tie)
       OWN (2) -- I have a lot of family in Baltimore.  It's kind of my second city, so when I say that Peter Angelos is despised by the city, it's true.  He's difficult to deal with and is a notorious micro-manager.  They should be spending more than they do on payroll.
      COMP (3) -- Baltimore has a solid team and some promising young arms on the farm (Bundy, Gausman), but they're in a tough division.  Their farm after Bundy/Gausman thins out quickly.  They always seem to be 1-2 players short.
       QOL (3) -- There's a reason people said 'The Wire' was so realistic.  Downtown Baltimore is sketchy and filled with drug-soaked areas.  There's some cool areas and some areas that are being redeveloped that wouldn't be bad to live in, though.  Surprisingly, aside from Little Italy, the food scene isn't that dynamic and the arts are just middle of the road.  But...they got crabs!
       STAD (5) -- Camden Yards is where all the neo-retro stadiums started from and it still holds up.  That warehouse backdrop is pretty sweet.

11.  Chicago (13 points - tie)
       OWN (3) -- Jerry Reinsdorf has always struck me as being a rich cheapskate with the Sox, even though he plowed a lot of money into them in recent years.  I don't know...just a bad vibe off of him.
       COMP (3) -- The Sox are in the midst of a rebuild.  They made some good bridge moves this past offseason and have the makings of a decent team, but the farm lacks impact talent at the moment (they have the #2 pick in the 2014 draft).
       QOL (5) -- Much like with the Cubs in the NL piece (who were my #1 choice), the City of Chicago has everything I would want in a city if I were living downtown.
       STAD (2) -- Built in the same era as Camden, US Cellular Field went the bland route over the neo-retro.  Big mistake.  It is a soulless ball park and the fans are rough around the edges on the South Side.  The tiebreaker with BAL is that I would rather live in Chicago than Baltimore.

10.  Detroit (14 points - tie)
       OWN (5) -- Mike Illitch, he of the world's worst toupee, is bound and determined to get a World Series championship to DET, even if he has to spend every dime of his kids' inheritances.  That's pretty much what you want from an owner.
       COMP (4) -- Because of their large-market payroll in a mid-market, they'll be right there for the next 5 years.  GM Dave Dombrowski is historically very good at his job on the major league trade and free agency level, which makes up for their terrible farm system.
       QOL (1) -- Detroit is a bankrupt, burned-out husk of what used to be a great American city.  You could not pay me money to live in downtown Detroit, no matter how cool some hipsters are trying to make it by renovating old buildings.  Anthony Bourdain's recent Parts Unknown episode to Detroit was one hour of solid "ruin porn".
       STAD (4) -- Comerica seems like a pretty cool stadium.  The fans really support the Olde English D, too, which is great.

9.   Los Angeles (14 points - tie)
      OWN (5) -- Arte Moreno dumps a ton of money into this team and is relentless in trying to get a winner.  He may meddle a little too much, but he's persistent in funding the team.
      COMP (3) -- The Angels have a huge payroll and the best player in baseball, but also have some real bloated contracts and albatrosses.  Their farm system is scorched-earth bleak.  There is nothing...and I mean nothing...on the farm.
      QOL (3) -- I gave LA a "2" in the Dodgers writeup, but technically the Angels are in Anaheim, which is a little more family-friendly (Disney!), so it gets a bonus point.
      STAD (3) -- Angels Stadium seems very cromulent, especially with those rocks behind the outfield wall.

8.   New York (14 points - tie)
      OWN (4) -- Obviously, aside from Plan 189 going into 2014, the Yankees will spend whatever needs to be spent to try and bring home a winner.  I docked them a point because I couldn't stomach working for the Steinbrenners.
      COMP (3) -- The Yanks have some really bloated contracts and their farm is awful.  They'll be on the edges of the race, especially after 2014's potentially bleak season, but I'm not sure if they will be on the short list of WS Winners in the next 5 years.
      QOL (3) -- Same as the writeup on NY from the NL side of things.  It's just too big of a city for me, even with all the amenities.
      STAD (4) -- It's a gorgeous and opulent stadium, but it seems too rich for my blood.  All of the fans have been squeezed out by the ridiculous ticket prices, in favor of corporate types.

7.   Kansas City (14 points - tie)
      OWN (3) -- David Glass has billionaire money, but has kept KC on the small-market budget for years.  He's opened up a little lately, but like the Pirates I don't think they will retain top talent consistently.
      COMP (3) -- They have a nice core on the team and some intriguing pieces on the farm.  I think they'll be a challenge to DET in the AL Central this year, but MIN is coming on strong, too.  I don't like their GM, at all.
      QOL (4) -- Kansas City seems hearty.  Midwestern.  Solid.  Boring.  Should be a '3', but they get a bonus point for all of the mouth watering BBQ (Arthur Bryant's et al).
      STAD (4) -- Kaufmann Stadium is a cool stadium that is becoming an "old" stadium, just because everyone is getting a new stadium.  I've always like the waterfall feature.  It comes down to the way of life (and BBQ) for this 4-way tiebreaker.

6.   Cleveland (15 points - tie)
      OWN (4) -- The Dolans have been kind of cheap in the past, but they pre-spent on their new local TV contract last year and brought in some talent.  They aren't going to go hog wild to retain or attract new talent, but I think things turned the corner.
      COMP (3) -- DET is the better team and will be for a while, but CLE is very solid.  Their farm, aside from SS Francisco Lindor, is not good at all.
      QOL (3) -- Cleveland gets a bad rap from Pittsburghers, but it's a pretty cool spot, with a growing food scene.  The downtown itself is riddled with potholes and seems like they have no money, but I could live in the immediate area (especially across the river in Ohio City).  The winters here are brutal, though.
       STAD (5) -- I love Progressive Field.  Good setting, easy access.  But where are the fans?  I know CLE loves their sports.

5.   Minnesota (15 points - tie)
      OWN (4) -- The Pohlad sons are not miserly like their deceased father.  They have spent big money to retain talent in recent years, including on franchise icon Joe Mauer.  They addressed pitching this offseason with some decent money, too.
      COMP (4) -- They are presently bad, but their extremely loaded farm system will start in 2015 to supply high-end talent like Buxton, Sano, and Meyer.  They can easily be back on top in 2016.
      QOL (3) -- I'm sure Minneapolis is very wholesome and good for raising a family, but those winters must be a fit-throwing hell ride.
      STAD (4) -- Target Field is kind of on our short list of places to go, as DB~ (for whatever reason) has mentioned how cool it looks.  Their fans are patient and loyal, too.

4.   Toronto (15 points - tie)
      OWN (4) -- The Rogers Media group seems to treat the Jays like a tax write-off at times, but they are willing to make a stab at winning with an increased payroll in recent years.
      COMP (3) -- Alex Anthopoulos may be a madman or a genius, depending on the day, but he's always looking to improve.  Like BAL, they're stuck in a tough division with BOS and NYY spending and TB in terms of talent and GM genius.
      QOL (5) -- The Chicago of Canada.  I love Toronto and am willing to overlook how nasty the winters are.  I would immediately get season tickets for the Leafs and a heavy parka and deal with it.
      STAD (3) -- Rogers Centre is a bland dome, but it's an offensive environment and the fans are Canadian-polite and passionate.

3.   Seattle (15 points - tie)
      OWN (3) -- There's the Nintendo corporation behind this team, ready to put money in to get Robinson Cano and retain Felix Hernandez, if needed.  But man, they're upper management seems to be rough to deal with and despised by the fans.
      COMP (3) -- There's some present talent here and the farm is supplying a steady flow for the next few years, but TEX and OAK (plus a lurking LAA) will make this a tough road.  They may be on the fringe of the playoffs once, maybe twice, in the next 5 years.
      QOL (4) -- I don't drink coffee, but I suppose I would have to start.  Outdoorsy, great food scene, lot of culture.  I've never been, but I really want to go.  Docked a point for the rain and clouds.
      STAD (5) -- DB~ has been here and raved about it.  The retractable roof is 'eh', but I'm overlooking it here.  The tiebreaker is that SEA combines a good city with an up-and-coming team.

2.   Texas (17 points)
      OWN (5) -- The Rangers have plowed ample amounts of money into the team.
      COMP (5) -- Jon Daniels is a great, great GM.  They have a steady farm system and the best on-paper team in the division for the foreseeable future.
      QOL (3) -- I spent a month in Dallas one weekend.  By the end, I was thinking JFK got off easy.  Maybe it would be better if I went back.  It's way better than Houston, for sure.
      STAD (4) -- It's a clean and fancy stadium, but it was some fashion when I was there.  Too much of a bandbox, maybe, but the fans were very passionate.

1.   Boston (19 points) 
      OWN (5) -- John Henry and company plow unbelievable money into the payroll.  If they want a FA, they'll be in the mix.
      COMP (5) -- Great GM, team is coming off a WS win, fantastic farm system.  This is the perfect storm of present and future talent.
      QOL (4) -- Boston has a ton of things to do, recreationally and culturally.  Food there is great.  I just felt like it was a little too insular, too 'you're not from here' for my taste when I was there.
      STAD (5) -- Next to Wrigley, this is THE place as a baseball fan.  I imagine it would be very cool as a player with those fans, too.

19 out of 20, Boston.  Just nobody tell my Boston Red Sox-loving sister-in-law they scored this high.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

If I Were a Free Agent (National League)....

It's January, it's miserable weather outside, so how about a good ol' fashioned thought exercise?
If I were a free agent in baseball, and all teams were interested in me equally and money was equal, where would I go?

First let's set some ground rule assumptions and explain the methodology.  Assume that I'm 29 with a wife and a small child, so I won't be as interested in whoring around a town as if I were a 22 year old rookie.  Also assume that we would live either in the city or just on the edge of it, because I don't want to have to drive 60 minutes and fight rush hour traffic to get to the ballpark.

So here's four criteria that I would set up to evaluate each team if I were a free agent:
1.  Ownership (OWN) -- Do I trust the owners?  Is it a stable ownership situation?  I don't want to work for people that the community doesn't respect or like.
2.  Competitiveness (COMP) -- Let's say I'm looking for a 5 year contract as a free agent.  Is the team going to be competitive over the next 5 years?  I don't want to go somewhere and immediately have the team go into a rebuild.  This also factors in the farm system to replenish talent.
3.  Quality of Life (QOL) -- This is kind of an all-encompassing view of the city.  Is it safe?  Are there things to do, both recreationally and culturally?  How's the food scene (of course I'm factoring that in)?
4.  Stadium (STAD) -- I want to have a nice place to work so the stadium and the fans that contribute to the atmosphere are important.

I'm going to go through each of the 15 National League teams and score each of them in each category on a scale of 1 to 5.  Let's see where they all grade out.

15.  Miami (5 points)
      OWN (1) -- Basically, Jeffrey Loria is a detestable human being and a horrible owner
      COMP (1) -- The Marlins are bad now, their farm system is pretty bad so what-you-see-is-what-you-get, and Loria won't spend money to improve it
      QOL (2) -- Miami is dangerous.  It's also full of fake, plastic people.  I'm not Adonis over here, so the appeal of South Beach wouldn't appeal to me or my young family.  Only positive is that Florida has no state income tax, so cha-ching, more money for us.
      STAD (1) -- The stadium looks atrocious, that center field sculpture is an affront to good aesthetics, and it's hard as hell to hit homers there.

14.  New York (8 points)
       OWN (1) -- The Wilpons are not vile like Loria, but they got mixed up in the Bernie Madoff thing and lost a ton of the Mets money, thus crippling the franchise.  They also make a lot of bad baseball decisions on big money guys.
       COMP (2) -- The Mets have some pieces in play on the team, especially on the pitching side, with more on the horizon.  They should be spending around $150M per year, since they're a New York team, so you have to think that spending will increase at some point.  However, a cloud still hangs over the team on the finances.
       QOL (3) -- I'm not a fan of New York City, as I freely admit it's too big for me, but it is New York City.  There are a nigh-infinite amount of things to do and restaurants to sample.  The best actors are here for plays, TV shows, and movies.  But it's still NY and it's still dirty.
       STAD (2) -- Citi Field is kind of bland for me and it's a tough offensive environment, but it's new and clean and the fans are loyal.

13.  Milwaukee (10 points)
       OWN (4) -- Mark Attanasio seems like a pretty devoted owner that is willing to go for it when the opportunity presents itself like it did a few years ago.
       COMP (1) -- The Brewers are not going to be good in 2014, their farm system is terrible, and I think they have a long road to hoe to get back to the playoffs.  They need to sell off some bad contracts, trade some good players, and rebuild the farm.  Plus, I would not want to say I'm teammates with Ryan Braun.
       QOL (2) -- I have never been to Milwaukee, but I'm going to guess it's not a ton of fun.  The weather is kind of rough and I can't imagine there's a lot of culture vultures up there.  But, hey, sausages!
       STAD (3) -- Miller Park seems kind of sterile and I'm not wild about retractable roofs, but I have to imagine their fans are extremely loyal to the team.

12.  Philadelphia (11 points)
      OWN (4) -- I don't much about David Montgomery, but he sure seems willing to keep this team well-funded for the payroll.  I docked him a point for the seeming unwillingness to admit it's time to rebuild.  The Phils just keep getting older.
      COMP (2) -- This team is on the decline and their farm isn't very good.  However, they may try and buy their way out of trouble on the free agent market in the coming years.
      QOL (3) -- Philly has a lot going on, the food scene is good, plus it's situated well for a trip to NYC, Boston, or Baltimore for the family if we were interested.
      STAD (2) -- Citizens Bank Park is tiny and seems kind of sub-par for being new.  The Philly fans are notorious for being rude, inconsiderate, and obnoxious, plus quick to turn on players.

11.  Arizona (12 points)
      OWN (3) -- Ken Kendrick and his ownership group seem OK, but the team has had some questionable financial moves over the years, with a lot of deferred debt that hamstrung the team for a while.  Currently, they're funding the team adequately.
      COMP (3) -- I'm not a huge fan of the work of GM Kevin Towers, but he's active and always trying to improve (at least in theory).  They have a good farm to supplement the majors, too.  The team in the present will be competitive.
      QOL (3) -- Phoenix is really nice if you like a desert climate.  In the summer, when I would be here most, it's hot like a sauna which is kind of a bummer.  But it's always sunny, at least.  There's not a whole lot of culture to the area, but the readily available Mexican and Southwestern food would appeal to me.
      STAD (3) -- I've been to Chase Field when the roof was closed and it resembles an airplane hanger.  The fans are pleasant enough, but because many are transplants from elsewhere, I would never feel like there were "true" fans.

10.  Atlanta (13 points - tie)
       OWN (3) -- Liberty Media Group owns them, but they've kind of treated the Braves like a line item with a fixed budget that can't be exceeded.  They're also moving the stadium from downtown to Cobb County, kind of like the Cranberry Township of Atlanta, and forcing it all on the taxpayers.
       COMP (4) -- They have a solid front office and always seem to be steady.  They'll make a move or two, if they feel they have a chance, which is all you can ask for.  The farm is pretty down right now, but there's enough in ATL to keep it solid for the next few years.
       QOL (3) -- I've never had a burning desire to visit Atlanta.  We connected through there a few times, but that's it.  There's a lot to do and you're relatively close to the ocean for vacation.
       STAD (3) -- As mentioned, the Braves are leaving the 1996 Olympic-built Turner Field for greener pastures in Cobb County.  There will be a new stadium while I'm there as a theoretical free agent, but who knows what it will be like and what the fans will be like.

9.   Cincinnati (13 points - tie)
      OWN (3) -- Bob Castellini seems pretty solid and he's kept the Reds well-funded.  They definitely have an upper limit on their payroll, though.
      COMP (4) -- The Reds are going to be there for the next few years and they have a few impact pieces still on the farm, even if the overall farm is so-so.
      QOL (3) -- Cincy is kind of a mirror image of Pittsburgh, but it can get a little rednecky in spots, too.
      STAD (3) -- Great American Ball Park is kind of cheesy and it's a bandbox, but their fans seem pleasant enough.  The tiebreaker is basically, 'would I rather live in ATL or CIN?' and it's come down to CIN.

8.   Washington (14 points - tie)
      OWN (5) -- The Lerners keep the Nats well-funded and want to win.  They're a premier destination for free agents because of the willingness to spend.
      COMP (4) -- The Nats are going to be good for the foreseeable future, but their farm is kind of blah.
      QOL (2) -- Washington is congested, humid as hell in summer, and government driven 1st, 2nd , and 3rd.
      STAD (3) -- The park looks nice, but Anacostia is sort of a neighborhood in transition.  The Nats are still "new" to the city and it's seems like most people that attend are lobbyists entertaining clients.

7.   Los Angeles (14 points - tie)
      OWN (5) -- Stan Kasten and the Guggenheim will spend whatever is necessary. They are the Yankees of the West.
      COMP (4) -- The Dodgers are going to be contenders, but they could get to be a conglomeration of all-stars and not a true team.  The farm is so-so, at best.
      QOL (2) -- LA is a sprawled-out mess that is also full of fake people, mostly transplants trying to parasite off of someone else in the city.  There's a lot to do, but no one to befriend to do it with.
      STAD (3) -- Dodger Stadium has a nice setting, but it sits in a sea of asphalt.  Their fans are basically hooligans and the ones that are normal come late and leave early.

6.   Colorado (14 points - tie)
      OWN (4) -- The Monforts seem solid, even if the one likes to do a little drunk driving, and pride themselves on having a high-character team that makes the region proud.
      COMP (2) -- I don't know if the Rockies have a direction to the franchise right now.  The team seems in lost on the competitiveness spectrum at the moment.
      QOL (4) -- Denver seems like a cool place to live with a lot of recreational opportunities.  It does snow in April and in October, occasionally.
      STAD (4) -- Coors Field has a good setting, even if it is mammoth, and the fans seem passionate.

5.   San Diego (14 points - tie)
      OWN (3) -- The Pads ownership has been in flux in recent years with the John Moores to Jeff Moorad transition falling apart. Ron Fowler recently bought them, but doesn't seem to be putting a lot of money into them.
      COMP (2) -- I have even less idea what direction the Padres are going.  They are trying to compete, but seem to have a ton of holes.
      QOL (5) -- If there's a perfect climate in the United States, it's here.  Great food, great climate, right on the beach.
      STAD (4) -- I really love the look of Petco, even if it is an offense suppressor.  Do the fans care about their sports teams with a beach at their beck and call?  For the tie between the 4 teams, it came down to living in a perfect climate.

4.  Pittsburgh (16 points - tie)
     OWN (3) -- Bob Nutting seems like a good person, but as an owner does not seem like he will ever fully invest to attain or retain all the necessary pieces.  This is a small-market team that will need to reload and occasionally totally rebuild.
     COMP (4) -- This team is built to compete right now and have a completely loaded farm to augment the talent as needed.
     QOL (4) -- Admittedly biased, but there's plenty to do in Pittsburgh.  It's very safe for kids, too.  Only the suspect climate loses a point here.  Low cost of living means you can stretch those FA dollars, too.
     STAD (5) -- PNC Park is pretty much a perfect ballpark with a perfect setting looking over the river and the city.  When the Pirates are winning, the fans will be ultra-passionate.

3.  St. Louis (16 points - tie)
     OWN (5) -- The Bill DeWitt group plows an unbelievable amount of revenue into the team and seems to make all the right baseball decisions.
     COMP (4) -- The Cards are going to be contenders for a long time, as their farm has given the team a ton of young talent to build on.  The farm is drying up a little bit, though.
     QOL (3) -- St. Louis is kind of dangerous in spots and there's not a ton of stuff to do.  It's a good, solid Midwest town, though.
     STAD (4) -- Busch is a very nice stadium and their fans are some of the best in baseball.  Just not a great view, though.  St. Louis won the tiebreaker because I think they're a better bet to stay a winner longer than Pittsburgh.

2.   San Francisco (17 points - tie)
      OWN (5) -- Peter McGowan and company have re-invested every dollar from their World Series run back into the team and kept the payroll high.
      COMP (3) -- The Giants are full of graybeards and kept players out of blind loyalty for past glory (Lincecum).  They need a rebuild, or at least a reload, and have a bad farm.
      QOL (4) -- Ton of things to do in San Fran, lot of great food and recreation, but...earthquakes.  Plus living in San Fran there's a high cost of living.
      STAD (5) -- AT&T Park looks absolutely gorgeous and you can hit a homer into the Bay.  Giants have very passionate fans.

1.   Chicago (17 points - tie)
      OWN (4) -- Tom Ricketts has a ton of money, but he seems hesitant to use it.  Also seems to be holding the City hostage for Wrigley improvements.
      COMP (3) -- The Cubs aren't great now, but their farm is top-notch.  It's only a matter of time before the Cubs start spending a ton of money.
      QOL (5) -- Chicago has everything you would want, as it's a major city.  The climate can be rough at times, but the food and the culture more than make up for it.
      STAD (5) -- It's Wrigley.  Baseball, at least the baseball from the good days, is meant to be played in a place like this.  With all of the Cubs' misery, the fans are undyingly loyal and passionate.  The lack of earthquakes and the city of Chicago are why the Cubs would be #1 spot.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Hall of Fame Voting Consternation

On Tuesday, the voting results were announced for this year's Hall of Fame class for Cooperstown.  Three very worthy candidates were selected -- Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas, all 1st timers on the ballot.

In theory, Maddux should have been elected unanimously, but there are 579 voters and you can't get 579 people to agree on anything, let alone 579 curmudgeonly baseball writers, so that doesn't irk me as much as some.  For the record, Maddux was left off the ballot of 16 writers.  That's right, 16 voters didn't think his 355 wins (8th all time, the other 7 are all old-timeys back when pitching 400+ innings was routine) and myriad other accomplishments (4 straight Cy Youngs, 5 other top five finishes) were good enough.

Craig Biggio got 74.8% of the votes in his 2nd year on the ballot.  He fell short by 2 votes, including at least one known person who turned in a blank ballot to protest the Steroid Era.  Biggio should legally be allowed to drive to that person's house and punch him once in the face.

There were plenty of other worthy candidates (no, not you Jack Morris) on the ballot, but unfortunately they could for the most part be separated into two categories:

Known PED Cheat
Suspected PED Cheat Because Look at His Stats and Everyone Else Was Doing It

In the Suspected category, you have Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza.  Piazza was the greatest offensive catcher of all time, more than making up for his less-than-stellar reputation behind the plate.  He should have been in last year, let alone this year when he got 62.2%.  He'll get in, but he's going to have to wait longer than he should, all because he had some back acne, which can be a sign of steroid use.  Bagwell gets tagged with the "ripped physique", "never hit for power in the minors", "knew Ken Caminiti" cloud of tags, but he was never named on any report that has been published.

And then there's the Big 5 of Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro.  On stats alone, Bonds and Clemens are total no-brainer, inner circle Hall of Famers.  But all five of these guys tested positive AND lied about it, which for me is why I would never vote for any of them.  McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro all run different parts of the HOF worthiness spectrum for me, anyway.  Palmeiro infamous finger-wagging spectacle while under oath before Congress on PED use is a total game breaker for me.  Sosa forgetting how to speak English while before the same panel, likewise.  Bonds should be doing time in jail for perjury before a grand jury.

Andy Pettitte is going to be a borderline HOF candidate.  He tested positive for PED's and admitted he made a mistake.  For that reason, I would forgive him and consider him for the HOF.  The cover up is sometimes worse than the crime.

So what would my theoretical ballot have looked like?  Well when the BBWWA admits me for voting purpose in never years, I'll be able to vote for sure.  Here's what it would have been this year:


Eight out of ten ballot spots taken.  I can't vote Biggio in until Kent gets in, as Kent was a far better offensive player and not as much of a compiler towards the end of his career.  I can't believe Trammell isn't in yet.

With all 1st ballot going in, none of the backlog has been reduced for next year's ballot.  The 2015 ballot has some huge names coming on with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Gary Sheffield.  It's hard to see more than one or two backlogged guys getting through them, so the crowding on the ballots will continue for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Dawning of the Bill Peduto Era

Monday saw the inauguration of Bill Peduto as the new Mayor of Pittsburgh.  Although I'm not a City resident, I feel a sense of relief that the lassitude associated with the outgoing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has been lifted.

Peduto may lean a little bit towards the policy wonk side at first glance, but what he brings is passion and a love for Pittsburgh.  He's ready to jump into the position and doesn't have that deer-in-headlights aura that Ravenstahl had after taking over for the deceased Bob O'Connor.

There's also a sense of harmony and team building between not only the Mayor and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (which didn't exist previously), but also with the Mayor and City Council (which also didn't exist previously) now that Peduto ally Bruce Kraus is President of Council.  Peduto should be able to get things done with Council, as his allies (6) outnumber his enemies (3).

What Peduto has is vision.  One of my favorite quotes is "Vision is seeing things not as they are, but how they can be in the future".  That's what Peduto does.

Things are going to get done in Pittsburgh.  Whether it's something relatively easy like loosening rules on food trucks to modernizing public transportation (probably with Bus Rapid Transit, should be Light Rail Transit) to re-developing new neighborhoods in the City, Peduto will attempt to get it done.

The Hazelwood zone has always been an area of great interest to Peduto, so we'll see how hard he pushes that right off the start.  I imagine that the North Side, with the Garden Theater project soon to start, will be the next hotbed of re-development, like East Liberty and Lawrenceville before.

These are exciting times for Pittsburgh, mostly because there is once again a captain steering the ship.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The 1B Situation for the Pirates

We’ve flipped the calendar over to 2014 and the Pirates seemingly have still not resolved their 1B situation.  They were in on James Loney, but ultimately he went back to the Rays.  Yes, they have picked up Chris McGuiness (from TEX) and Travis Ishikawa (minor league FA), but I would consider them Plan C and Plan D, respectively.  Who’s still out there to obtain that would be of an upgrade to the current platoon of Andrew Lambo (vs. RHP) and Gaby Sanchez (vs. LHP)?

Justin Smoak (SEA)
Seattle has gone on a binge of picking up potential 1B this offseason by trading for Logan Morrison and signing Corey Hart as a free agent.  Both of those guys also play the OF, in theory, but seem more aligned to play 1B.

Smoak has been very underwhelming since being drafted 11th overall in 2008 (same draft as Pedro Alvarez).  His career line of .227 AVG/.314 OBP/.386 SLG (700 OPS) is only slightly worse than his “career year” line in 2013 of .238/.334/.412 (746 OPS).  So why do I consider him the top choice?

Smoak is a switch hitter who should really stop switch hitting.  His splits from the left side versus RHP in 2013 were very good (.260/.361/.477, 839 OPS with 18 of his 20 HR), while his splits from the right side versus LHP were soul-stealing (.192/.274/.274, 548 OPS, 2 HR).  Also something to consider is that his defensive metrics grade out as average, which this front office values.

If Smoak were put in a strict platoon with lefty-killer Gaby Sanchez, it could be a very productive 1B situation.

Adam Lind (TOR)
2013 was a resurgent year for Lind, who started off strong in Toronto, had a monstrous 2009 which led to a modest 4 year/$18M extension, then has been pretty below-average since.  His 2012 campaign was particularly ugly (.255/.314/.414, 728 OPS) and saw him back in AAA for a stretch.  It seemed like the Blue Jays would play out his 2013, then decline his option years in the contract for 2014-16.

But then he had a nice campaign of .288/.357/.497 (854 OPS) with 23 HR and the Blue Jays picked up his $7M option for 2014.  This gives them the chance to keep him or trade him.  The Pirates and Blue Jays already have had discussions, with the rumor being the Blue Jays asked for Neil Walker.  Neal Huntington, in dealing with a polite Canadian, turned him down.  Perhaps they discussed how the Maple Leafs were doing before the phones were hung up, not sure.

Lind, as a LHB, is another guy that would need to be platooned as his splits were also atrocious against LHP (.208/.240/.333, 573 OPS), but exquisite versus RHP (.309/.385/.539, 924 OPS).  On the basis of bat alone, Lind would be my top choice, but I have him at the second spot because he is awful in the field by all defensive metrics.  His best position is pretty much designated hitter, but I would be willing to accept some gaffes if he could produce that line with Sanchez covering him against LHP.

Ike Davis (NYM)
Welcome to the land of broken toys.  The Mets have been trying to push Davis around the whole league this offseason, because it just isn’t working out in New York for him.  They’ve discussed him with the Brewers (wanting Tyler Thornburg), the Orioles (wanting Eduardo Rodriguez), and the Pirates (wanting Nick Kingham).  All of those deals, correctly, were turned down for being too much for a guy the Mets were on the verge of non-tendering in November.

Davis is a guy who should be better, but is stuck in his own head.  Whether it’s the coaching or the pressure of New York, I’m not sure, but his pedigree (18th overall, 2008) doesn’t lend itself to hitting .205/.326/.344 (670 OPS) with only 9 HR and a 26.8% strikeout rate.

Davis is another guy that should never see a LHP, as his line in 2013 (.145/.203/.203, 406 OPS) would attest.  He was somewhat better against RHP (.222/.356/.371, 727 OPS), but he’s not someone I would give up a decent prospect for in the hopes of a change of scenery doing him any good.  It would have to be for a lower tier starting pitcher that would project as a back-end starter or a reliever in the minors.

Mitch Moreland (TEX)
Moreland is the definition of a “blah” player to me.  Since trading for Prince Fielder, speculation has been that Moreland is on his way out of town, but he could still split the 1B/DH position with Fielder.  

In 2013, Moreland hit .232/.299/.437 (736 OPS) with 23 HR.  And, in a surprise with the tenor of the rest of this article, did not have very pronounced splits.  He was mediocre against both sides of the mound as a left-handed batter.  His splits versus LHP were .241/.297/.404 (701 OPS) with 3 HR, while against RHP his line was .227/.300/.452 (752 OPS) with the other 20 HR.  Clearly, his power comes against RHP, but it’s still not that impressive.

Of the four of the players, his defensive metrics grade out the highest at 1B, but he’s just not someone to get too excited about.

There is still time before spring training starts, so there is time for the Pirates to upgrade the 1B position.  But here’s something else to consider: In 2013, the Pirates won 94 games in the regular season with 1B being decidedly blah.  The person who has to replace Garrett Jones’ production in the 1B platoon only has to beat his .233/.289/.419 (708 OPS) with 15 HR.  It’s not that big of a bar to leap over.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Eve -- Exerting Man's Dominance over the Sea

DB~ and I went down to the Strip on Monday in preparation for our New Year's Eve feast.  My charming wife's ever-so-slow crawl to being a vegetarian led her to wanting seafood from Wholey's.  I dabbled with doing a meat for myself, especially a rabbit that I was looking at from Strip District Meats, but in the end I chose solidarity.

DB~ selected some King Crab legs, but I wanted something that I have never had before.  I walked back and forth along the seafood counter, but nothing really jumped at me.  Finally, I set eyes on some mako shark steaks.  They were cut thick, probably 1/2 to 3/4" thick, and had this odd Eye of Horus-thing going that looked like a blood-filled sac of some sort.

I thought about all the surfers and beachgoers that get chomped by sharks each year and thought it would be good to get one back in the win column for humans by chomping on one of them.  I didn't feel like grilling out on a cold, snowy night, so DB~ found a series of recipes for pan-frying shark.

I went with a heavy rub of salt, pepper, and Old Bay on both sides and the edges of the shark.  I cut the steak into two pieces and removed the Eye of Horus blood sac, because it looked gross.  Once I got the olive oil hot over medium-high heat, I seared the rubbed shark on both sides for 3-4 minutes each side.

I took the shark out of the pan and deglazed the pan with a mix of orange juice, soy sauce, and ginger.  I cooked the sauce down on medium heat for a few minutes until it thickened.  I then drizzled it over top of the resting shark.

DB~ boiled her crab legs for about 5-7 minutes and plated them next to an excellent beet risotto that she prepared diligently.  Making a true risotto is a pain in the rear, but absolutely worth it when done right as this one was done by the sous-chef.

On the side, we had a cheese plate with a French baguette sliced crostini-thin.  The cheese was a French cheese called Pyrenese plain.  It was a soft and creamy cheese that went very well on the crostini.

All in all, it was a great way to celebrate our 5th full year together.  The year 2014 promises only good things, as well.