Friday, March 6, 2009

Hope (And Stupidity) Springs Eternal

The rites of spring, repeated once again in camps around Arizona and Florida, and in cities around the country.  Flowers bloom.  Ballplayers stretch and tinker.  Fans bask in the sun and watch spring training action.  And baseball beat writers in no-chance cities dutifully write down and repeat their team's rosy predicitions and projections.  

The Padres have this spring cycle down to an art form.  Peoria looks great, the sky is blue, there's an easy excuse for each problem, and the games don't really count anyway.  Earlier this week, we had the inevitable "anyone can win the NL West" story, with delusional Pads myopically revewing their division, overlooking their own faults while picking out all of their opponents' blemishes.  Cla Meredith serves as the poster boy for reckless bullishness:

“In this division, everyone has a chance, including us,” Meredith said. “You'd think somebody would say, get this player or that player to separate themselves. With the exception of Manny, looking at what went on in our division this offseason, not too many things raised my eyebrows, put it that way.”

Um, Clay?  Your rivals?  They didn't exactly raise their eyebrows at the Padres' moves, either, except in a brow-wrinkling, "why-did-they-do-that?" fashion.  A 99-loss team traded its shortstop for a middle reliever, let its closer walk, and added nothing but waiver-wire flotsam and jetsam over the offseason.  Objectively, the Dodgers are a substantive favorite, the Giants will be a winner this year if their young pitching continues to improve, and the D-Backs are way too young to go away, even if they look slightly weakened.  I'm not sure what to expect from the Rockies yet, but I know this: the Pads have Cha Seung Beck as their #3 starter, and they're supposed to be a pitching team.  4th place would be a major achievement.  

Of course, as mentioned, every team in baseball over-hypes a bad player, and dreams big while thinking ahead to the long summer months.  The Padres have their own unique traditions, though, which are hilariously endearing, or maddeningly frustrating, depending on your perspective.  

My favorite is the Rule V Cycle Of Failure.  This could also be re-named "KT's Bane".  Just like Bobby Beathard simply HAD TO trade his 1st round pick every year in order to draft some unknown from a small college, Kevin Towers simply HAS TO draft and protect a Rule V draft pick every season.  This underaged, outclassed player should by all rights be in A ball or AA, but KT sees a gleam, thinks he's found a player who's to good to be left unprotected on a 40-man roster, but not quite good enough to be in the big leagues yet.

Unfortunately, according to the Rule V rules, that's exactly what this young prospect has to do: be in the big leagues, every day, all season.  Sometimes, as he did with Kory DeHann and Shane Victorino, Towers manages to nurse the overmatched cub player through the season.  They tote bags on the way to the bus and scratch out 12 starts and 45 at-bats for the year, ruining or at least impinging their development while forcing the manager to play 24 on 25 most nights.  Other times, as with Donaldo Mendez, an "injury" crops up which allows the player to rot on the DL all year, still not playing or improving, but at least protected.  And still other times, such as with dear, friendly, hopeless Callix Crabbe last year, Towers eventually just has to give up and sell the player back to his old team for $25,000.  What almost never happens is to see a Rule V player contribute to his team during his forced big-league year, and then develop into a contributing player for that same team.  

But KT can't help himself, so we're at it again this year, with the Padres protecting overmatched shortstop Everth Cabrera.  He was in Single-A last year and struck out 101 times there while hitting just .284, but he'll be in the big leagues this year, by gum!  So in the winter, when he was plucked in the Rule V, we heard the expected quotes about his upside.  Here's one from a Kraz post:

Padres evaluators and non-Padres scouts say Cabrera's upside is far greater than that of Crabbe.

Now, he's in camp and of course Cabrera is kicking the ball all over the field and not hitting. So now, the equally predictable "he's trying too hard and just needs to settle down" quote:

"He's just got to clean up some things defensively," Padres manager Bud Black said. "I'm sure he's trying to impress. The skills are there. I think he gets ahead of himself sometimes."

So hilarious.  Eventually Cabrera will hit a triple off of some Single-A reliever late in a spring game and we will then all be treated to the "eye-popping speed" quote which they will then hang their hat on for the next 2 months as Everth does nothing and wilts on the big league bench. Meanwhile, Bud Black will be forced to spin it this way and that as once again, he's asked to manage short-handed against the rivals in his "wide open" division.  

Some would say that doing the same failed routine every spring is insane, but for the Padres, it's more like tradition.  But don't worry boys, it's March, the sky's blue, Peoria looks great, the division's "wide open", and anything can happen in this crazy old game of baseball.

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