November 18, 2013

Catcher conundrum causes concern.

In 2004, the Philadelphia Phillies selected Jason Jaramillo in the second round of the MLB Draft. In the fourth round, the team chose Lou Marson. Travis D'Arnaud was their supplemental first round choice in 2007, and Sebastian Valle was signed out of Mexico that same year. Cameron Rupp was their third-round pick in 2010. Tommy Joseph was the "crown jewel" of the Hunter Pence trade.

These catchers have logged a combined 38 plate appearances for the Phillies, and today Carlos Ruiz was signed to a three-year, $26 million contract at the age of 35. This is not a coincidence.

I'm not here to slander Ruiz or his fancy new deal -- for the most part I agree with David Cameron's take -- but to chastise the Phillies for having one decade to develop a new catcher and utterly failing at the modest task that was their charge. Bill Baer touched on this very topic earlier today; minus D'Arnaud, who's been gone for quite a while, the luster has faded on every single one of those once-touted prospects.

Granted, Marson and D'Arnaud were part of the packages that brought in Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. And most prospects bottom out eventually; only a chosen few end up contributing in the majors. But it's still relatively jarring to consider the resources dedicated toward grooming the catcher of the future and how empty the cupboard turned out to be when the team needed it the most.

I'm certain the plan was to amicably part ways with Ruiz in late 2013 and allow either Valle or Joseph to assume the starting job, but Valle's struggles and Joseph's concussions quickly changed that tune. Rupp had four hits in 14 at-bats near the end of 2013, but the 25-year-old has practically no experience above single-A ball (Darin Ruf alert!). For a team with no choice but to pretend that they can compete in 2014, the only realistic option was to meet Ruiz's demands.

I can't help but be reminded of December 2010. Much like now, the plan was to let Jayson Werth receive a much-deserved payday elsewhere and fill the hole in right field with a cheap, talented prospect. But that prospect (Domonic Brown) did not impress management in his 210 plate appearances. Eventually it was decided that some combination of Brown, Ben Francisco and John Mayberry was not going to suffice. Ignoring that the Phillies were, at the time, the best team in baseball, two top prospects (Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart) were traded for Hunter Pence. And we all know how that story ends...curiously enough, with the aforementioned Joseph.

The Ruiz deal isn't the exact same scenario; unlike Werth, I'd define what it took to keep him around as "understandably excessive." And their other options at the position, both internal and external, were either nonexistent or highly unsavory. There was no Dom Brown to even try out in this scenario, let alone ignore.

But it's yet another check mark in the negative column for an organization that hasn't been able to develop talent for quite a while. Spending for middling free agents (or overspending on your own) is exactly the mindset that helped the Phillies devolve from contender to pretender. Carlos Ruiz will be a plus in 2014 and (hopefully) beyond, but the fact that he had to return at all can only be described as a serious minus.

November 16, 2013

The lady don't mind.

I've never understood picking up women in bars.

I'm sure there are wildly confident, gorgeous men who can perform this task without blinking an eye. And I know there's an entire industry built around the strategy involved: how to get attractive strangers to have sex with you in seven steps or less.

But I personally could never wrap my head around the logistics. What could you possibly say to attract these women in such a short amount of time? Is it entirely physical, or are some people so innately appealing that it's a no-brainer from the moment you catch their eye?

I can, however, comprehend how women themselves can get the ball rolling. Because there was one time when the magic did happen, and I can promise you that I was not the one who ignited the spark.

A year or so after college, I was out with my friends at a trendy watering hole in Boston's South End. I stepped up to get a drink, and when I turned to my left a young blonde lady was looking right at me.

I can't tell you what she said, or how I responded, but a conversation did indeed begin. There was a seat next to her at the bar, and I felt obligated to sit down. After about 20 minutes and another round of drinks, eventually our legs sort of intertwined. These were all good things.

This was all made better, of course, by the fact that my friends was sitting mere feet away. At first, they thought I had bumped into an old friend from school. But eventually they realized that this was a total stranger, and that she and I appeared to be hitting it off.

Every 10 minutes or so, one of them would come to get a drink and give me a massive thumbs up. Girls included. And, of course, when the lady and I shared a little bar smooch, someone was ready with a camera. The photo's still out there somewhere; my head is almost entirely perpendicular to hers. Don't ask me why.

Eventually it seemed like a foregone conclusion that we'd go home together. She popped away for a second to "grab her friend," who instantly began looking me over like a piece of fruit in the produce section. Probably to check for signs of serial killer potential. I got the sense that I wasn't exactly the kind of guy the lady usually gravitated towards, but I seemed to get a stamp of approval because we were left to depart of our own volition. And depart we did.

As we walked away, chants of "mee-no, mee-no, mee-no" reverberated off the walls. I don't think the lady knew my last name then (or maybe ever) so she might not have understood they were in praise of me. Even if she did, I didn't care; I felt like a baseball player who just hit his first career home run. In retrospect, this may explain why the night turned out the way it did. 

We went back to her apartment, and the first thing she wanted was not naked time but chicken fingers. This was slightly confusing but understandable; hey, you gotta eat. So we traipsed to a restaurant down the street to see if they were still open. They were, and we quickly gorged on breaded poultry.

I was still hanging around after late-night food, so she had no choice but to invite me into her bed. She put on a Will Ferrell movie, either Anchorman or Old School, and a brief bit of hijinks ensued. Emphasis on brief; it was clear pretty quickly that she was ready for me to leave, and in accordance with the law and good manners I've never been one to ignore those kind of cues.

I actually don't recall offering up even a single word of protest or confusion; the night was such a whirlwind of unexpectedness that I certainly wasn't going to act like I belonged there. So off I went into the very cold, very late Boston night. Luckily it was only a 10-minute walk to my own place, and my belly was full of processed fowl.

She'd given me her number at the bar, which I dialed a few days later to see if she'd like to get a drink or hang out sometime. Never did receive a reply; given how our evening ended, I probably shouldn't have expected one.

I have no idea what I did to deserve that bit of "success"; I've never been able to recreate the experience. Perhaps I exuded some sort of confidence that's impossible to summon consciously; perhaps she was drunk and I happened to be in her line of sight. But either way, I heartily encourage all men to be approached by beautiful women at bars. At the very least, it makes for a hell of a story.