The Legacy of Beau Mills

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When Brian Sabean took over as the Giants’ General Manager back in 1996, he almost immediately became public enemy number one by the Bay by trading away the beloved Matt Williams for a trio of perceived nobodies (one of those perceived nobodies, of course, was Jeff Kent). When those nobodies played key roles in the Giants’ division title the very next year, and after Sabean heisted Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez from the White Sox at the trade deadline, he was hailed as a genius.

From that point forward, Sabean rode an endlessly turbulent wave of public opinion, rising to great heights in the 2002 World Series, bottoming out in the unwatchable 2007 season, and cresting in the 2010 World Championship year. One year fans and writers would consider him one of the shrewder front office minds in baseball, the next they’d accuse him of being an antiquated hack riding the coattails of Barry Bonds. Sabean is currently the longest-tenured GM in the game. When you’ve been around for close to 20 years, you’re going to make some stinker moves. Once upon a time, Sabean was maybe the most despised front office person in baseball, at least by his own fanbase. For a few years, it seemed (to Giants fans, at least) that all of his moves were stinkers.

Oh, how things have changed. Sabean is now almost certainly going to waltz into the Hall of Fame, with a body of work and a success record that most general managers would kill for. And it’s funny, because in an alternate timeline that came very close to being the real timeline, his future place in Cooperstown was derailed by a left-handed collegiate hitter from Idaho.

Let me take you back to a very dark time in Giants history, back to the year 2007. The Giants had just come off of a second straight losing season, having finished 2006 at 76-85 (shockingly, Shea Hillenbrand wasn’t the hero we deserved, or needed). The team’s strategy of surrounding the almost-finished Barry Bonds with veterans in their mid- to late-30’s was proving to be a dubious one. By the time the 2007 amateur draft rolled around in June, it was clear that the 2007 season was going to be another lost cause, and the team’s third straight sub-.500 finish (it turned out Dave Roberts wasn’t the hero we deserved, or needed, either).

In 2004 and 2005, the Giants intentionally punted their first round picks, electing to spend money, again, on veterans to complement a Bonds-centric lineup rather than on signing bonuses to unproven high schoolers or collegians. The players whom the Giants gave up said draft picks to sign? Michael Tucker and Armando Benitez. Tucker was all right, and generally inoffensive. Benitez…well, he didn’t work out so well. As it turned out, giving away the rights to potentially high-upside youngsters in order to sign one vanilla corner outfielder and one belligerent clubhouse cancer wasn’t the best way to build a competitive team.*

*In the 2005 draft, because of the awful Benitez signing, the Giants had to surrender their pick at number 22 to the Marlins. The Red Sox picked 23rd and took…Jacoby Ellsbury. D’oh! In 2004, the Giants’ pick at number 29 went to Kansas City as compensation for Michael Tucker (ugh). The Giants theoretically could have had Gio Gonzalez or Huston Street, both of whom got taken just a few picks later. Yeah.

The man behind all of this was the team’s General Manager Brian Sabean. At this point in time, Sabean may have been the most-maligned GM in baseball, especially by the stathead community, who considered him something of a luddite. Fans were sick of the veteran-centric method of team-building and wanted some damned youth injected into the franchise. From about 2006 to 2008, the “Fire Sabean” screeching rose to ear-shattering decibels. It was clear that surrounding Bonds with washed up Rich Aurilia and washed up Ryan Klesko wasn’t going to get the team to the World Series, and fans were getting sick of wags yucking it up that the Giants should be sponsored by Fixodent. To make matters worse, Sabean’s reputation as an anti-stats guy was directly at odds with the “saber-revolution” then in full swing, and fans were clamoring for a more progressive-thinking GM to come in for a rebuild. I should know. I was there, and I was on the front lines of the legions of fans who wanted Sabean out.

In 2006, the Giants finally ditched their questionable draft strategy (or non-draft strategy) and took Tim Lincecum, a tiny pitcher with a violent, totally unorthodox delivery and hellacious stuff, with the 10th pick. It was a prototypical high-risk, high-reward pick (which obviously turned out extremely well). It was an outside-the-box-type of move that was not at all typical of the decisions that the Giants’ brain trust was making back then, and fans liked it.

When the 2007 draft rolled around, the Giants again had the 10th overall pick. This time, though, fans wanted a hitter. The team hadn’t developed an All-Star-caliber bat since Matt Williams, and fans in the Bay were sick of watching Pedro Feliz and a lineup full of geriatrics struggle to plate runs at AT&T Park. They wanted a hitter, a true franchise cornerstone. No more Tony Torcato or Lance Niekro. We wanted the real thing.

What hitter did they want, specifically? That’s right, Beau Mills, the lefty-hitting slugger from Visalia who had destroyed opposing pitching at Fresno State. Judging from the numbers, he certainly looked like the type of high-power, high-OBP guy that the Giants so desperately needed in the middle of their lineup as the team transitioned out of the Bonds era. There was a general buzz of excitement about Beau Mills: Future Giants All-Star.

Oh, what could have been.

Oh, what could have been.

So with the 10th pick in the draft the Giants took…some high school pitcher from South Carolina named Madison Bumgarner. Wait, what? Yeah fans were outraged. Just check out some of the comments here, as a starting point. Believe me, the sentiment in that thread is just the tip of the iceberg. No one in Giants-land really knew who Bumgarner was, and at that point I don’t think they cared. The not-so-lovingly dubbed “lunatic fringe” wanted Mills, dammit. Instead they got yet another pitcher, and how many damn pitchers do you need anyway?

Keep in mind also that Moneyball was still very fresh in everybody’s minds, so whenever a team took a high school pitcher with an early pick, it was generally shat on by a large segment of the Internet. “TINSTAAP!” was shouted every time there was even a hint of a rumor that some team was going to take a high school pitcher with a top ten pick. With this pick, the anti-Sabean sentiment was about to escalate to levels unseen since the Williams/Kent trade. Flash forward to 2014, and I think it’s safe to say this pick turned out okay.

I guess the point of this little 700-word trip down memory lane is that, about 98 percent of the time, fans just don’t know what in the hell they’re talking about. Mills was a good college hitter who would most likely have been limited to first base in the majors. He basically would have had to hit like Prince Fielder to justify taking him with the tenth pick. He didn’t; he’s been out of professional baseball since 2012 and he never sniffed the majors after being taken 13th in that draft by Cleveland. Even with hindsight being 20/20 and all, we probably should have known better.

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Bumgarner, as you may have seen or heard, just completed one of the greatest postseason pitching performances in the history of baseball, and basically won last year’s World Series by himself (he had a central role in three of the Giants’ four World Series victories, which is practically unheard of for a pitcher these days). Wrap your brain around this: Without Bummy, the Giants absolutely don’t win the World Series in 2014, they very likely don’t win it in 2012, and they maybe don’t even win it in 2010 (Bumgarner saved the team at midseason from the ten-car pileup that was Todd Wellemeyer).

And to think it could have been Beau Mills. For shame.

What Giants fans (and many others, really) failed to realize was that Bumgarner was a high-upside, projectable pitcher with a big frame and who, perhaps most importantly, hadn’t had his arm stretched to the limit by some jerkoff college coach with no accountability. Here’s a pre-draft scouting report on him. Notice the term “strong-bodied” and “good poise” in there and then recall again what he did in the playoffs after throwing 217 innings in the regular season. It’s like that report was written by Nostradamus.

So fans are dumb, yours truly included (or make that, yours truly especially). What’s the point of all this? Oh, yeah…that Brian Sabean is the 14th-greatest GM of all time. Authors Mark Armour and Dan Levitt are revealing, one-by-one, their ranking of the top 20 general managers of all time as a preview to their upcoming book (if Branch Rickey isn’t number one, it’ll be a ’69 Mets-style upset). Last week Sabean showed up sitting pretty at number fourteen. All. Time. If that statement were to have been made on this exact date in 2008 it would have been dismissed as utterly ridiculous, and the authors would have been accused of blasphemy or excessive drug abuse.

That’s what three World Championships will do, of course. The Giants successfully rebuilt their franchise with some truly great draft picks and amateur free agent signings (don’t forget Panda!), and they became competitive faster than anyone would have expected. At the end of 2007, pundits were talking about something like a four-year rebuild plan, and only after a complete teardown. Just two years later, though, the Giants won 88 games and had shed their pretender status for good. The architect of this (as it turned out) incredibly successful stealth rebuild effort was initially regarded as the absolute wrong man for the job. Yet here we are in 2014, and Brian Sabean is the man at the helm of the most successful period in San Francisco Giants history.

Not all of the credit for the three championships falls squarely on him, of course. The team’s scouting department has proven to be one of the best in the biz. The Giants have generally been able to keep their pitchers healthy, which is probably a ringing endorsement of their player development strategy and minor league coaching staffs. Bruce Bochy, of course, was nearly flawless in the team’s three World Series trips. It also helps that Buster Posey looks like he’ll turn into the decade’s best catcher.

From 2005-ish to 2011, I (somewhat intermittently) ran a blog called Give ‘Em Some Stankeye (look, it’s still there!). The reason I started the blog was because I was really, really pissed when the Giants blew the 2004 season and I needed some mouthpiece with which I could vent my outrage. I said a lot of pretty nasty things about Sabean back then. Hell, I even had a tag designated just for my rantings about some of his moves that I hated.

A lot of the invective lobbed Sabean’s way from my direction was pretty mean-spirited but it was hardly exclusive to my little blog. In fact, by Internet standards and in terms of the torrent of shit Sabean was getting from other Giants blogs at the time, it was pretty tame. Still, I kind of read that old stuff and cringe. When Sabean was a scout with the Yankees in the early-90’s, he played a large part in drafting or signing Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. Those guys were pretty good. They played on some Yankee teams that were pretty good, too. So, naturally, as a drunken 22-year-old college student ranting on the Internets in my underwear in between watching reruns of Ren and Stimpy, I felt that I was qualified to write over and over again that the man didn’t know what the hell he was doing.

Maybe you want to argue Sabean isn’t one of the 20 greatest general managers in the history of baseball, and that might be fair. What we can all agree on though is that he didn’t deserve the amount of scorn heaped upon him by writers, fans, pundits, and drunk KNBR callers (and one KNBR host, in particular, who one year decided to pepper his Sabean criticism with some misguided, racially-tinged remarks) back in the mid-aughts. He’ll get the last laugh, though, because after three championships in five years, his ticket to Cooperstown has basically been punched. And I can’t help but laugh at the fact that, if all of us angry Giants fans (definitely me included) had had our way back in 2007, Beau Mills would be curse words and we’d still be waiting for that first San Francisco championship.

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Stray Rantings on the Aoki Signing

 

The Giants finalized their deal with Nori Aoki yesterday, and the specifics were exactly as reported. Aoki will get $4 million in 2015 and then the team holds a $5.5 million option on him for 2016, so this could essentially turn into a two-year deal if Aoki performs well. I wrote about the signing for Bay Sports Net over the weekend, and the more I think about the signing, the more I like it. So as a follow up, here are a couple of stray thoughts on the newest Giant, because my opinion on the matter is in such high demand.

In that BSN write-up, I had linked to an article that Jeff Sullivan wrote for Fangraphs lauding the signing. Well, here it is again. In the article, Sullivan mentions that in a world where Nick Markakis gets a four-year, $44 million deal, nabbing Aoki for just one year, at a piddling $4 million, is a steal. And he’s absolutely right. Here’s what both Aoki and Markakis have slashed over the past three seasons:

Aoki 2012-2014: .287/.353/.387

Markakis 2012-2014: .279/.342/.396

Markakis will be 31 in 2015; Aoki will be 33. Markakis spent those three seasons at Camden Yards, a pretty neutral park that sways a little towards hitters. Aoki spent 2012 and 2013 in hitter-friendly Miller Park before going to the more pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium last season. Neither of these guys are great fielders, but neither could really be considered altogether poor, either. You can probably still make the argument that Markakis is the better player, but does he look like a player who is worth $40 million more than Aoki?

Of course not. The fact that the Braves made an idiotic signing doesn’t mean Aoki is some kind of Hall-of-Famer, obviously, but it underlines yet again why the Giants have been so successful this decade. They spend their big money on retaining stars like Buster Posey or good regulars like Angel Pagan, and then sign solid complimentary players for below-market prices. In 2010, instead of blowing a lot of money on Adam Laroche or some other free agent first baseman, they took a chance on Aubrey Huff and it paid off. Last year, they signed Mike Morse for dirt cheap in lieu of a more expensive name and then watched him knock in the game-winning run in Game Seven of the World Series. Now they get Aoki when teams like the Mets are handing away draft picks for the honor of signing Michael Cuddyer.

These relatively minor signings aren’t too sexy to those knee-jerk, drunken fans who want a star imported every season, but it illustrates how the Giants have been generally wise over the past few seasons about how they’re spending their money. Getting burned by a Barry Zito contract certainly has a way of forcing a major league front office to rethink things.

I also thought this move gave some interesting insight into how the gears turn in the Giants’ front office. There had been a lot of talk over the past month or so about the Giants being in talks with Ben Zobrist. Those talks for Zobrist appeared to be gaining serious steam at one point and Mike Krukow was even singing his praises like a Zorilla Bay invasion was a foregone conclusion. Then, out of nowhere, the A’s came in and stole the utility man out from everybody’s nose. This right after Giants assistant GM Bobby Evans made some nebulous comments about being “realistic” in acquiring Zobrist.

Rumor has it that the Rays wanted both Kyle Crick and Andrew Susac for Zorilla. Crick and Susac rate as two of the top five prospects in the Giants’ system. Crick has an electric arm and could be a solid major league starter if he irons out his control problems, or a knockout reliever at worst. Susac could start in the major leagues right now and be an above average regular, but he’s stuck behind Posey. If the Giants balked at that price, it’s totally understandable.

Here’s what the Giants almost certainly concluded: Zobrist is a free agent after this season, so if they want him that much, why trade away two of their best prospects when they could just wait a year and sign him without giving anybody away? After the A’s got him, it made the decision to sign a one-year stopgap like Aoki even easier, because the A’s almost certainly won’t re-sign Zobrist and the Giants could potentially have him next season if they want him badly enough.

So the Giants’ 2015 lineup is more or less set, and it projects to look like this:

CF Pagan
2B Panik
C Posey
RF Pence
1B Belt
3B McGehee
LF Aoki
SS Crawford

Or something. Count me as one who still wants to see Brandon Belt hitting third, and I really think Pagan should be hitting down more in the order and Aoki leading off. Hell, here’s the batting order if one Paul Rice were manager:

LF Aoki
2B Panik
1B Belt
C Posey
RF Pence
CF Pagan
3B McGehee
SS Crawford
Util Brock Holt (whom the Giants have traded for because he’s awesome and he’s a living Arrested Development reference. Make it happen, Sabes!)

Keep in mind that manager Rice would lose control of the team in two weeks and most likely get choked Sprewell-style by Jake Peavy after pulling him from a game early. So perhaps it’s better off if we just go with whatever Bochy has in mind.

Still, Aoki’s extreme-contact ability and willingness to work the count combine to make him kind of the prototypical leadoff hitter. Plus, when Pagan batted fifth for a stretch of 45 games in 2012, he hit .314/.362/402. He can more than hold his own in a more traditional “run-producer” spot in the lineup. It would just be a shame if Aoki’s skills weren’t utilized to their full potential.

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The Best (and Worst) Baseball Free Agent Contract of the Offseason (So Far)

A couple of days ago, I talked a little about how a few of the baseball free agent contracts signed this offseason might seem completely insane at first glance, but might not be so nutty when you look deeper, and when you look at where the signing team stands to finish the following season. In short, if a team is a move or two away from having a legit playoff contender, with the way small sample size can make champs of relative chumps, it’s probably worth it to shell out extra years (and money) for a player just to get to the playoffs. It’s worth it even when the team knows said player will probably be useless in those last years. Call it the Flags Fly Forever paradigm, if you will.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that teams can’t go out and find a major bargain on the free agent market, a good and possibly underrated player to snap up for a below-market rate. I loved the White Sox’s signing of Adam Laroche, a player who has averaged 26 home runs a season the past three years. They got him for just two years, and he hasn’t shown any signs of falling off a cliff. I thought the Pirates got a nice one-year steal on A.J. Burnett, a still-good pitcher who suffered for an abysmal Phillies team with a horrid outfield defense. There are still good deals to be had.

By that same extension, there are, naturally, still some real stinkers that get dished out as well. Sometimes teams just can’t help themselves and commit way too much money to players who don’t deserve it. The Royals handing Edinson Volquez two years when he’s had exactly two decent seasons, ever, seems questionable. The Tigers raised some eyebrows by handing 35-year-old Victor Martinez a four-year deal when they’re already bogged down by several other onerous contracts. A lot of people questioned when the normally spendthrift A’s signed Billy Butler to a three-year contract, and the Mets blowing a draft pick on Michael Cuddyer was just…confusing.

So never fear, snarky Internet lurkers and sarcastic message board denizens. There are still plenty of stupid free agent deals for us to pillory as we sit in our boxers and throw Honey Nut Cheerios at our laptop screens. There are also plenty of smart free agent deals to remind us that there is indeed sanity within the walls of baseball front offices everywhere.

I’ve decided to pick out what I feel are the best and the worst baseball free agent contracts so far this offseason. The offseason is only half over, so we may yet get a deal that blows these two away either on sheer brilliance or on a “my oh my, that whole front office needs to be prosecuted for war crimes” level of incompetence. Until that happens, this is what we’ve got. We’ll start with the worst.

As of January 5, 2015, the worst free agent contract of the baseball offseason goes to…(drumroll)…

New York Yankees sign Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36 million deal

 

 

 

 

Just in general, I hate multi-year contracts to relief pitchers. I don’t understand why they keep happening. We’ve watched reliever after reliever and bullpenite after bullpenite explode in a pile of frayed elbows for 25 years now, and still we get teams handing out multi-year deals to relievers like they’re the safest bets in the world. They just rarely work out, ever. There are exactly two things relievers do consistently: strike out ten batters per nine innings and implode randomly.

Look at Kansas City’s brilliant relief trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. Those guys were unhittable last year, insanely so. Herrera and Davis gave up zero home runs in 140 combined innings and Holland was basically just as dominant. They were the best bullpen three-headed monster in baseball, but the chances are very, very good that, two years from now, one or two or all three of them won’t be any good.

Why? It’s because they’re relievers. It’s just what they do. They get hurt, they lose velocity, they start to blow leads inexplicably, and yet inevitably every offseason some dumb front office hands a three-year deal to a relief pitcher, as if we hadn’t just seen a dozen formerly brilliant middle relievers and closers fall by the wayside the previous year.

Remember when Eric Gagne was chewing through the league in 2003 and he looked like he was on the fast train to a ten-year stretch as a Hall of Fame closer? Well, two years later he was done as an effective pitcher. Done. Brian Wilson and The Beard in 2010? Done as a good pitcher by 2012. Jim Johnson saving 50 games in back-to-back seasons in 2012 and’13? Ask any A’s fan where Jim Johnson is now. I dare you. Those are just a couple of examples off of the top of my head. The number of bloodied relievers inexplicably finished after one or two great years is legion.

So, four years for Andrew Miller. Don’t get me wrong, Miller is a damned good pitcher. He struck out 103 batters in 62.1 innings last year. He was initially dismissed as a bust after washing out as a starter for three different franchises, but he’s reinvented himself as a reliever, one who can get both righty and lefty hitters out with aplomb. You’ve just got to love a guy like that, a former top prospect who persevered after being written off.

Miller is a very good reliever, one of the very best, in fact…but four years? Was that really necessary? Miller has been lights out ever since converting to the bullpen in 2012. In that time (with the Red Sox and in half a season with Baltimore last year), he has contributed a grand total of 3.0 WAR. That may underrate him a bit, but you’re still going to have a hard time convincing me that 50-60 relief innings is worth $9 million a year for four years. The Yankees will be lucky if Miller contributes five wins over the course of this contract.

It might still be okay. Remember, we’ve got to take these things in context. If Miller is a player who can push the Yankees over the edge and into an assured playoff spot in 2015 (and maybe 2016), then the extra years might be a necessary burden to carry if Miller drastically increases the team’s shot at an immediate championship. So is Miller the player the Yankees need to get over that playoff hump for the first time since 2012?

Heck no! The Yankees won 84 games and finished second in the AL East last year, but they were totally lucky to win even that many games. They had the run differential of a 77-win team. This team revamped their bullpen, which is all well and good. Unfortunately, their expensive, enfeebled lineup will still struggle to score runs, their starting rotation is full of injury question marks, and, on top of all of that, they have the Alex Rodriguez sideshow to look forward to.

In short, this team is a mess, and the Miller signing doesn’t really do a whole lot, in the big picture, to bring them even with the Orioles, Blue Jays, and the retooled Red Sox. If Miller were the final bullpen piece in an otherwise complete, championship-caliber team, then I’d be okay with this signing, even though I despise lengthy reliever contracts. The Yankees aren’t a championship-caliber team, though. They’re a team that, with a ton of things breaking the right way, could possibly win the AL East. Crazier things have happened. Way, waaaaay more likely, they’ll struggle to break .500 and Alex Rodriguez kills team morale with his mere presence, Barry Bonds 2007 Giants-style. A team in this spot shouldn’t be retooling with ludicrous reliever contracts.

So that was the worst. Now, the absolute best free agent contract (so far) of the offseason is…(drumroll)…

Dodgers sign Brett Anderson to a one-year, $10 million deal.

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I absolutely love this deal, a low-risk, potentially huge-upside signing by LA. I was really hoping the Giants would make a run at Anderson, and sign him to a cheap deal just like this one on the chance that he might have a healthy year in him. Unfortunately, I think I was overestimating the willingness of the Giants’ front office to think outside the box. The Giants instead decided to re-up Jake Peavy for two years and go to the Tim Lincecum well again, so here I am, just sitting here praising the Dodgers.

Anderson has been an injury wreck ever since he stepped onto to major league field in 2009. You name the malady, he’s probably had it. He had Tommy John surgery in 2011, which knocked out most of that season and pretty much all of 2012. He pitched in only 16 games in 2013 due to a broken foot. Then, last season, just when it appeared that he was hitting his stride with the Rockies, he messed up his back and was done for the season. I’ve had him on my fantasy keeper league for the past two seasons after making an ill-advised trade for him (just…don’t ask). Every time he motions in discomfort on the mound has to be pulled early from a game, a part of my soul dies.

So Anderson hurts himself crawling out of bed in the morning. That much is clear. What’s also clear is that, if he can stay healthy for any stretch this season, the Dodgers have themselves a legit number three-caliber starter. He isn’t a sure thing to eat innings like Dan Haren, the guy he’s basically replacing, but his ceiling is so much higher.

Anderson was great even in the high altitude last season, posting a 2.91 ERA in eight starts between injuries. In his career as a starter, he own a 3.69 ERA, and he showed flashes of brilliance with the A’s, especially in 2010 and 2012. He makes a living limiting home runs, and it’s easy to see him having a big year in Dodger Stadium.

Anderson has a 200-inning season in him one of these years, and when it finally comes, he’s going to be a playoff-caliber starting pitcher. The Dodgers are gambling that that year will come in 2015, and for the relative pittance of $10 million (the Dodgers can, uh…easily afford it), that’s just a great gamble to make on a pitcher with this much upside. Why couldn’t the Giants have taken the chance? Why????

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Fearlessly the Idiot Faced the Crowd: Ranking the Pink Floyd Albums

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This is a concept I’ve been toying with for a couple of months now. Pink Floyd is the absolute, unequivocal number one on my list of all-time favorite bands, and David Gilmour is the absolute, unequivocal number one on my personal favorite all-time guitarist list. I love the Floyd. If you asked me to go on about their more iconic albums like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, I’d happily oblige you, and then some. If you want to discuss insanely obscure non-album material like “Embryo“, then I’ll gladly wax on about that, possibly while you call in the men with white coats to take me away. I can riff about Pink Floyd for days.* They’re the greatest progressive rock band of all time, and my choice for greatest rock band ever.

*One exception: I will not riff about the song “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered In a Cave and Grooving With a Pict”. ‘Cause that shit sucks.

Last November, David Gilmour packaged and released what was intended to be the final Pink Floyd album, called The Endless River. Endless River is a collection of stuff that the band recorded in 1994 while making The Division Bell but which never saw the light of day. Gilmour recut the material and turned it into a new album, intending it as both a sign-off on Pink Floyd’s long career and also as a tribute to late band member Richard Wright, who died in 2008.

No matter what the quality of Endless River was going to be, it was certainly going to do one thing: get me back in the Pink Floyd mood. Sure enough, once I downloaded the album and gave it a few listens, I was back in Floyd mode, listening to all their albums, both classic and lesser-known, and I started re-reading the old Floyd articles and books that littered my collection. It doesn’t take much to set my controls for the heart of Pink Floyd obsessiveness.

I also decided to do a ranking, a ranking of all of Pink Floyd’s albums, from worst to first. It seems only appropriate, since the book is now officially closed on the Floyd library. The following is my personal ranking of all fifteen Pink Floyd albums, starting with the worst, from Piper at the Gates of Dawn all the way to Endless River. A long, prolific career that spanned nearly 50 years. Not bad for a band whose original creative leader was kicked out after one album for being perpetually drugged out of his mind.

(Note: This ranking only includes actual original studio albums. There are no compilations like Works or, God forbid, the horrendous A Collection of Great Dance Songs. There are also no live albums like Pulse, although you should really listen to Pulse, because it’s joyous.)

15. Ummagumma (1969)

Ummagumma is a two-disc set that is one part live album, and one part original studio content. The live concert side is a worthwhile insight into the band’s early live performances; the studio portion is best used as tinder to light a campfire. The studio side is a collection of tracks developed solo by each individual band member independent of the others. For example, David Gilmour wrote and recorded three tracks himself, Rick Wright contributed one thirteen minute-long song done on his own, and so on. The tracks were intended mostly to be experimental, and boy does it show. Only “Grantchester Meadows”, a simple acoustic song by Roger Waters, passes the test of time. Waters and Gilmour later dismissed the whole thing as basically a disaster.

14. Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

I know I’ll get a lot of disagreement about ranking this so low, but I’m just not a big fan of this album, at all. I understand its importance in the Floyd catalog, but judging it purely on the quality of the music, I’m sorry to say that, to me, Piper is barely distinguishable from and little better than anything from the mass of interchangeable psychedelic albums to come out of the 1960’s. As much as we all love Syd Barrett, you’ll never be able to convince me that, if he had retained creative control of the band past the first album, they would have turned into anything more than a forgettable ’60’s curio. At least there’s “Astronomy Domine”, an enduring rocker that opens the album and is easily the best thing on it.

13. Atom Heart Mother (1970)

Atom Heart Mother is, strangely enough, much more famous for the cow on the album’s cover than any song contained within. In fact, I would bet that if you asked any casual Floyd fan, they wouldn’t be able to name even one of the album’s five tracks besides maybe the title track. The most enduring song is Gilmour’s “Fat Old Sun” (which featured prominently in his 2000’s-era solo tours), but Waters’s “If” and Rick Wright’s “Summer ’68” are solid, if not exactly wholly memorable, compositions. Unfortunately, the title track and “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”, the two songs that bookend the album and comprise the vast majority of its running time, are basically jumbles of unlistenable crap.

12. A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)

The first post-Waters album is an inconsistent effort put together by Gilmour. “Learning to Fly” and the ominous, beautifully dark anthem “Sorrow” are the highlights, but a lot of the tracks come across as somewhat mechanical and cold, and the album as a whole now seems like a substandard relic of the ’80’s. It’s like Gilmour was trying to retain the darker aspects of the Waters era, but without the lyrical flair or far-reaching concepts that made that era so successful. The result is a generally flat, forgettable effort. The song “A New Machine” (both parts) is maybe the most gawdawful thing to ever appear on a Floyd album.

11. The Final Cut (1983)

The final Pink Floyd album to feature Roger Waters, The Final Cut is essentially a Waters solo effort, a long and heartfelt anti-war polemic that serves as a kind of lead-in to his later solo work. While the lyrics are undoubtedly poignant (as usual for Waters), many of the songs are turgid and gloomy, and trying to listen to the album in one sitting can turn into an exercise in wrist-slashing. It comes as no surprise that the best tracks on the album are those in which Gilmour’s guitar figures prominently, especially “The Fletcher Memorial Home”, which features one of the most beautiful solos of Gilmour’s career. If taken as a Roger Waters solo work, I’d say the album compares favorably to his Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking and Radio KAOS albums. It’s not a bad album by any means, but it doesn’t really feel like a true Pink Floyd work, even though Gilmour and Waters both figure on it.

10. The Endless River (2014)

The album which closes the book on the Pink Floyd saga, and one that was 20 years in the making. David Gilmour crafted this almost solely-instrumental album from cutting room floor material from the band’s Division Bell sessions. Fans of Gilmour certainly won’t find anything to quibble about here, but as a whole, it’s not a whole lot more than pretty background music.

9. A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)

Syd Barrett had begun to really lose his mind by the time the band started recording this album, and he ended up only contributing one song to the entire effort (the weird and, frankly, frightening, “Jugband Blues”). David Gilmour was brought in to replace Barrett, and Pink Floyd would never be the same again. Freed from the erratic behavior of their former band leader, the other Floyds began to explore the more elaborate, expansive sound that would later become their hallmark (most notably the 12-minute-long title track). The dark, serpentine “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is my favorite track on the album, and one of my all-time Floyd favorites. The anti-war theme that would saturate Waters’s later songwriting first manifests itself here on “Corporal Clegg”, and fans of Rick Wright should get a kick out of the fact that he handles lead vocal duties on the majority of the album. My pick for most underrated Floyd album.

8. Obscured By Clouds (1972)

This album sadly gets overlooked a lot because (I think) many fans simply see it as a throwaway album because it was composed for a soundtrack for some crappy movie from the early-70’s. That’s unfortunate, because there are some truly terrific songs contained in this album.  “Childhood’s End” is just a supremely, supremely underrated Floyd song, a David Gilmour rocker and one of the last song (if not the last song) he contributed lyrics to. As a matter of fact, there are no stinkers on this album (at least of the non-instrumental tracks). “Wot’s…Uh the Deal?”, “Free Four”, “Burning Bridges”, and “Stay” are all solid contributions to an album that, while it doesn’t have a whole lot of historical importance for the band, is just a flat out great listen.

7. More (1969)

Another soundtrack album, this time for a shitty 1969 Barbet Schroeder movie about a bunch of hippies killing themselves with heroin, and, yet again, one of Floyd’s most overlooked early works. The album features an eclectic assortment of tracks, mixing several different styles of music, not exactly what many music fans would associate with the Floyd. This variance in styles is never more evident than in the album’s two best songs: the metal rocker “The Nile Song”, with Gilmour screaming out the lyrics over thunderous power chords; and “Green Is the Colour”, a gorgeous and simple acoustic song sung by Gilmour to Waters’s bittersweet lyrics. The album is an early window into the band’s versatility as musicians, laying to rest the claim that they were nothing but drug-addled “space rockers”.

For completists: the film includes the long-lost song “Seabirds“, which didn’t make the soundtrack album was never released on any album or compilation, ever.

6. The Division Bell (1994)

The second post-Waters Floyd album, this one gets unfairly shat on in some circles for not being “true Floyd”, but come on. This album kicks ass. All of the blandness from Momentary Lapse of Reason is gone; this is a much more polished album that flows cohesively from beginning to end, without any of the clunkiness of its predecessor. Gilmour’s guitar tears it up on almost every track (especially “What Do You Want From Me?” and “A Great Day For Freedom”), and it features the long-awaited return of Rick Wright on vocal lead (on “Wearing the Inside Out”)! This is a great album, and with the moody lyrics and themes of lack of communication and isolation, it’s about as close to a real Pink Floyd album as you can get without actually having Roger Waters included. My personal highlight: the album’s tearful closing track, “High Hopes”, which is stunningly beautiful and sad, a perfect way to end what we all thought was going to be Floyd’s final album.

5. Animals (1977)

Due to the length of the songs (three of the album’s five tracks clock in at over ten minutes), and the album’s relentlessly bleak subject matter, Animals is the Floyd’s least-listener-friendly and least-accessible album. Understandably, it kind of got lost in the shuffle because none of these songs could ever really be played on the radio without depressed music fans racing in hordes to burn down the local affiliate. Ambitious in concept, Animals is Waters’s vicious Orwellian commentary on the British social and political climate at the time. It is perhaps more famous for it’s catastrophic album cover shoot than any of the music it contains. It was also blatantly referenced in the movie Children of Men, for those scoring at home.

Despite its status as sort of the black sheep (no pun intended) of Pink Floyd’s brilliant 1970’s string of records, Animals features some of David Gilmour’s most intricate and powerful guitar work, and the 17-minute-long “Dogs” is an absolute guitar tour-de-force, a must-listen for any fan of Gilmour’s playing. Live versions of the material (which can be heard on bootlegs from the time) are some of the most epic in Floyd’s storied concert history. A classic example of an album that became better understood and appreciated with the passage of time.

4. Meddle (1971)

Meddle is often overlooked because it came right before the band’s Dark Side of the Moon-era superstardom, but it’s a legitimately great album nonetheless, a definite foreshadowing of the musical brilliance that would follow. One whole side of the album is made up of the 23-minute-long epic “Echoes”, a masterwork of electronic studio tricks (which the band would later perfect on Dark Side) that builds slowly from a simple raindrop sound and crescendos into an orgasmic guitar cacophony that should induce goosebumps on anybody with a pulse. The other side of the album is fleshed out with the lap guitar masterpiece “One of These Days” and the catchy (and underrated) “Fearless”. The album’s an overlooked classic, but it does get minus points for “San Tropez”, which is one of the worst songs to come out of the Floyd catalog.

3. The Wall (1979)

The concept album to end all concept albums, Roger Waters’s mammoth tale of a rock star’s mental breakdown and subsequent descent into a self-imposed nightmarish fantasyland has become one of the most iconic records in rock history. The record is bogged down a bit in the second half by some incredibly dreary songs, but the first half is brilliant and the album includes such classics as “Another Brick in the Wall (Pt.2)”, “Comfortably Numb”, and “Run Like Hell”.

The main highlight, for me, is some truly amazing guitar work by Gilmour throughout the entire album. “Comfortably Numb” obviously features Gilmour’s most popular and iconic guitar solo, but his stunning work on songs like “The Thin Ice”, “Young Lust”, and “Hey You” deserve equal plaudits. The album is, largely, a Waters-dominated project, but the Gilmour guitar stamp of approval is what solidifies this as a legendary record.

2. Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

This is it. This is the monster. Not just a great album, but one of the greatest and most influential rock albums of all time. Dark Side turned Pink Floyd into legends and changed the landscape of what bands could do in the studio and what they could do with sound on a record. Suddenly, in addition to music you had insane cackling reverberating from one ear to the other, alarm clocks blaring out of nowhere, footsteps clomping in one ear and out the other, and ominous voices perpetuating the hour-long run time and enhancing any 1970’s-era stoner’s drug trip. It was unlike anything anyone had ever seen or heard at that point. Many a joint was lit up in celebration.

Of course, none of this would matter a wit if the music weren’t so damned good. You can have all the sound tricks and studio tomfoolery in the world, but if the music sucks, no one is going to remember your record in the long run. “Time”, “Money”, the anti-war anthem “Us and Them”, “Breathe”, and “The Great Gig in the Sky” (maybe the prettiest song about death, ever!) have become classics of the genre. Dark Side is a tremendous, one-of-a-kind achievement, an album that flows perfectly both musically and thematically, and it rightfully holds its place as one of the titans in rock history.

1. Wish You Were Here (1975)

No one will agree with me on this, but not only do I consider Wish You Were Here my favorite Floyd album, but I consider it Floyd’s best album even over Dark Side. It’s my favorite for the simple fact that it’s Pink Floyd’s most grounded album, at least of their classics from the 1970’s. The band, in an attempt to pay tribute to Syd Barrett, focused a bit less on experimentation and cut a bunch of simple, bloody good songs. Simplicity like Gilmour’s blues-inspired riff and Dick Parry’s snazzy saxophone solo on “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond”. Simple like the easy acoustic melody of “Wish You Were Here”. Simple like the desolate, haunting, two-chord acoustic melody that punctuates “Welcome to the Machine” and makes the song so desperate and menacing. The album’s theme of absence and loss and, specifically, loss of humanity resonates through one of the most haunting, lyrically poignant, and melancholy records to ever be produced. It’s a work of genius, musically and conceptually, and I rank it as one of my two or three favorite albums of all time, right next to High Violet, by The National, and Achtung Baby!, by U2.

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Why Some Ridiculous Baseball Contracts Kind Of Make Sense These Days

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Last month, when the Nelson Cruz signing was first reported, my first reaction was a spit take, and a facepalm, and not necessarily in that order. The Mariners gave the 34-year-old former Oriole slugger a four-year, $57 million contract which, at first, seems rather questionable. Granted, Cruz was great last year, hitting .271/.333/.525 while leading the majors with 40 home runs. He also hit well in the playoffs and has been a postseason monster throughout his entire career (1.016 career playoff OPS). Since 2009, Cruz has averaged 29 homers and 86 RBIs per season. Not bad. Not bad at all.

So why are people questioning the sanity of the Mariners after they signed Cruz to this contract? A lot of reasons, actually. Cruz is one of those slow, rather unathletic power hitters with no defensive value whatsoever, and he’s played in 130 or more games in a season exactly twice in his career (2014 being one of them). Slow, oft-injured, one-dimensional players -and this may shock you- tend not to age well, and the Mariners will be paying him through his age-37 season. Does that sound like a great use of $57 million?

It probably won’t be. Is there really any chance Cruz will be worth $57 million to the Mariners over the next four years? Cruz was great last season and has posted an OPS under .800 just once in the last six seasons. Even in Safeco Field, he should hit a lot of dingers. He’s a top-quality run producer, and figures to remain so next season. Over the entirety of the contract, though? Things get a little sketch.

Based on the history of Cruz-esque players at age 34, we can kind of predict how this will go. In 2015, Cruz should be just fine. In 2016, he’ll probably drop off quite a bit, but still be a functional DH. In 2017 and 2018, his age-36 and age-37 seasons, there’s probably a pretty good chance that he’ll be totally worthless, with lots of injuries thrown in, and I wouldn’t bet against the Mariners having to just eat his final year. You know who reminds me a little of Nelson Cruz? Josh Willingham. You know who just finished a three-year deal that basically followed that theoretical four-year production outline for Cruz? Josh Willingham.

So looking at it this way, the Mariners are paying Cruz for four years when it’s relatively clear that he’ll be good for, at best, just two of those seasons, and realistically probably only the one. The team might be knowingly flushing two years’ worth of cash down the drain. This should be grounds to tar and feather the entire Mariner front office, right?

Well, no. It might actually make some kind of sense, in some circumstances, for teams to hand out multi-year contracts, even if they know that the player will only be worth it for a fraction of the deal. This may seem contrarian, obviously, but have I really gone insane? Have I been drinking the Jack Zduriencik Kool-Aid? (ew) To find the reason for why the Cruz contract isn’t totally nutso, all you need to do is look at what the Mariners did in 2014, and then look at what the Giants did in 2014.

The 2014 Mariners finished at 87-75, just one game out of an American League Wild Card. Perhaps the major reason that Seattle missed out on the postseason was because they got nothing from their DHs, and I mean nothing. Collectively, Mariner designated hitters batted .190/.266/.301. I mean, are you kidding me? This is from a position where hitting is the only necessary skill, and the Mariners still couldn’t find anybody competent. Not Corey Hart, not Kendrys Morales, and goodness knows not Stefen effing Romero or Endy Chavez.

If the Mariner DHs had put up just a .620 OPS, they would have beat either the A’s or Royals for one of the Wild Card spots. If they had had Nelson Cruz last season, they would have sailed into the postseason. Which is funny, actually, because they very nearly did have Cruz. The Mariners and Cruz actually reached an agreement on a one-year deal with an option year last offseason, only to have Mariners ownership nix the move. Now they have him, but he’s way more expensive. Oops.

So you can see why Seattle is so enthusiastic about signing the 2014 home run champ. Regardless of what he does over the rest of his contract, 2015 Cruz will almost certainly be worth three or four wins more than what the Mariners got from their DHs last season. That would push the Mariners closer to the 90-win threshold and the postseason, and if they make the postseason, they’ve got a great shot (or probably as good a shot as anybody) at winning a title. And that’s what makes this signing (and other signings similar to it) not insane.

Let’s now look back at what the Giants did in 2014. The Giants were not a great baseball team, but they rolled through the postseason anyway because they had one dominant pitcher, just enough hitting, a just-competent-enough bullpen, and also because the small sample size of a playoff series can and did lead to all kinds of wacky, unexpected things. Despite the long odds (they had to navigate the Wild Card game and also four rounds without home field advantage), just the fact that they were in the October tournament meant that they had a chance. Then, behind Bumgarner, Pence, Sandoval, some good fortune, and some really goofy decisions by Matt Williams, they ended up winning it all. Improbable, not impossible, and that’s why just getting there is so important.

Which is why it makes sense to overpay Nelson Cruz. The Mariners missed out on the postseason and a chance at the glory by one game last season. One measly freaking game. They feel they have a window in 2015, and they’re going for it. That doesn’t seem foolish, really. With star hitters Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager and an all-world ace in Felix Hernandez, the Mariners have a core that should be good enough to contend again. If Cruz is the extra shove that gets that combustion engine going, then signing him makes all kinds of sense. If the Mariners make it to the postseason, it’s not hard at all to envision Felix Hernandez pulling a Bumgarner and mowing his way through the postseason to bring Seattle a title.

With the playoffs structured as they are currently, there are more teams qualifying for the playoffs each year (five per league) than ever before in baseball history. Especially now that franchises are becoming wise to the small sample size fooferah inherent in short playoff series, there’s more incentive now than ever for teams who are on the cusp to spend the extra dollar and make a playoff push.

That’s why it kind of makes sense for the Mets, who finished 79-83 last year, to sign Michael Cuddyer. It’s why it kind of makes sense for the Marlins, who finished 77-85, to sign Mike Morse. It’s why it kind of makes sense for the Twins to sign Torii Hunter (just kidding…that makes absolutely no sense). World Series glory is more accessible nowadays, moreso than at any point in baseball history in fact, and that accessibility means it’s no longer so insane to pay out free agents to make a run.

But why pay out Cruz for four years? Why pay him two more years than he’s likely to be worth? It’s just the cost of doing business. Players are going to want more years tacked on for security purposes, so in order to get those one or two good years, you gotta break some eggs. Imagine the creepy, neckbearded dude in the corner with the camera rasping out: “You want to win a championship, don’tcha?” You want All-Star production and a shot at a title in 2015, don’tcha? Well, to get that you gotta do some…things. Things like pay Cruz a lot of money in 2018 when he’s probably going to stink.

If that doesn’t seem worth it, consider this. Take all of the Giants fans in the world and give them these two options: either sign Barry Zito to that onerous seven-year deal and win two World Series, or don’t sign Zito to that big-money deal, but no championships. Well, every single one of those Giants fans would obviously take the first option. Fan bases can generally stomach a terrible contract if there’s winning involved (and Zito did play an important role on both the 2010 and 2012 championship teams). If the Mariners win the 2015 World Series and Cruz hits .800 in the postseason absolutely no one in Seattle will care if he needs to be wheeled onto the field in 2018.

So it boils down to: flags fly forever. There’s a lot of guffawing when some of these contracts are signed, and even I did a double take when I first saw the Cruz deal. However, with the way the postseason is structured nowadays, and with the obscene amounts of money rolling through MLB right now, I think it actually makes more sense than ever for teams to sign players to “go for it” contracts despite the potential long-term issues. The 2015 crazy contract isn’t the same as the 1997 crazy contract. Maybe crazy is the new market inefficiency.

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